The Boys in the Boat

Al Ulbrickson Character Analysis

Al Ulbrickson is the calm, quiet head coach for the University of Washington crew program. For most of the book, he’s worried that he’s going to lose his job: again and again, he loses important races to his rival, Ky Ebright, the talented crew coach for the University of California at Berkeley. Ulbrickson experiments with many different strategies and team combinations before settling on the nine rowers who go on to win at the 1936 Olympics. Ulbrickson is an exceptionally talented coach, and even today, he’s remembered as one of the best in American history. He pushes his rowers to achieve more than they think possible, and forces them to eat well, abstain from alcohol, and maintain a high grade point average. That Ulbrickson believes that his rowers must be successful all-around, not just in the boat, partly explains why none of the nine boys in the boat “burned out” after 1936—they all went on to have relatively happy, successful, and well-rounded lives.

Al Ulbrickson Quotes in The Boys in the Boat

The The Boys in the Boat quotes below are all either spoken by Al Ulbrickson or refer to Al Ulbrickson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Boys in the Boat published in 2014.
Chapter 7 Quotes

The next year, 1924, Washington returned, with a young Al Ulbrickson rowing at stroke, and won the varsity race again, decisively this time. In 1926 they did it yet again, this time with Ulbrickson rowing the final quarter of a mile with a torn muscle in one arm. In 1928, Ky Ebright's California Bears won their first Poughkeepsie title en route to winning the Olympics that year and again in 1932. By 1934 the western schools were finally beginning to be taken seriously.

Related Characters: Al Ulbrickson, Ky Ebright
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Back in February [Al Ulbrickson] had commented […] that "there are more good individual men on this year's squad than on any I have coached." The fundamental problem lay in the fact that he had felt compelled to throw that word "individual" into the sentence. There were too many days when they rowed not as crews but as boatfuls of individuals. The more he scolded them for personal technical issues, even as he preached teamsmanship, the more the boys seemed to sink into their own separate and sometimes defiant little worlds.

Related Characters: Al Ulbrickson (speaker)
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

For Ulbrickson, there was one overriding, and dark, fact to be confronted: he had failed again to make good on his public promises. It was very much an open question whether he was going to get another chance.

Related Characters: Al Ulbrickson
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 15 Quotes

Ulbrickson knew full well that money more or less grew on the trees at Yale, and that funds had been vastly easier to come by in 1928, before the Depression, than in 1936.

Related Characters: Al Ulbrickson
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

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Al Ulbrickson Character Timeline in The Boys in the Boat

