Before the Dynasty: Eddie Reese as the Visionary of Auburn’s Swimming Success

Eddie Reese is arguably the most successful American swimming coach in history. In 41 seasons as the head coach of the Texas men, he has led his team to 14 NCAA team titles, 12 NCAA runner-up finishes, and 33 top-three finishes at the NCAA Championships. He is a 3-time CSCAA National Coach of the Year, 8-time NCAA Coach of the Year, 4-time ASCA Coach of the Year, has coached Texas to 40 consecutive conference titles and 40 consecutive top 10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, and through the 2018-2019 season has coached athletes to 73 NCAA individual titles and 50 relay titles.

The Eddie Reese era alone, considering only swimmers, at Texas ties the USC men as the 4th most successful men’s program in history in terms of NCAA event titles.

And while it seems like Reese has been at Texas forever, there was a time where he wasn’t the head coach of the most successful men’s collegiate program of the last 4 decades.

Reese started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Florida, while earning his master’s degree. A standout swimmer for the Gators, Reese was part of 3-straight SEC Championship teams for Florida in 1961, 1962, and 1963. As a co-captain his senior year, Reese became the first Florida swimmer to win 5 SEC titles in a single year when he won the 200 breast, 200 IM, 400 IM, 400 free relay, and 400 medley relay.

Like many swimmers then and now, he was able to use his reputation in the pool to quickly climb the coaching ladder. After spending 2 years as a teacher at Roswell High School in New Mexico, he returned to Florida where he spent 6 seasons as an assistant from 1967 through 1972. There he was part of a Florida rebuild that saw the team climb 14 spots in the national rankings during his tenure.

NCAA Finishes by season, University of Florida:

  • 1967 – 21st (tie)
  • 1968 – 18th
  • 1969 – 9th (tie)
  • 1970 – 17th
  • 1971 – 14th
  • 1972 – 7th

At the time, Florida was just forming into the powerhouse program that we know it as today, and the 7th-place finish in 1972 was the team’s best-ever placement at the NCAA Championships.

That effort earned Reese his first-ever collegiate head coaching job at SEC rivals Auburn University.

What Texas is to the 2010s, auburn was to the late 90s and 2000s: an absolutely dominant program. Starting with a title in 1997 and 1999, the Auburn men won 8 titles in 13 seasons, with Reese’s Texas men winning 3 of the remaining crowns in that span.

But, when Eddie Reese took over in the 1972-1973 season, the Auburn Tigers are not the powerhouse we know them as today. The program swam at its first SEC Championship meet in 1970, where the Tigers scored 70 points to finish in last place. The next-lowest scoring team was Georgia with 99 points, and Reese’s former Gator team won the title. They weren’t much better in 1971 or 1972, finishing 8th out of 8 teams in each of those seasons.

In 1972, Auburn was so bad that they didn’t qualify a single individual swimmer for the championship or consolation final at the SEC Championship meet.

But when Reese took over the program, it was as if a switch was flipped. Auburn suddenly jumped up to 4th place in the conference in 1973. A year later they were 3rd. The Tigers would remain in the top 3 of the conference every year until 1986.

Auburn Finishes at the SEC Championships, Eddie Reese era:

  • 1973 – 4th
  • 1974 – 3rd
  • 1975 – 3rd
  • 1976 – 3rd
  • 1977 – 3rd
  • 1978 – 2nd

The climb at the NCAA level was even more remarkable. The Auburn men made their first NCAA Championship appearance in program history in 1974, finishing in 17th place, and in Reese’s last season in 1972, they were the national runners-up behind Tennessee. The SEC held 4 of the top 7 places at that year’s NCAA Championship meet, with Florida 6th and Alabama 7th.

Auburn Finishes at the NCAA Championships, Eddie Reese era:

  • 1973 – Did Not Participate
  • 1974 – 17th
  • 1975 – 8th
  • 1976 – 8th
  • 1977 – 5th
  • 1978 – 2nd

Now, at Florida and Auburn, two programs today that are known among the best in the country, where Reese had a direct hand in their construction.

In the 1978-1979 season, he began what turned out to be his final program build at the University of Texas. The Longhorns weren’t in as poor of a position as Auburn was when Reese took over. In 1978, they finished tied with Stanford for 18th place at the NCAA Championships.

The team had placed as high as tied for 5th in 1939 at the NCAA Championships, albeit in a very different era of swimming. They scored a few other top 10 finishes in the 1950s, but for much of the 1960s and 1970s were a non-scoring team at the NCAA Championships. In fact, at the time Reese took over, the University of Texas-Arlington was the state’s dominant swimming program (the school was part of the Texas A&M system until 1965 before shifting to the University of Texas system).

Once again, though, Reese worked his magic to turn the program into a dominant program. In 1979, Reese’s first season leading Texas, they finished 21st at the NCAA Championships. By year 2, in 1980, they were 2nd, just 14 points behind Cal (with whom their primary modern rivalry is). A year later they won the whole thing in a 70-point runaway ahead of UCLA (2nd) and Florida (3rd). Reese’s current and former employers held 3 of the top 5 spots at the NCAA Championships that year, with Auburn placing 5th.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The remarkable career of Eddie Reese as an NCAA swimming coach is the thing of legends. Careers like that don’t get forgotten. He has had success throughout eras where the sport has changed and where the athletes have changed. Among that change, his success has been a constant.

It’s one thing to take over a historically-successful program and continue that success, and another to build a legendary program from scratch. Reese was a part of that 3 times.

