Former St. Xavier, Arizona Coach Bill Behrens Dies

American swim coach Bill Behrens died on November 2nd at the age of 80. Per Behrens’ wishes, no service has been planned.

Behrens’ coaching resume includes stops at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Marlins, Swim Atlanta, the Cape Coast Swim Club in Florida, and as a volunteer assistant at the University of Arizona for Frank Busch: whom he coached at St. Xavier from 1965-1968.

In 2009, Behrens was inducted into the St. Xavier High School Hall of Fame as the coach who “laid the foundation for the St. (Xavier) Swimming Dynasty.” As the story is told by the school, “a Jesuit Scholastic was the St. X Swim Coach for the 1962-1963 season. He went home to Chicago for Christmas break and never came back. St. X needed a swim coach to finish out the season and Tom Ballaban found the perfect coach: an English teacher who couldn’t swim.

“Little did (Tom Ballaban) know, that when he hired Bill Behrens, he put in place a coach who laid the foundation for the St. X Swimming Dynasty,” a program that has won more state titles than any school, in any sport, in Ohio.

“The first thing Bill Behrens needed to learn was the difference between butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. He borrowed (Ballaban’s) film projector and spent countless hours watching swimming technique films made by Doc Counsilman.”

That first season, St. Xavier finished 13th at the state championship meet with a coach who didn’t know how to swim. By 1965, they had climbed to 8th. His coaching tree has now been involved in most of St. Xavier’s 30-straight state titles.

Dave Rollins, the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, who swam for Behrens at Arizona, remembered his former coach:

“I met Bill for the first time when I stepped foot on deck at the University of Arizona in the fall of 2002. It was there that he changed my life forever.  Bill was the first coach whom educated me on the sport of swimming.  Before Bill, swimming was just swimming.  Bill took me under his wing and helped me realize the impact each individual has not only on the team, but also on each other.  The lessons he taught me, I will forever hold dear to my heart.  Bill wanted each and every person he connected with to realize that they were not just there to better themselves.  They were members of a team to better those around them.  Bill’s was known for his goalsetting talks and his art of splitting races.  However, it was his (maybe not his originally) concept of “giving yourself up to something bigger than yourself” that opened my eyes and mind to allow me to be a better swimmer, teammate, coach, husband and father.  If not for Coach Behrens, I would not have met my wife, I would not have my amazing family and I would not be the man that I am today.  I can only hope that I am able to pass his lessons on and continue his legacy.”

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Justine Schluntz

Such sad news. Just yesterday I was thinking about Bill’s goal setting meeting at the beginning of my freshman year at Arizona, and reminiscing about how he helped me realize how much I needed to learn (a very difficult lesson for freshmen who think they know everything already!). Thanks Bill for everything you did for your swimmers. You will be missed.

Roric Fink

I truly enjoyed sharing the deck with Coach Behrens at Arizona. His attention to detail along with his love of swimming and compassion for his athletes were all lessons I took from Bill and try to use daily. RIP Coach!

Monty Hopkins

Bill Behrens was a generous and caring individual who generously shared his wisdom, knowledge, and passion for swimming with anyone wise enough to pay attention to what this quiet and humble genius had to say. Bill possessed a unique skill for informing, influencing, motivating and persuading without ever needing to be forceful or confrontational. His influence in the swimming world and impact on peoples lives is much more extensive than can easily seen. Bill did not need the spotlight, he seemed only to care about the outcome for every swimmer he ever met. He was a wonderful man, a somewhat underappreciated coach and, one more thing well worth knowing, he was a terrific photographer (both still and video). In his… Read more »


Thanks to Braden Keith and Dave Rollins for the well-done tribute to Coach Behrens posted further above. And thanks too, Monty, for your own fine celebration of a great man and a marvelous coach — yet (as you observe) an understated one. I myself was a sophomore St. Xavier breaststroker when Bill took over the team in 1962. Having himself been a St. Xavier basketball player in the late 50s, he’d wanted a basketball coaching assistantship, but all those jobs were already taken. So instead, AD/Football Coach Ballaban did indeed prevail upon Bill to take over the swimming program. Since Keating Natatorium wouldn’t be built until seven years later, we practiced at the old Friars Club, in a 1930-vintage, four-lane… Read more »


He was the ripple…

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of 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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