Pursley Returning Stateside Post-London, Alabama in View?

Late last week, British Swimming announced that National Performance Director Michael Scott would be staying on with the organization through the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which is a well-deserved nod of confidence after a large uptick in the profile of British Swimming over the last quadrennial. The major accomplishment of his tenure has been the establishment of the Intensive Training Center system in Britain that now trains most of the country’s top swimmers.

But maybe even more significantly from the release was the information that American Dennis Pursley, who has been serving as the British Swimming head coach since July of 2008, was returning to the US for undisclosed “family reasons” after the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Pursley was earlier in his career the first-ever National Team Director in the history of USA Swimming, and is among the most influential names in the modern era of the sport.

One would guess that his coaching career is not-yet over, as he still has a ton to give to the sport with his wealth of experience – he has led the Australian National Team program, had a stop in Canada, and put 6 swimmers on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team (though that squad never ended up travelling to the games).

Where he ends up is still up in the air. Suffice it to say that he will have access to any available coaching position in the country – including the two big ones that have recently opened up, and the many more that should continue to roll through as dominoes fall like they always do in an Olympic year. We haven’t been given any specifics on his “family reasons” for returning to the United States, but one would presume that it has to do with the fact that his entire family (including his wife) is living in America.

His wife lives in Phoenix; his son is an assistant at Arizona State; his daughter coaches at Utah.

But there’s one big job opening that I think would draw him in.


It might seem odd that one of the world’s greatest swimming coaches would move back to the United States to land at a program that is in a bit of a depression competitively for the last decade.

Except that this great swimming coach happens to be a 1973 graduate of Alabama, including a one-year post-graduate “apprenticeship” under Dom Gambril in Tuscaloosa.

Does the timing seem too good? Former Alabama coach Eric McIlquaham “resigned,” which is usually code for “was asked to resign.” Could the deal to bring in Pursley have already been in the works with the brass decided it was time to take the program in a new direction?

The big drawback is that it’s been some time since he coached a formal “team”; since his last stop at rivals Auburn as a “Director of Swimming Operations”. But it seems as though it wouldn’t take too much for him to get back into the rhythm of college swimming.

For now, it’s all speculation; but much like some of the names thrown into the mix for the job at Texas, its speculation with a convenient twist. The best news, for Americans, is that one of the world’s top coaches is returning stateside, and that can only be good for American swimming.

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12 years ago

I beg to differ with Swim3057 who says Pursley was successful every where he has been.. Most coaches felt that he set US Swimming back when he was the National Team Director. His best coaching job was with Lakeside and Cincy Pepsi Marlins when he had Mary T. Meagher among others. He did a nice job there but I have my doubts he would be a successful coach at Alabama. By successful I mean turn them into a top 5 program and compete with other SEC top teams. I could be wrong but I think there are better candidates.

Eddie Han
12 years ago

I just feel that Coach Pursley would be a great addition as Head Coach for the University of Alabama! If he does come to the U of A, he will be given the opportunity to utilize a lot of resources. Global Sport Technology, Inc. (Dr. G and I) will be one phone call away and I am sure all of the Alabama greats: Coach Don Gambril, Jonty Skinner, Glenn Mills, etc., want to see nothing more than to see Alabama return to its glory days. In addition, he brings a “big” name to the recruiting table — something that has been lacking for some time now.

12 years ago

Sholin, I remember Denny on training camps. That’s true. Marsh, JT (Frankie Bell & Jeff Gaeckle), they were the drivers. They built the base and confidence…. But Denny has high-level skills. There’s no denying that. I really loved his work ethic. He designed challenging sets, kept us focused throughout the year (even when we weren’t training at the Springs or thinking Team USA). Denny’s an A-list candidate for a DI team. If I were a DI A.D., he’d be on my short list….

12 years ago

I echo Mel’s comment – Dennis has been successful everywhere he has been and would be a solid college coach. Those who have worked with him when he was USA Swimming’s National Team Director (and in Australia and Great Britain) are aware of Dennis’ organizational, administrative and leadership skills and at the collegiate level those skills are absolutely neccessary with all the details that constantly needing attention. While those often are delegated by the Head Coach to an assistant, the Head Coach still needs to take responsibility. As far as on-deck coaching, Dennis has a proven track record and while he may not have been on the pool deck every day the last several years, it is not as if… Read more »

12 years ago

In 1972 I joined a summer league team in Louisville, KY – the Louisville Boat Club. There was a young coach there we called Denny. He was awesome and everyone wanted to work hard for him. Then my kids got involved with USA Swimming and got fast and I became a swim nerd. Imagine my surprise to find out that my summer leage Coach Denny had gone on to incredible achievements and success! I have followed his career ever since. As I think back to that young man who was so enthusiastic but demanded excellence 40 years ago and add that to what I have heard about him since. I know that Alabama or any program would be fortunate to… Read more »

Reply to  Hschler
12 years ago

1972 was a hell of a long time ago. Will he need a walker on deck?

12 years ago

Pursley was my Nat Team coach for nearly 7 years. He’s among the greatest…on a long list. Among the top 50, he’s certainly 21-50 in rank… The guy’s had a a long career.

Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
12 years ago

Mel- can you elaborate on how Dennis was your National Team coach? What does that mean? Last time I checked, JT and guy named Marsh were coaching you when you were on the National Team. Was Dennis with you on deck?

Being an administrator behind a desk and actually writing workouts on deck (among other coaching responsibilities) are entirely different tasks-look at Frank Busch’s duties now vs AZ. When is the last time D wrote a workout or produced a swimmer?

12 years ago

Article is absurd. Who has Dennis actually coached in the last 30 years? “One of the world’s greatest coaches,”? Get real.

Reply to  Bullddoze
12 years ago

Wow, Dozer, who peed in your Cheerios this morning? You know Coach Pursley is a hack for sure? You boys with McIlquaham and feel he got slighted for Pursley to come back and take the position??

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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