Farewell to a Legend: For One Final Time, Eddie Reese Leads Texas Into NCAA Champs

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Farewell to a Legend: For One Final Time, Eddie Reese Leads Texas Into NCAA Champs

As Eddie Reese plans to retire from coaching after the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, he’ll be leaving the swimming world with a plethora of accomplishments, but he and those who know him will immediately tell you that the most important part of his legacy has been—and will always be—about the people and the lives he’s touched.

A few things transpired when Eddie Reese was called to the stage to accept the Impact Award at last fall’s USA Swimming Golden Goggle Awards. For one, the legendary coach was greeted by a standing ovation, deep appreciation for his years of contributions to the sport. Additionally, his speech was a clinic in humility, as it focused on the individuals Reese encountered during his career, not himself.

Reese’s address to a who’s-who gathering of past and present American swim stars also featured—as expected—an entertaining degree of comedy. Reese has long been known for his deck-side jokes and ability to bring humor to the sport. So, when he commented on the velvety nature of the dining room’s napkins, the 82-year-old had the room laughing.

For years ahead, stories will be shared about Reese’s influence, and his jokes will endure. But Reese is departing his position as the head coach of the men’s program at the University of Texas following the United States Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, and that decision means fewer opportunities to celebrate, learn from and laugh with a man who has given swimming so much over five decades.

This week’s NCAA Championships will be the last for Reese, who initially announced his retirement after the 2021 season, only to reverse that decision a few months later. This time around, Reese is confident it is time to move on, with time with his wife, Elinor, and their grandchildren high on the agenda.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Where Reese’s Longhorns will finish at his final NCAAs is uncertain. This squad is not expected to challenge for a national title, although a top-five finish is within reach. Then again, there’s always been much more to his role than putting banners in the rafters of the Jamail Swim Center.

“The thing I got most out of coaching swimming has nothing to do with winning or trophies or anything like that,” Reese said. “It all has to do with interpersonal relationships. Coaches are in a great position that I love because I’m a firm believer that if the purpose of our life is to help, it puts us in a position to do just that. In one of the books (I read), we all know the saying, ‘You can’t take it with you when you die.’ And then, underneath that, it said, ‘The only thing you take with you is that which you’ve given others.’ We’re here to help, and I’ve been able to do that.”

SIGNIFICANT SUCCESS

Eddie Reese has maintained a consistent mantra during his tenure at Texas and at Auburn University prior to arriving in Austin. Reese has always focused on developing quality people and helping them get faster from the start of the season through its conclusion, and from year to year. Because of that approach, Texas enjoyed significant success.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

And as much as Reese does not toot his vast accomplishments, it is necessary to provide a snapshot of his achievements. Consider:

  • He has led Texas to 15 NCAA titles, the most in history, with those crowns spread over five decades.
  • His teams have finished runner-up at the NCAA Championships on 13 occasions, and boast 36 top-three finishes.
  • Under Reese’s guidance, Texas has won 45 consecutive conference championships, 27 in the Southwest Conference and 18 in the Big 12 Conference.
  • Entering this season, Reese-led athletes had won 75 individual NCAA titles and 55 relay crowns.
  • He is a three-time United States Olympic head coach and multi-time assistant.
  • Reese has guided 29 Longhorns to Olympian status, with those athletes combining for 63 Olympic medals (39 gold, 16 silver, eight bronze).
  • He is an inductee of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

There is plenty more that could have been included in that list of achievements, but those selected items clearly reflect a man who has established himself as a measuring stick of success. How has he excelled? In part, it hinges on his longstanding approach.

“To coach swimming well, it cannot be a job. It’s got to be a lifestyle,” Reese said. “In reality, I haven’t had a job for the 58 years that I’ve coached. It has been an incredible part of my life. And the incredible part has had nothing to do with winning and losing. It has to do with the people that I’ve been lucky enough to be around.”

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Beyond coaching some of the greatest athletes in swimming’s history, including Hall of Famers Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker, Reese has always focused heavily on relationships and the bigger picture. He and former longtime assistant Kris Kubik shared an enduring trust. Of late, Reese has mentored assistant Wyatt Collins.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

As for his athletes, it was critical they felt appreciated and were given an opportunity to succeed in and out of the pool. If a swimmer needed a boost, Reese was there to motivate. If an athlete was hurting, Reese knew how to console. If a situation required some levity, Reese was more than happy to infuse humor.

Simply, he was the complete package.

“He can impart wisdom to you in any situation, whether it’s sitting on the bleachers, in a pool, on a plane, whether it’s in an airport, in the weight room, out to dinner, in a car ride, and it can seemingly come out of nowhere, sometimes,” Collins said. “You might be talking hamburgers, and he drops a nugget on you where it’s like, ‘Wow, that just shook my world.’ Usually, you walk away with a little more experience than when you sat down with him. That’s why he’s Eddie Reese. That’s why there’s never going to be anyone like him. We’re all better for having him in our lives.”

HIS LEGACY WILL ENDURE

Eddie Reese will walk away from the day-to-day demands of coaching in the coming months. Before that day, a few of his athletes will challenge for NCAA success and berths to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Whatever unfolds will be.

What is guaranteed to endure into the future is the legacy Reese has established since stepping foot on the University of Texas campus in the late 1970s. In the days since, he has etched himself not only as a coaching great, but as a man who has emphasized the importance of developing high-character human beings and giving them what they needed.

“Eddie has always cared about us,” Hansen once said. “It wasn’t just about making us faster swimmers, even though he’s a master at doing that. It was about making us better people. He’s the greatest coach this sport has ever seen. I don’t think anyone can argue that. But he’s also one of the most special people I’ve ever met.”

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Steve Friederang
Steve Friederang
25 days ago

I agree both from personal experience and from hearing what so many have said about Eddie. We don’t always agree about everything, but we agree about something he has mastered — the love of his swimmers and the care for everyone around him. He indeed makes you better every time you interact with him. It’s by nature and by intention. He’s a role model for anyone in any field who wants to master leadership, both personal and of others. He’s in league with John Wooden; and not many can even be mentioned in the same sentence. He has earned the love, respect, and admiration of every person in and who watches our sport. Thank you Eddie Reese. Stick around; we still need you.

Steve Friederang
Steve Friederang
25 days ago

I agree both from personal experience and from hearing what so many have said about Eddie. We don’t always agree about everything, but we agree about something he has mastered — the love of his swimmers and the care for everyone around him. He indeed makes you better every time you interact with him. It’s by nature and by intention. He’s a role model for anyone in any field who wants to master leadership, both personal and of others. He’s in league with John Wooden; and not many can even be mentioned in the same sentence. He has earned the love, respect, and admiration of every person in and who watches our sport. Thank you Eddie Reese. Stick around; we still need you.

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