Farewell to a legend: Eddie Reese retires

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Eddie Reese has retired after 15 national championships and 43 years as the men's swimming and diving head coach at the University of Texas (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — There is a saying coaches and athletes cite when they start fielding questions about when they might retire. “It’s always better to go out on top.”

Eddie Reese apparently took that mantra more seriously than any coach in Texas history, or perhaps in the history of college athletics.

The legendary head coach of the Texas men’s swimming and diving program announced his retirement Monday after 43 seasons at the helm of one of the unquestioned marquee programs in the sport. Reese’s retirement will take effect after this summer's Olympics, after which he will continue to contribute to the program in an emeritus role. 

Assistant coach Wyatt Collins will take over as interim head coach.

Appropriately, Reese’s announcement came two days after he guided the Longhorns to the national championship — their 15th during his tenure — in Greensboro, N.C. UT won at least one national championship in each of the last five decades. In typical modesty, Reese gave the credit for his nearly impossible record of success to the student-athletes.

"Where we are today and where I am today is made possible by everyone who has swum here before and is swimming here now," Reese said in a statement released by the Texas athletic department. "They are such a big part of the success of this program. When people get together with the mindset of accomplishing something, even though it is tough during that year in time, it just adds up to something truly amazing. I want to thank those guys who trusted me, did all the hard workouts and made the sacrifices in and out of the water. It has been an honor for me to be a part of this program."

Reese’s list of accolades is so dominant it would be easy to believe it was embellished. Since he was hired in 1979, the Longhorns won 42 straight conference championships and finished among the nation’s top 10 teams 41 years in a row. 

Among the most incredible statistics is the fact that Reese guided the Longhorns to 12 second-place finishes in the NCAA Championships; coupled with the team’s 15 national championships, that means the Horns finished among the top two in the country in 27 of 43 seasons — 62.8 percent.

Texas also finished third in the country six times.

Reese said he is glad that his retirement will not separate him completely from the program.

"I am going to be a coach emeritus,” he said. “That means I can still help and I want to do that. It's important for all of us. Working with swimmers has been one of the true joys of my life, and I definitely want to keep doing that. In my long life, I've discovered that the most important thing for us to do in this world is help others, whether it be for something simple or complex. Coaching allows me to do that."

Reese has been named NCAA Coach of the Year eight times, American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) Coach of the Year four times and College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) National Coach of the Year three times. His Longhorns won 73 NCAA individual titles and 52 relay crowns during his time at Texas, and the recently completed outdoor pool facility, located just outside of the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center, was opened in August and named in his honor.

"There certainly is some a level of sadness seeing our legend retire, but what a wonderful time it is to celebrate his amazing legacy," UT vice president and athletics director Chris Del Conte said. "Rest assured though, while he will be stepping aside as head coach after the Olympic Games this summer, we are fortunate that he's agreed to continue on in an emeritus role with our program. Thankfully, that will allow his impact with our student-athletes to carry on."

Reese is the only coach to win NCAA team championships in five decades. His first and last national titles were separated by 40 years — his first claimed in 1981, the last this season. A three-time head coach of the U.S. Olympic men's swimming team (in 1992, 2004 and 2008), he coached 29 Longhorn Olympians who collected 63 medals (39 gold, 16 silver, eight bronze). He is a member of the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor, Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF).

“Eddie Reese is truly the greatest coach ever,” Del Conte said. “His records speak for themselves, but the way he led his program, trained and prepared his student-athletes to perform at their best in the pool and all facets of their lives, is just exemplary and extraordinary. Nobody has or ever will do it better.”

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