TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Hall of Fame coach Dennis Pursley has been selected to lead the University of Alabama men’s and women’s swimming and diving team Director of Athletics Mal Moore announced Friday.
“We are excited to have Coach Pursley join us as head coach of our swimming and diving program,” UA Director of Athletics Mal Moore said. “Not only has he achieved great success at the highest level of his sport, but as former Crimson Tide swimmer and coach, he understands what a special place the University of Alabama is and what can be accomplished here with hard work and determination.”
Pursley returns to the deck of the Alabama Aquatic Center after stops as the national team director for USA Swimming, the head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport and his current position as the head coach of British Swimming. He follows Eric McIlquham as the seventh head coach of the combined men’s and women’s program at Alabama and will join the Tide immediately following the conclusion of the 2012 London Olympics.
“It will be a great honor and privilege to return to my alma mater following the London Olympics,” Pursley said. “I could not be more impressed with the commitment of the University of Alabama to the pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics, and I truly believe that the potential of the Crimson Tide swimming and diving program is unlimited.”
The Louisville, Ky., native, who was inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006, worked under Tide legends John Foster and Don Gambril to start his coaching career in the mid-1970s, following an Alabama career that included earning All-Southeastern Conference honors and the 1969 SEC 200 breaststroke title. He earned a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree from Alabama in 1972 and 1973, respectively.
“The opportunity to work closely with many of the world’s top swimmers and coaches in recent years has broadened my vision and I am excited about the opportunity to bring these ideas and concepts to the pool deck in Tuscaloosa,” Pursley said. “It will be a pleasure for me to rejoin the Alabama family, especially during this era of enthusiasm, optimism and progress on the University campus.”
Following his stint with the Tide, he returned to his hometown to become head coach of Lakeside Swim Club. It was during this time that he was appointed to the coaching staff of the USA Pan American Games team. In this competition one of his swimmers, Mary T. Meagher, surprised the swimming world by establishing her first of several world records.
Pursley then became head coach of the Cincinnati Marlins and led them to their first three national championship titles. Eleven swimmers on his 1980 championship team accounted for 28 top-25 world rankings in individual events and eight Marlin relays were ranked among the top 25 in the world in that same year. After placing six swimmers on the 1980 USA Olympic Team who accounted for two world records and four No. 1 world rankings, Pursley was appointed to the USA Olympic Team staff and was awarded 1980 “Coach of the Year” honors by the American Swimming Coaches Association.
In 1981, Pursley was named as the first Head Coach of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) where he served as the Head Coach of the combined team for two years and the men’s team until August, 1984. Six of the AIS athletes who had trained under Pursley accounted for half of Australia’s medals in the 1984 Olympic Games. Only one of these athletes was ranked among the top 20 in the world in 1983.
During the first decade of Pursley’s career, his swimmers accounted for 7 world records, 12 American Records and 20 U.S. National Championship titles as well as numerous medals in major international competitions – including the Olympic Games and the World Championships.
In 1989, he was appointed as the first National Team Director of USA Swimming and was responsible for all aspects of the National Team program. During his 14 year tenure the medal production of the USA team increased substantially. The USA team finished first in the medal count in both men’s and women’s competitions in all three Olympiads of his tenure, culminating with 33 medals, including 14 gold, at the 2000 Olympics which was described by “Sports Illustrated” as the greatest team performance of all time. In recognition of his contributions, he was awarded the United States Olympic Committee Chairman’s “Coaching Award” for 2000.
Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the Head Coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Arizona, and later that year he was selected as one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming.