University of Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley is retiring from coaching, the school announced Wednesday.
Pursely, an Alabama alum (he received his bachelor’s degree in 1972 and master’s in 1973), took over the team in 2012 and will stay in his role until a successor is named.
“I have been truly blessed with the opportunity to work with hundreds of exceptional young men and women during my 47 year career, and I will be forever grateful to The University of Alabama for the very special honor and privilege of finishing my coaching career here at my alma mater,” Pursley said in a press release.
Since he took over, Alabama’s men have swum to top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships four times, taking seventh in 2019. The women’s team has placed at the last six-straight national championships. In his tenure, Pursley’s swimmers won four individual NCAA titles, 20 SEC titles, three SEC championship “Swimmer of the Meet” honors, and two SEC “Swimmer of the Year” honors.
Pursley’s career accolades extend far beyond his time in Tuscaloosa, however. He was appointed USA Swimming National Team Director in 1989, and held that role for 14 years. The U.S. finished first in the medal count at all three Olympics he oversaw – 1992, 1996, and 2000 – in both the men’s and women’s tallies. Pursley was awarded the United States Olympic Committee Chairman’s “Coaching Award” for the 2000 performance.
More recently, he went to the Olympics as head coach of the British team in 2012.
Prior to his National Team tenure, in 1981, he was named the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport. He served as head coach for the combined team for two years and then as head coach for the men only for two more. Six of his athletes (four men and two women) accounted for half of Australia’s medals in the 1984 Olympic Games.
Pursley began coaching as a graduate assistant under Don Gambril with the University Aquatic Club at the University of Alabama. In 1974, he returned to his hometown as head coach of Lakeside Swim Club. While there, he was appointed to the coaching staff of the 1979 USA Pan American Games team. Among his athletes in that time was Mary T. Meagher, a 1984 Olympian later deemed “Madam Butterfly,” who set multiple world records that stood for over a decade.
Pursley placed six swimmers overall on the 1980 USA Olympic Team and was appointed to the USA Olympic Team staff, though the games were later boycotted.
During the first decade of Pursley’s career, his swimmers accounted for seven 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 all, he was a five-time Olympic coach, a U.S. Olympic Committee “Coach Of The Year,” an American Swimming Coaches Association “Coach Of The Year,” an American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, and was recognized in 2003 as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the History of USA Swimming.”