By the Numbers: Looking Back at Legendary Coach Don Gambril’s Career on His 90th Birthday

by Riley Overend 12

January 02nd, 2024 College, News, SEC

In honor of Don Gambril‘s 90th birthday today, let’s look back at the career accomplishments of the legendary U.S. Olympic coach who also turned University of Alabama into a powerhouse swim program starting in the 1970s.

1 – season playing center and linebacker for Cal State LA’s football team in 1956.

2 – years serving in the U.S. Navy and swimming for the All-Navy “B” team, which he credited for getting him into the best shape of his life.

3 – SEC crowns captured during his tenure at Alabama (men in 1982 and 1987, women in 1985).

4 – college head coaching stops at Pasadena City College (1965-67), Long Beach State (1967-71), Harvard (1971-73), and Alabama (1973-90), where he was a four-time SEC Coach of the Year and the Crimson Tide earned four top-5 finishes at the NCAA Championships.

5 – U.S. Olympic coaching staffs served on from 1968-84, though America ultimately boycotted the 1980 Olympics on Moscow.

7 – NCAA champions who competed for Gambril at Alabama, two of whom (Jonty Skinner and Casey Converse) set NCAA records.

11 – Hall of Fame inductions, including into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1983.

14 – Olympic gold medals won by swimmers that Gambril trained, including Mark SpitzSharon Stouder, and Mary T. Meagher.

16 – top-10 NCAA finishes by the Crimson Tide during Gambril’s 17 seasons in Tuscaloosa. Across all four of his collegiate head coaching stops, his teams also won 16 league championships.

19 – national teams coached throughout his career.

20 – world records broken by swimmers that Gambril trained.

21 – gold medals won by the U.S. Olympic swim team at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where Gambril was head coach. Team USA also broke 20 world records in the pool.

25 – gold medals won by U.S. swim team at the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela.

38 – total years coaching.

114 – All-American swimmers coached throughout his career.

300 – total college wins accumulated as a head coach, the majority (237) of which came at Alabama. He also posted an incredible 48-3 dual meet record at Long Beach State, where he mentored future Stanford coach Skip Kenney.

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Janie Glidden
5 months ago

#16 Could have also been Coach’s FIRST AAU NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM – 1965 WOMEN’S INDOOR AAU CHAMPS…Sixteen young AAU Girls (pre-Title IX!) that won & placed in events up to and including the last Relay over Santa Clara! Coach’s FIRST! Several of these AAU Women Swimmers were also AAU All-Americans which included three 1964 Women Olympic Team Members (also a FIRST for him!)….that may not be in the Collegiate count. Several of us ‘Commerce Girls’ did a zoom call with Coach on his Birthday <3. Janie – (1965 Team Co-Captain with Sandy Nitta)

5 months ago

I just loved swimming for Coach Gambril. He was really tough but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. After graduation, he kept in touch all these years with little notes of encouragement. He was one to never forget and remind you of a swim, or a practice set, or your weight! Lol He also assembled the most amazing assistant coaches who later went on to be successful coaches themselves. He has wonderful kids and adoring grandkids and is respected by so many. I adore him to pieces and proud to have been part of his program. Happy birthday Coach! ❤️

Mark R. Lambert
5 months ago

Lots of THANKS to Don Gambril!
Decades of coaching, administering, and, helping to make American swimming better!
Your career, from the 1960’s to the 2020’s, continues to be an example for others to learn and follow! Many, many more!

5 months ago

Congratulations, Coach Gambril. And many more.

5 months ago

I also swam for Don at City of Commerce..he was innovative, and tough..

Jonty Skinner
5 months ago

So glad that you took time to celebrate this great man on his 90th birthday. I swam for coach Gambril, worked as his assistant coach, but i knew little of his back story until I read his book ” A coach with a heart.” It was wonderful to read. If you know coach, and want to know more about his back story, I’d reccomend reading the book.

Steve Nolan
5 months ago

That logo rules.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
5 months ago

That’s what I came here to mention! Gambril is/was great! And can we just take a second to appreciate how awesome the ’84 Olympic logo was?! I always thought it, and Seoul ’88, were the coolest.

Jimmy Tierney
5 months ago

Such a legend, and a gentleman. Happy Birthday Don!

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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