Lobos Name Kono as Swimming and Diving Head Coach

June 26, 2012

Kono Raises Funds for Japan Disaster Relief

One small wardrobe adjustment for Kunio Kono. One giant leap for the Lobo women’s swimming and diving program.

The University of New Mexico is proud to introduce Kono as its swimming and diving head coach, only the fourth in the program’s history. Kono, formerly UNLV associate head coach, replaces Tracy Ljone, who left the program on May 8 after seven years with the team.

Two-time Mountain West Diving Coach of the Year Abel Sanchez will continue to work with that portion of the program.

“I am very excited to have Kunio joining our staff,” said UNM associate athletic director for external affairs Kurt Esser, who spearheaded the hiring committee for vice president for athletics Paul Krebs. “His enthusiasm and coaching abilities will blend well with our other coaches.  He has produced some great swimmers during his career, and I know our student-athletes will excel under his leadership.”

Kono spent nine years donning the Rebels apparel of scarlet red and gray. Switching to UNM-appropriate cherry and silver, he said, is a piece of cake.

“My son, he’s 2 years old and he is already wearing a Lobo hat; he looks good in it,” Kono said. The school colors are “not a big change. I loved red and gray; now I love cherry and silver. It’s perfect.”

Kono helped the UNLV men’s team win seven consecutive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships before finishing as runner-up in 2011-12. He hopes to bring that level of success to the Land of Enchantment for a long time.

“I know the University of New Mexico swimming and diving program has had great success during its history,” Kono said. “I want to take the program and the school to that next level of winning conference championship, going to the NCAAs and becoming a consistent top-25 program in the country.

“I’m very excited and I’m very appreciative that Kurt Esser and Paul Krebs chose me for this position. I’m looking forward to working with the Lobo swimmers and divers and the coaches.”

Kono guided the Rebels men's and women's sprint groups. While at UNLV, Kono coached 16 swimmers to 46 All-America citations, and sent several swimmers over the past five years to the World University Games, World Cup, Pan Pacific Championships, Pan American Games, the European Championships and six swimmers to the last three Olympic Games in Athens (2004), Beijing (’08) and London (’12).

Last year, Kono, a native of Osaka, Japan, raised more than $15,000 to help restore opportunities for children to swim after the earthquakes and tsunamis hit his homeland in early 2011.

Kono joined the Rebels from the University of Alabama, where he spent two seasons as a graduate assistant coach. He was responsible for coaching the sprint groups and assisted in the recruiting efforts. Kono coached seven swimmers to 16 All-America honors, and in 2003 the Tide men had their highest national finish since 1994, taking 12th place. The women posted their highest finish since 1996, taking 15th at the 2002 NCAA meet.

During his tenure at Alabama, Kono also was the head coach of the Masters Swim Team. He coached eight of the highest point scorers in different age groups and led his team to the Alabama State Masters Meet title in spring 2003.

From 1994-2001, Kono served as the men's and women's swimming operations manager at the University of Arizona. During those seven seasons, the Wildcat men's swimming program finished in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships five times – including a third-place finish in 2000. Kono also helped the women's team into the top-five in the nation for six years and to the highest finish in Arizona's history, when it finished second at NCAA in 2000. In his time at Arizona, he helped coach 15 men and 16 women to All-America honors and coached seven student-athletes that went on to participate in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

Kono spent the 1993-94 season as a volunteer assistant coach with the USC Trojans Swim Club and coached several swimmers who went on to compete in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.

Kono is a 2003 graduate of the University of Alabama with a master's degree in health science. He earned his undergraduate degree in visual communication from the University of Arizona in 2001. He is married to Miho Kawabe, bronze medalist in synchronized swimming at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. They have one son, Yushi.