The timeline below shows where the character Al Ulbrickson appears in The Boys in the Boat. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...in water. Bolles’ duty was to teach his freshmen the delicate art of rowing. Al Ulbrickson, the head of the Washington rowing program, was also in the building that afternoon. Ulbrickson... (full context)
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...the room that afternoon was Royal Brougham, the sports editor for the Post-Intelligencer. Brougham asked Ulbrickson some questions about the crew program that year, but Ulbrickson, in typical form, offered only... (full context)
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Back in Seattle, Al Ulbrickson thought about the disastrous season Washington had had in 1932. Again and again, teams from... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...training proceeded through the fall, with the freshman hopefuls rowing on the water while Al Ulbrickson and Tom Bolles supervised them. Freshmen quickly learned the basics of crew—in particular, the importance... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...In Seattle, Joe did very well in school, and excelled in gymnastics and singing. Al Ulbrickson got word about Joe’s gymnastic talents, and left his card for Joe. Joe graduated from... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...Pacific Coast Regatta. The team rowed six days a week, through pouring rain. Meanwhile, Al Ulbrickson worked his upperclassmen hard. However, he quickly became disappointed with his team’s performance. One evening,... (full context)
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By March, the freshman team was doing better. On one occasion, Ulbrickson pitted the freshman, varsity, and junior varsity teams against each other. The freshman team gained... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...less than a second and setting a record for the course. Washington’s victory demonstrated Al Ulbrickson’s methodical style of coaching, emphasizing the role of psychology and teamwork. (full context)
Chapter 8
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...the team from reading such reports, Joe and his friends had heard about them. Al Ulbrickson was so excited about his team that he considered making them varsity immediately. However, Ulbrickson... (full context)
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In the middle of October, a storm hit Seattle. As a result, Ulbrickson had no choice but to keep his team from training on the water—the storm was... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...January 14, 1935, and the Washington crew team sat on the benches, waiting for Al Ulbrickson to make his announcements concerning the upcoming rowing season. Ulbrickson began by saying that the... (full context)
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...“as if by magic.” Moch’s tactic always made the sophomore rowers lose their cool—especially Joe. Ulbrickson began to doubt his sophomores’ abilities—he’d expected them to emerge as the new varsity lineup,... (full context)
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On afternoon, Ulbrickson summoned his sophomores into his office and told them that they weren’t trying hard enough:... (full context)
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In the weeks following Ulbrickson’s meeting, the sophomores began performing better. But they had bad days, too, during which they... (full context)
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...is that it allows the oarsmen to row very efficiently for long periods of time. Ulbrickson knew that Joe and his teammates had found their swing the day they won at... (full context)
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...April 7, the Washington team was in California, preparing for their time trial. Ebright and Ulbrickson spoke to reporters, doing their best to sound pessimistic about their teams’ chances. On April... (full context)
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...lead. Cal increased its stroke rate, but George Morry, coxswain for the sophomores, remembered what Ulbrickson had told him—resist the temptation to increase the stroke rate. Gradually, the Washington team climbed... (full context)
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The sophomores had rowed to great success: they’d proved that Ulbrickson was right to promote them to varsity. Back in Seattle, they were greeted as heroes—they... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Ulbrickson prepared for Poughkeepsie. He announced that the sophomores wouldn’t necessarily be competing there—they would have... (full context)
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After many weeks of training, Ulbrickson announced that the JV team would return to its varsity status, and the sophomores would... (full context)
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...through the race, the sophomores were rowing beautifully—they went on to win the race easily. Ulbrickson realized that he could win all three races at Poughkeepsie—something no coach had ever done. (full context)
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...pushing Washington into third place. In the end, Cal won the race in record time. Ulbrickson was humiliated: he’d failed to win a national title, and the newspapers would continue to... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Around the same time, Ulbrickson agreed to race his varsity team against teams from Cal, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Syracuse.... (full context)
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...card houses, and restaurants. Joe, Johnny, and Chuck all occasionally broke their promise to Al Ulbrickson to remain sober, but Joe—unlike Johnny and Chuck—didn’t want to pay extra money to go... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Back in school, Joe continued rowing. Al Ulbrickson had not been fired, contrary to what many had guessed, but he now had something... (full context)
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Varsity practice began on October 21; right away, last season’s rivalries flared up again. Ulbrickson made it clear that he would be mixing different boats to determine the perfect combination.... (full context)
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...fall, Seattle experienced horrible, rainy weather, and the crew team rowed in cold, miserable conditions. Ulbrickson announced that the last day of training would be November 25, after which the team... (full context)
Chapter 13
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On January 9, 1936, Al Ulbrickson assembled his team and notified everyone that they were about to embark on the most... (full context)
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Ulbrickson relied on George Pocock to improve the rowers’ form and technique. In general, he was... (full context)
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In February, Ulbrickson dropped Joe from boat one to boat two, and then down to boat three. Meanwhile,... (full context)
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On March 19, Al Ulbrickson was ready to announce his best bet for an Olympic boat: Roger Morris, Chuck Day,... (full context)
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...fellow oarsmen. On March 23, Joe’s boat beat the other boats by seven boatlengths. Afterwards, Ulbrickson knew he’d made the right decision: he had an Olympic-caliber boat on his hands. He... (full context)
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Ulbrickson had a few important races on his horizon: the Pacific Coast Regatta in California, the... (full context)
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...Cal varsity team arrived in Seattle on April 14 for the annual regatta. As usual, Ulbrickson tried to confuse Cal by making pessimistic statements about his team’s weaknesses. On April 18... (full context)
Chapter 14
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In Washington, Ulbrickson encouraged his victorious varsity athletes to square all personal affairs so they could focus on... (full context)
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On June 10, Washington’s varsity team headed out to Poughkeepsie by train; Ulbrickson had instructed his athletes to pack as if they were going to Berlin. A band... (full context)
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...there were rumors that Cal had turned out a record time for the four-mile race. Ulbrickson tried to keep his team from reading about Cal in the papers, and encouraged them... (full context)
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...beating the nearest competition by three boatlengths. As the audience prepared for the varsity race, Ulbrickson knew he had a chance to sweep the regatta and win all three races. (full context)
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The varsity race began promptly at eight pm, and Washington quickly fell behind—just as Ulbrickson had planned. Bobby Moch kept his crew at an even twenty-eight strokes per minute, not... (full context)
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Ulbrickson had won a great victory at Poughkeepsie, but he would have to win one more... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...with remarkable power, passing California, then Pennsylvania, and winning handily. Washington was going to Berlin. Ulbrickson was overjoyed: he’d managed to assemble the perfect team and coach them to victory with... (full context)
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In order to fund an excursion to the Olympics, Ulbrickson quickly learned, the team was going to have to pay its own way: the American... (full context)
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...they packed and prepared to sail for Berlin on the SS Manhattan, accompanied by Al Ulbrickson and George Pocock. Before leaving, the team attended an Olympic reception at the Lincoln Hotel,... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...the voyage, he and the rest of team worked out with the rowing machine, but Ulbrickson quickly ordered them not to, arguing that too much machine rowing would interfere with their... (full context)
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The next morning, the rowing team began training. Ulbrickson noticed that the Germany rowing team was highly disciplined. As the American team was preparing... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...weakly. In the evening, they’d go drinking and eating fattening foods. On August 6, Al Ulbrickson finally put his foot down and ordered that they wouldn’t be visiting Berlin or anywhere... (full context)
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...win in a repachage—a second preliminary heat. In the days leading up to the heats, Ulbrickson made a point of backing off and letting the boys rest. Pocock had rebuilt the... (full context)
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Al Ulbrickson was proud of his team, but he worried about the final race. Don Hume was... (full context)
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After the reperchage the following day, Ulbrickson knew that America would be racing against Italy, Germany, Britain, Hungary, and Switzerland. To his... (full context)
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...the boys ate in silence—they’d been working for this day for the last three years. Ulbrickson had decided that Don Hume wouldn’t be rowing: Don Coy, the alternate, would take his... (full context)
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...his entourage cheered. At six pm, the boys, including Don Hume, prepared for their race. Ulbrickson and Pocock were nervous—the odds of taking gold with Hume in such poor shape were... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...Don Hume accepted a massive wreath, which he passed to his teammates. Reporters asked Al Ulbrickson what he thought of his team winning a gold medal; he replied, “They were the... (full context)
Epilogue
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...Day, and Bobby Moch, however, traveled across Europe for six weeks. George Pocock and Al Ulbrickson spent some time in England. By mid-October, everyone was back in Seattle. Bobby Moch had... (full context)
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...Bobby Moch, rowed in Poughkeepsie and defended their national title by four boatlengths. Many of Ulbrickson’s peers said that the Washington team that year was the finest they’d ever seen. Afterwards,... (full context)
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...spent World War Two doing construction, and later worked for the Manson Construction Company. Al Ulbrickson coached at Washington for another quarter century, and was later inducted into the National Rowing... (full context)