Duke Head Swimming & Diving Coach Dan Colella Dies, 60

Original published Dec 16, 2022

Duke head swimming & diving coach Dan Colella has died as a result of complications from prostate cancer. He was 60 years old.

Colella, the 5th head coach in program history, spent 16 seasons as the head coach of the Blue Devils. Under his direction, the team has made NCAA Championship meet appearances in each of the past 13 seasons, including a program-record 12 female athletes at the 2018 championships.

His most recent recruiting class for the Duke women was ranked 7th nationally, one of the best classes for the Blue Devils in decades, with more top-25 nationally-ranked recruits on the way.

His tenure also saw the women’s program brought to full scholarship status and the expansion of its coaching staff, leaving a long-lasting legacy on the program.

Prior to Duke he spent 12 years as the head coach of the women’s program at the University of Tennessee. He arrived as an assistant coach in 1990 and was promoted to head coach in 1993. That time included ten top 25 finishes in 12 seasons.

During that time, he also worked with SwimSwam CEO Mel Stewart, who was a member of the men’s team at the time.

“I trained with him, with the women’s team intermittently over the years,” Stewart said.

“Dan was a reassuring presence on deck at 5AM, or during those long days during Christmas training. He had what great coaches earned over a lifetime, the love and respect of his swimmers.

“I remember how much Dan’s swimmers loved him. Even after they stopped swimming, they always came back to Dan for guidance. He attended graduations and weddings. He wasn’t just a coach on deck. He was your coach for a lifetime. Members of both teams, the men and the women, felt like they could go to Dan for guidance, even though he was the women’s head coach, and I think that shows what a class human being he was.”

Several of Colella’s peer coaches spoke glowingly about his reputation as a mentor of young people on Friday evening.

Stanford head women’s coach Greg Meehan echoed those thoughts. “This is a sad day for the swimming community. Each and every interaction with Dan felt genuine – he’d ask how you were doing, about your family, and you knew he cared about your response.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Dan’s family and the Duke community.”

Mike Murray, the President of the American Swimming Coaches’ Association, echoed those sentiments.

“Dan was a tremendous coach, mentor, and friend to so many in our business. He will be missed, and our thoughts are with his family.”

From 1986-1990, he was an assistant coach at Indian River Community College in Florida.

Colella’s coaching accomplishments were not limited to the collegiate level, as he has tutored athletes who have competed in the Olympic Games, Olympic Trials, Pan American Games, Pan Pacific Games, World Championships and World University Games. Three of his swimmers made appearances at the 2004 Olympic Trials and nine competed at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, while former Tennessee swimmer Fabiola Molina represented Brazil at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Colella earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resource management and geology from Sewanee, The University of the South in 1984. In addition to being a member of the Order of the Gownsmen, an academic honor society, and Beta Theta Pi, Colella was a member of the school’s swimming team. He served as captain for two years and earned three accolades as the team’s MVP from 1981-83, as well as two Southern College Athletic Conference titles – the 100 and 200 backstroke in 1981. Specializing in butterfly and the IM events, Colella was the university’s all-time leading scorer in championship meets when he graduated.

Duke isn’t scheduled to race again until January 14, when they host NC State.

Update: A memorial service will be held on Sunday, January 15, 2023 at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center the day after the team’s meet against NC State.

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Donald Prigitano Jr
1 year ago

So sorry to hear about his death. I swam with and against Danny on the YMCA team in CT, though he was 2 years older. . Prayers for all the family

Stephen "Sid" Cassidy
1 year ago

It is a more empty swimming world without Dan this week and as all of the tributes here describe, he was truly one of the good guys who gave so much more than he ever asked for.
He was a respected team captain here at Saint Andrew’s School when he was a boarding school swimmer under Coach Duff Tyler, one of his father’s longtime friends.
May all of his family members and aquatic family members find peace.

T Hill
1 year ago

Unaware of his challenge with cancer. Always willing to share and care for others. He will be missed my friend. Prayers & thoughts for your family.

1 year ago

Thoughts and prayers to his family and the Duke Swimming community

Richard Sybesma
1 year ago

So sorry to hear this. A great Coach, Man, and Blue Devil. He will be missed by many. Prayers for his family and the Duke program.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar
1 year ago

Braden, thank you for honoring Coach Colella like this. He was a good man, in addition to being a good coach. He shepherded my God-Children’s swimming & academic lives at Duke – he was a friend to do so many. He welcomed me to have a connection with the team. When he knew he had a month to live, he continued to work and coach … that’s how he wanted to spend his life. RIP Coach Dan Colella. ♥️

John Brucato
1 year ago

Dan always had time to engage in meaningful and thoughtful conversation. It was very evident the depth of his compassion for our sport and for all the athletes he mentored.

Amy Kolman
1 year ago

My coach, mentor, and longtime friend… Mark and I are so sad to know you’re gone. I am so glad we had a quick check-in this October but I wish I told you then just how very important you were and are to me. Sending our thoughts and prayers to the entire Colella family.

Page Kunst
Reply to  Amy Kolman
1 year ago

Thinking of you and Mark

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner 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, …

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