By Roots Woodruff
TUSCALOOSA, Ala., Oct. 3. ON Friday, October 5, the competition pool of the Alabama Aquatic Center will be named the Don Gambril Olympic Pool after the man who
built the Crimson Tide swimming and diving team into a juggernaut in the early 70s.
In addition to the naming ceremony, which will take place at 6:30 p.m., the Alabama Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame will also be dedicated. Both ceremonies will follow the Tide's intra-squad meet which starts at 5 p.m. More than 200 guests are expected to be in attendance, including many of Gambril's greatest athletes. Jonty Skinner, the first member of the Tide's hall of fame and its first NCAA Champion, called his former mentor a father figure.
"Coach instilled many great qualities in me, and I have ridden and cashed in on those attributes for many years," said Skinner, who followed Gambril as the Tide's coach in 1990. "I know that I am a far better
person because of his influence, and feel very lucky to be standing in his shadow."
Gambril came to Alabama in 1973 and wasted no time in making a good Crimson Tide program into one of the nation's very best. Not only was the Tide's rocket ride to the top swift under Gambril — the Tide was No. 2 in the nation by his fourth season — it was also sustained, including 16 top-10 NCAA finishes.
Skinner was the first of seven NCAA Champions to compete under Gambril's watchful eye. In addition, Skinner and Casey Converse set NCAA records – Skinner in the 100 freestyle and Converse in the 1650 freestyle.
During the late 1970s, Gambril oversaw the construction of pool that after Friday, will bear his name. Finished in 1980 and measuring 50 meters by 25 yards, the facility includes a diving tower and four spring boards. The pool is universally considered one of the fastest pools in the United States, a claim borne out by the fact that in 1992, Martin Zubero set a
world record there in the 200m backstroke at the Rammer Jammer Invitational.
During the 17 years Gambril spent at the Tide's helm, his squads won three Southeastern Conference titles (men in 1982 and 1987 and the women in 1985). Gambril coached Crimson Tide athletes to world records, national and conference records and championships and countless All-American and All-SEC honors.
In addition to elevating Alabama to the highest echelon of collegiate athletics, Gambril was a regular on the United States National Team coaching staff. He was head coach of the ultra-successful 1984 U.S.
Olympic squad as well as the 1991 World Championship squad. He was also assistant coach for the 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980 U.S. Olympic squads. As part of the U.S. National Team coaching staff, Gambril worked with the
biggest names in the modern era, including Matt Biondi, Nancy Hogshead, John Naber, Mary T. Meagher and Mark Spitz.
Gambril retired from coaching after the 1990 season, during which Alabama's men finished ninth and the women took 12th at the NCAA Championships, and went into administration as an Associate Athletics
Director. From 1990 to 1998, Gambril was charged with overseeing and nurturing Alabama's Olympic Sports program.
Over the years, Gambril has been honored by countless
organizations for his talents as a coach and leader. He is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and Scholastic Coach of the Year in 1985. Four
times he was named SEC Coach of the Year. In 1983, Gambril was the first individual to earn the prestigious U.S. Swimming Award (the U.S. Olympic
Committee was given the inaugural award in 1982).
Gambril received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from California State at Los Angeles. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1955-57. He and his wife Teddy, married in 1953, have three children, Kim, Troy and Greg. Kim and Troy graduated from the University of Alabama while Greg earned his Law degree at Alabama.