Head coach Rob Clayton enters his 18th season as the Academy’s head men’s swimming coach. After 17 years, his enthusiasm for the Academy and Falcon swimming hasn’t diminished a bit.
“I love coaching at the Air Force Academy,” Clayton said. “It is the perfect school for the young man who is serious about pursuing excellence in school, swimming and life. I’m thrilled to wake up and go to work in the morning,”
Clayton has led the Falcons to a 159-91-1 overall dual record and 10 top-three finishes in the MW. He has led the Falcons to a second-place finish in each of the last two season.
After a sixth-place league finish his first season, Clayton led the Falcons to third-place finishes in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007. In 2003, 2004 and 2009, the Falcons finished second at the MWC Championships. In addition, Clayton was named MWC Men’s Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2010.
At USAFA, Clayton has coached men to 21 individual conference championships and two relay conference championships. Eight of his swimmers have competed in the Olympic Trials, including in 2008 when five former and current Falcons participated in the Trials. In addition to the team’s success in the pool, Clayton’s swimmers have earned more than 151 academic all-conference honors and 25 MWC Scholar-Athlete selections, while six others were both designated Scholar All-Americans by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Clearly, Clayton expects excellence in the classroom as well as the pool.
“The Academy is the number one undergraduate school in the country,” the coach said. “The men come here primarily to get the best education possible and to prepare for a fabulous career in the Air Force and beyond. While we desire success in the pool, we insist on success in the classroom.” Not surprisingly, the Falcon swimmers and divers were the recipients of the Academy’s Team Excellence Award for the 2003-04 school year.
Clayton is a 1991 graduate of Wyoming where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. While at Wyoming, Clayton was one of the premier swimmers in the Western Athletic Conference.
A four-year letterman, Clayton swam in the NCAA Championships in the 200 freestyle, 200 IM and 400 IM. He stole the show at the 1991 conference championships, winning the 200 and 400 individual medley, becoming only the second Cowboy to ever win an IM conference title. His time in the 400 IM set a conference championship record.
Clayton excelled outside the pool as well. His 3.75 grade point average in chemical engineering helped earn him Academic All-American honors. He received the WAC’s Stan Bates Award in 1991, as the league’s most outstanding student-athlete. The Bates Award is the most prestigious award an athlete in the conference can win.
Following college, Clayton served as an age group coach for the Fort Collins Area Swim Team (FAST).
In the fall of 1991, he began a six-year stint as the men’s assistant coach at Brigham Young University. While at BYU, Clayton was instrumental in building one of the most successful swimming programs in the region. The Cougars won the 1996 WAC title, their first since 1979. During Clayton’s tenure in Provo, BYU never finished below third at the WAC Championships.
Clayton helped coach 11 individual WAC champions and several WAC champion relay teams at BYU. Additionally, he coached an NCAA finalist and an athlete to a spot on the U.S. National team in the summer of 1997. He was very active in USA Swimming during his time in Utah, serving as a senior coach with Hilltop Aquatic Swim Team in American Fork, Utah. Clayton came to the Academy in 1997 and made an immediate impact on the program. He worked with women’s coach Casey Converse to coach the Academy’s first woman to qualify for the NCAA Division I Championships. Clayton then took over the reins of the men’s program for the 1998-99 season.
In addition to his coaching duties, Clayton also instructs cadets in swimming and water survival classes. He was recognized for his teaching accomplishments by being named the 2003-04 Department of Athletics Civilian Instructor of the Year and was recently named the Aquatics Instructor of the Semester. Clayton comments on his teaching duties, “I enjoy teaching aquatics classes. It provides me with opportunity to interact with the rest of the cadets at the Air Force Academy.”
Originally from Fort Collins, Colo., Clayton was a standout swimmer at Rocky Mountain High School where he was a four-year letterman. The 41-year-old Clayton is married to the former Kelly Costigan, a 1992 graduate of the Academy who competed for the women’s tennis team. They have three sons, Robert, Daniel and Joshua, and two daughters, Noel and Anna. The Claytons are very active in their church, International Anglican Church, and live in Monument.