By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – For the past 23 seasons, there has never been a question regarding where Dave Parrington’s loyalties lie.
Born in Great Britain and raised in Rhodesia, a country that is now Zimbabwe, Parrington wasn’t a United States citizen until December 2011. Since 1990, however, his allegiance has been to the University of Tennessee, where he is the longtime men’s and women’s diving coach.
Nearly a quarter-century’s worth of athletes have come through the Volunteers’ program and countless things have changed over the years, but Parrington’s influence has remained ever-present.
“I’ve been here a long time,” said Parrington, the 2013 CSCAA National Women’s Diving Coach of the Year. “UT has been wonderful to me and certainly to many other coaches in a variety of sports. They have been very, very supportive of the swimming and diving teams and very supportive of diving as part of those teams. They have provided facilities, financial support and everything we need to enhance our success. It has been incredible.”
Parrington’s lineage in his profession is well defined, as his father was a world-class swimming coach and his mother an Olympic swimmer.
In his home country, Parrington spent time enlisted in the British South Africa Police in young adulthood before, at age 23, he earned a scholarship to the University of Houston.
Parrington, who had begun an accomplished diving career in his home country, knew that would be his only way for an opportunity to compete internationally. A civil war in Rhodesia during the 1970s had resulted in its athletes being banned from international competition.
“I really didn’t have any inclination to come and dive collegiately, but I had been approached by some folks that had come across from the U.S.,” Parrington said. “I got to the point where I knew I had reached the top of diving in that part of the world – in Southern Africa.
“I put out some feelers and I knew a couple of swimmers and one diver who were competing at UT-Arlington in 1977,” he continued. “I touched base with them and they thought that it would be a great experience. I went to Houston and thought I would try it for a year, and I’m still here all those years later.”
In 1980, Parrington had an opportunity to compete in the Moscow Olympics, representing Zimbabwe in both the three-meter and platform events. It was a life-changing experience for a man who had already encountered so much.
“The Olympic Games are the pinnacle for all of the different sports to compete,” Parrington said. “To have had the honor of representing the country where I grew up at the 1980 Olympics was very exciting. Many countries boycotted that year and it was controversial. I received about six-weeks’ notice that I was selected to the team. There wasn’t a lot of time to think. It was an environment full of world-level divers that was quite intimidating and I didn’t do particularly well.”
Parrington’s time at the Olympics may not have resulted in a medal, but it fueled his desire to pursue a career in coaching the sport.
Immediately following Parrington’s graduation from the University of Houston, he had the opportunity to become head diving coach at his alma mater.
Many of Parrington’s fellow countrymen had come to compete for the Cougars since he first arrived in the United States. His reputation as a mentor for his teammates gave swimming coach Phil Hansel the confidence to hire the recent alum.
In 1990, Parrington accepted the same position at the University of Tennessee and has made his home in Knoxville ever since. During that span, he has coached six NCAA Champions, 34 Southeastern Conference Champions and has been named SEC Coach of the Year on 11 different occasions.
Through the years, he had the opportunity to coach Zimbabwe’s Olympic team in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.
The times have certainly changed and Parrington has changed with them, but he has also stayed true to his core principles that have led his athletes to success for more than two decades.
“Over the years, you have to adapt to times, no question, but I stand by certain methods and principles,” Parrington said. “I generally consider myself a positive coach and always look for the good in what the student-athletes are doing. We want to have a positive environment for divers to train and compete.”
Communication has been the key to Parrington’s relationships with his athletes, and one of the main reasons his pupils rely so heavily upon his advice.
“Every single time my athletes perform a dive, I communicate with them face to face,” he said. “We have an enormous amount of communication; that is probably something that has grown over the years. I try to make sure that my door is open and my divers feel very comfortable talking to me at any given time.”
Tennessee head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach Matt Kredich believes Parrington’s ability to connect with his athletes is unique and refreshing.
“Dave has a way of connecting with every single person that he’s ever coached,” Kredich said. “He has grown to understand them and know them on a really deep level, and figure out how to motivate them. When you think about diving, he’s not coaching a very big group of people. It’s maybe six people whose personalities run the gamut. The role of every person in that case is magnified and Dave is tireless.”
