Allen “Skip” Kenney, one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, died on Sunday night. He was 79 years old.
Kenney fell and fractured his hips three weeks ago, and after surgery with the hope of regaining some mobility, his condition never improved.
Kenney had an illustrious career at Stanford University, leading the Cardinal men to seven NCAA Championship titles during his 33-year run as head coach.
The Fresno, Calif., native took over as head coach of the program in 1979, and led the Cardinal men to two separate runs of three consecutive NCAA Championships, winning team titles in 1985, 1986 and 1987, and then again in 1992, 1993 and 1994. He capped it off with a seventh title in 1998.
The 1992 squad set NCAA meet records for points scored (632) and margin of victory (276 over Texas), and the 1998 team became the first to have a representative in every championship final (both individual and relays). The points-scored record was surpassed by Auburn in 2004 (634 points).
Kenney also led his swimmers to 31 consecutive Pac-10/Pac-12 titles, coached 134 All-Americans and 72 NCAA Champions, and was named the NCAA Coach of the Year six times and the Pac-10 Coach of the Year 20 times.
Kenney also had an impressive career on the international stage, most notably being named head coach of the U.S. Men’s Olympic team in 1996. He was also an assistant coach at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, served on the U.S. coaching staff at the 1987 Pan Am Games, 1993 Pan Pacs and 1994 World Championships, and was the head U.S. men’s coach at the 2004 Short Course World Championships in Indianapolis.
Born and raised in Fresno, Kenney played baseball and dove at Fresno High School. Upon graduation, he joined the U.S. Marines, went through boot camp, and served in Vietnam for 13 months from 1965 to 1966, including four months as a sniper.
He said he drew on his military experience in developing his coaching style.
Kenney’s first swim coaching position came as an assistant to Don Gambril from 1968-71 at Phillips 66 Long Beach (which ultimately became the Long Beach Swim Club), and also coached at Long Beach State during that time.
Gambril was hired as the head coach at Harvard University in 1971, and Kenney followed him, staying there for one season before taking the head coaching position at the Houston Dad’s Club in Texas. He then moved to the Cincinnati Marlins, coaching a pair of swimmers to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and three to the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that didn’t end up competing due to the boycott.
In 1979, he took over as the head coach of the Stanford men’s team, beginning what would be more than three decades of unmatched success. Prior to leading the Cardinal to their first conference championship in 1982, Stanford had not won the title since 1958-59.
His run of 31 straight conference championships is the longest in Pac-10 history (now Pac-12) across any sport.
In 2004, Kenney was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF).
Over the course of his career, Kenney coached a total of 18 swimmers to the Olympic Games, winning 10 gold, three silver and three bronze medals. The list of Olympic gold medalists includes Kurt Grote, Joe Hudopohl, Pablo Morales and Jeff Rouse.
In spite of his success, the end of Kenney’s career was under a cloud of controversy. He was suspended by Stanford in March of 2007 after admitting that he had intentionally erased school records and top-ranked performances from the team’s media guide of several athletes who he clashed with.
The suspension led to Kenney missing the 2007 NCAA Championships, with associate head coach Ted Knapp taking over in the interim.
An investigation launched by the university found a pattern of conflict between Kenney and certain swimmers he coached, including NCAA violations of voluntary workouts and allegations of abusive treatment of athletes.
In April 2007, Stanford announced that Kenney would serve a 60-day suspension without pay and then return to his position as head coach. Kenney issued a public apology when the school announced the suspension.
After Kenney’s retirement in 2012, Knapp took over as head coach for seven seasons before stepping down in April 2019.