Throwback Thursday Video: The Barefoot Boys of Tennessee, Clad In Coonskin Caps Rule SEC Swimming

Back in the 1970s, the University of Tennessee Swimming and Diving team was a force to be reckoned with in the SEC. The force behind the VOLS swimming program was Coach Ray Bussard.

Coach Bussard was not a swimmer, but he understood the sport, and college swimming, and how to win at the college level.

A sprinter’s a sprinter, and a sprinter and a sprinter and a sprinter. A sprinter can sprint all strokes.

— Ray Bussard

Ray Bussard also had a flare for theatrics and understood branding decades before the word “branding” became a marketing buzz term. UT Swimmers did wear and became known for those coonskin caps, and they ran through a massive orange T at the start of all home meets. Coach Bussard felt swimming should adopt the pizazz football had long enjoyed, and while the VOLS swim team was under his command, swimming shined bright and big and orange.

Coach Bussard’s Tennessee VOLS won the NCAA Championship in 1978.  He served on Team USA’s coaching staff at the 1979 and 1983 Pan Am Games and the 1984 Olympic Games.  He was inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) in 1999.

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6 years ago

Talk about a Throwback Thursday! Ever present and glorious Timettes! That is some good stuff right there.

6 years ago

Great to see the Barefoot Boys in the Coonskin caps. I liked seeing the scoreboard where the times had to be entered manually from stopwatches by turning the knobs. There was something very suspenseful about having to wait to see what the times were, and in some cases, who won the race. (sometimes by “Judges Decision” in the case of ties, before the days of electronic timing to the hundredth of a second). If you were at the other end of the pool and couldn’t see the numbers on the board, and occasionally the announcer couldn’t either, you either had to wait til the times got passed your way via word of mouth, til someone gave the announcer the times,… Read more »

Lane Four
6 years ago

This is GREAT! I am hoping SwimSwam can get their hands on other videos similar to this one for the “older” swimming fan. It is wonderful to relive such vivid memories! Thank you for this posting.

Swim Doug
6 years ago

My recollection was they poured in a bottle of water from their home pool at the start of meets ?

Reply to  Swim Doug
6 years ago

Yes, they did

6 years ago

Yes, the pouring of water from their home pool is still today a (pretty cool) tradition at Tennessee.

Kurt Wienants
6 years ago

Andy Coan. David Edgar. John Van Meter. Randy Kyle. Among so very many others.

Kurt Wienants
Reply to  Kurt Wienants
6 years ago

Coach Buzzard always treated us with excellent class when we visited to swim against UT from U of Miami. Great memories

Gardner Howland
6 years ago

The Tennessee Swimming experience of the 70’s was beyond description! Ray-Man had the vision… and he made it happen. I don’t think any college program has created that kind of buzz and excitement since, and probably never will(A Sports Illustrated feature article on the UT-Bama dual meet, are you kidding me?). Thanks for posting the video and keeping the memory of Coach Bussard alive. He was a great man, and one-of-a-kind!

6 years ago

What a great find! I think that’s the first I’ve ever seen of the NCAA’s at Belmont Plaza. It was the first time I heard the name Rowdy Gaines and I never forgot it. I had a battle with Marc Foreman in the 400 IM that felt epic at the time. UCLA traveled to Tennessee in 1979 for a dual meet and the Vols came out to UCLA the next year. Those were great battles and I have fond memories of them.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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