For many years, Parrington was the common link between the men’s and women’s programs at the University of Tennessee, which were under both separate coaching staffs and separate athletics departments.
Parrington was the exception.
“Dave has essentially been a bridge between two programs,” Kredich said. “He’s been coaching men and women through a time period that, until fairly recently, had two very different identities. He has always coached under the philosophy that we are all one team and we essentially all have the same goal.”
The 2011-12 season was a difficult one for Tennessee. Head men’s swimming coach John Trembley was dismissed amidst personal indiscretions over the course of the season and the program was launched into a bit of turmoil during the transition.
It should come as no surprise that Parrington was there to help right the ship.
His divers put together perhaps their finest season in program history. The men swept all three diving events at the SEC Championships and his athletes, Ryan Helms and Tori Lamp, were named SEC Divers of the Year. For the first time in the same season, Parrington was named SEC Diving Coach of the Year for both the men and women.
“It really was a bittersweet year because of the success with the diving team and certainly some of the awards I received as a result,” Parrington said. “It was a very emotional time for me and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I just got focused on working every single day. We had a pretty veteran group that was extremely talented. We kind of put ourselves in a bubble and did our thing.”
When Kredich, who had previously been the women’s head swimming and diving coach, was named head coach of the combined program last summer, he not only retained Parrington, but leaned on the veteran diving instructor for his guidance.
“One of the biggest things [Kredich] spoke to me about was that he’d seen me do it this way and he kind of wanted to be able to develop the same sort of camaraderie and team spirit across the entire team that the divers have shown over the years,” Parrington said. “He is a pretty sharp guy and very comfortable. He has just moved forward doing his own thing and it has worked great.”
Kredich has appreciated having Parrington’s assistance in uniting the two programs over the past year.
“Every team has its rocky periods, but Dave has always been 100 percent behind me and has been great at offering advice when needed,” Kredich said. “He is supportive in very quiet, but very powerful ways. He is very well respected across the athletic department.”
Despite all the coaching accolades that Parrington received during the 2011-12 campaign, his proudest accomplishment came outside of the diving world.
On December 14, 2011, Parrington became a United States citizen in a ceremony that took place in a Knoxville court room. It was the end of a 33-year journey for Parrington, who had previously been in the country on a green card.
“For one reason or another, I hadn’t gotten around to going through the process,” Parrington said. “One of the questions in the application asks you to supply the exact dates of travel in and out of the U.S. every time that you have done it. Having been involved in a lot of international diving, I had done my fair share of traveling. I kept saying, ‘I’ll get back to this.’”
With encouragement from his wife Marie – the couple married in 2009 – Parrington finally decided it was time to complete the process.
“I finally sat down and, with a little prodding from my wife, I went through the application process,” Parrington said. “The time went quickly. When I went through the oath ceremony and swearing in, my emotions were pretty overwhelming. I was finally an American citizen and had the right to vote. It was a fantastic feeling to know I have my own country and am a citizen. I had never voted before the last election.”
Parrington has called the University of Tennessee home for many years. Now, he can officially also call the U.S. home. In fact, this summer, Parrington is coaching at his first World Championships since becoming a U.S. citizen, mentoring Lamp, who is a member of Team USA.
“I didn’t realize until fairly close to the ceremony that he wasn’t a citizen,” Kredich said. “When the ceremony came around, to see how meaningful it was to him was kind of eye-opening for me. That was fantastic. He didn’t stop smiling for a week. He’s been such a big part of our program and the diving community, especially the U.S. diving community because the college system is so much a part of it. It had been a long time for him to wait.”
Parrington is a coach who has stood the test of time. No matter the obstacles that have faced the Tennessee program, he has carried the Volunteers through with grace and dignity.
“He has been a real steadying influence on our programs,” Kredich said. “He’s also a heck of a coach and has overseen a tremendously successful diving program during his tenure. He has more than upheld his end of the bargain in terms of providing competitive excellence.”
That standard is one of many that Parrington looks to uphold for many years in the city and the country that are now – certifiable by citizenship – his own.
“Each year, every single team, even though it might have some of the same folks, has its own character,” Parrington said. “Every day and every year, I try to make our team a little bit better. We work on personal and professional goals that will help my divers do better themselves. I enjoy striving for excellence and being able to help the team at UT be the best it can be.”