40
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
40 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Silent Observer
8 months ago

Haha should that 40 year conference streak really be surprise? Since I don’t believe there was ever a chance that Texas wouldn’t win their small conference meet?

Granted, I only can recall the last 10 years or so… So def feel free to enlighten me if their conference was ever a real challenge.

SwimSam
Reply to  Silent Observer
8 months ago

Research SMU and their outstanding teams as part of the Southwest Conference and their 20+ year conference winning streak until Eddie and the boys from the late 70’s and early 80’s stopped that streak in it’s tracks. At that time, SMU was consistently in the national top 5 to 10 and just narrowly missed an NCAA title in the early 80’s. Names like Veris, Rhodenbaugh, Rhodenbaugh, Lundquist led their teams along with many other great SMU swimming and diving alums. All in the historic and loud Perkins Natatorium. Long live Roy Savage!

SwimCoachSean
Reply to  Silent Observer
8 months ago

A&M also got close a few times recently, even winning the girls conference championship a few times, before switching conferences. Not sure about combined championships, or if they even do that.

bigNowhere
Reply to  Silent Observer
8 months ago

The Big 12 conference used to have a much larger number of men’s swim teams, if you go back to the 80’s and 90’s. That included teams like the Nebraska, Iowa State and Kansas. All 3 of those (and maybe some others, can’t recall) got cut around 20 years ago. They weren’t as good as Texas but they had very competitive swimmers, like Adam Pine, an Australian Olympian who swam for Nebraska.

Also, SMU used to be really good with a bunch of international caliber swimmers. Steve Lundquist in the 80’s, Lars Frolander in the 90’s, etc.

Foreign Embassy
Reply to  bigNowhere
8 months ago

Ryan Berube was also an NCAA champ at SMU

BaldingEagle
Reply to  bigNowhere
8 months ago

Penny Heyns was a double Olympic champion 1996 (100 and 200 br) and swam at Nebraska. Theresa Allshamar also swam at Nebraska and won three medals in 2000.

Texan
Reply to  Silent Observer
8 months ago

They were Southwest Conference until 1996. Then the Big 12 formed. Others have mentioned the SMU days. They had some serious good swimmers before tuition skyrocketed (part of a scholarship doesn’t necessarily go far) and the facilities didn’t get updated. Nebraska was the powerhouse in the Big 8 when it became the Big 12, back when Nebraska was paying their swimmers (seriously weird, but true). Nebraska, Iowa State, and Kansas cut their men’s programs in 2001. And Missouri and A&M were in the Big 12 then. Nebraska won some early Big 12 women’s titles, and A&M won a few women’s titles before heading to the SEC. No one really challenged the Texas men during that time, but teams would have… Read more »

Arthur Curry
8 months ago

“Eddie Reese is arguably the most successful American swimming coach in history.”

No, its not arguable.

PsychoDad
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

How about:
“Eddie Reese is the most successful American men’s swimming coach in history.”

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  PsychoDad
8 months ago

How about American men’s swimming coach in NCAA history.

Thirteenthwind
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Or Jim Steen…

Texas Dad
Reply to  Thirteenthwind
8 months ago

Twice as many championships and I think he has won most championships of any sport in all of NCAA. Unfortunately the Lords have hit a dry spell For the past 5 years and the Big.Red men have been dominant

Mike Swam
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Agreed it’s far from certain. Richard Quick coached every Olympic team from 84-04. On top of 13 NCAA titles. RIP to a great man!

anon
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Doc Counsilman, Bob Bowman?

Ayyyyeeee
Reply to  anon
8 months ago

Counsilman maybe, he’s definitely in the conversation for accomplishments and impact to the sport. Even Eddie’s been quoted praising Doc’s brilliance to advance our sport. Bowman is a clown. Take one known individual swimmer he did well with out of the conversation and what’s left? He flaked at Michigan and is slightly above average at ASU bc he gets some decent recruits bc of his name.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Ayyyyeeee
8 months ago

Schmitty.

bigNowhere
Reply to  Ayyyyeeee
8 months ago

I wouldn’t say he flaked at Michigan. They had been a very good program before they got there, and they remained very good, just not at the very top. The previous coach, Urbanchek, was highly regarded, and the program seemed pretty similar to me (from a distance), focused on middle distance and distance events. Bowman coached a bunch of great swimmers during his time at Michigan (some of these were in the pro group of course); Peter Vanderkaay, Klete Keller, Tyler Clary, Eric Vendt, Davis Tarwater, etc.

Ayyyyeeee
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Yeah you hit that pretty well. Time, expectations; : Great job on that stats on placement, honestly didn’t look and didn’t realize it was that high. For a no-name developing program that could be great, but no necessarily in this case.
Conclusion: you’re all correct in that Urbanchek’s success was continued, but it’s also not like the next guy did any better and won a team title any time soon 😉

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

George Haines?

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Pretty sure his Mitch Ivey, Bob Jamison, Rick Eagleton, Bob Haywood, Mark Spitz et al Santa Clara HS team could have been top 3 at NCAAs in 1967. Won’t see 3 American records broken by one HS team ever again.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

Also, the first swim coach who got paid da money.— his Foxcatcher days.

MarkB
Reply to  Arthur Curry
8 months ago

Think beyond college coaching – George Haines!

He Said What?
8 months ago

Wasn’t Eddie the reason why Rowdy chose Auburn, but then Eddie left for Texas and Rowdy was left with a new coach who created his own history – Richard Quick? Correct me if I am wrong.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  He Said What?
8 months ago

With head pointed due north, Rowdy couldn’t breathe to his left.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

Read More »