It’s been a very good six weeks for Matt Salerno. He got married Aug. 8. Two weeks later, he landed a teaching position at Holmes Middle School in Alexandria.
And on Thursday Howard University named Salerno, 28, the head coach of its men’s and women’s swimming and diving team. Salerno, who led the Fairfax High swim team for five years, will fill the vacancy left when Paul Van LieShout departed to take over the United Arab Emirates national team.
“I inquired about the Howard position in June and pressed on it pretty thoroughly since,” Salerno said. “It was very exciting [to land the job]. I’m more than excited to be a part of Howard.”
The Howard job, Salerno said, is part-time, so he will continue teaching at Holmes in the morning and conduct practices with the Howard swimmers in the late afternoon and evening. He will, however, put his studies at the University of Virginia Northern Virginia Center aside this semester; he is seeking his masters’ degree in school administration.
Salerno, who claimed the head-coaching job at Fairfax High at age 22, said he doesn’t consider his relative youth a barrier of any kind.
“Regardless of your age, if a program knows you’re in it to make them better — you’re all in it — and you show energy and compassion to make them better, you can be 28 or 58, I don’t think it makes any difference,” Salerno said.
The job is his third coaching opportunity in the last two years. After his tenure at Fairfax High, where he led the girls’ team to the school’s first Virginia High School AAA Championship in any sport and garnered The Washington Post All-Met Coach of the Year honors, Salerno landed an assistant coaching position at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C.
Though he helped the Davidson Wildcats to a pair of second-place finishes in the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association Championships, he craved a return to teaching.
“I decided when I was at Davidson that … I love coaching, but I don’t want it to be the only thing I do,” Salerno said. “I thought if I keep teaching, then coaching would find its way into my life.”
That it did. And fast.
Salerno left Davidson at the end of the school year and returned to Arlington. He applied for the opening at Howard, also in the CCSA, and sweated out a long wait with Holmes Middle School before landing that job.
Good fortune in his coaching career seems to have followed him, he said, from his graduation in 2003 from William & Mary, where he worked his way from a walk-on swimmer to team captain. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he was not familiar with the region when he accepted his first teaching post in northern Virginia.
When he happened to drive past Fairfax High, he was inspired to call the school and inquire about possible coaching opportunities. At that point, he said, he gladly would have taken a job as a volunteer stroke coach.
As it turned out, the head-coaching position was open. He applied for it and, to his surprise, got the job. Salerno also helped coach at the Mason Makos Swim Club and the Villa Aquatic Club in Fairfax.
“I was very lucky,” Salerno said. “The only reason I had heard of the high school was a saw a sign in the road for Fairfax High … The way the stars aligned, they needed a head coach. So out of college, I was working as a coach at Fairfax High.”
Now he’s heading an NCAA Division I program. The Howard Bison swimming team features athletes from 10 states and five countries; the men’s team finished fourth of six teams in the conference last season; the women were ninth among 12.
“I think Howard is looking for someone to make them better, not just be a lifeguard,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent at Howard … and, no doubt, they want to do well as a team.”