Passages: Andy Coan, Former World Record-Holder and Tennessee Vol, Loses Fight With Cancer

Photo Courtesy: Andy Coan

Andy Coan, a former world record-holder in the 100 free, has passed away, according to a report from the Knoxville News Sentinel. He was 60 years old.

Coan, according to the report, had for two years suffered from Guillian-Barre syndrome, damaging his nervous and immune systems, and he was later diagnosed with liver cancer, which ended up being the cause of his death.

Coan set his world record on Aug. 3, 1975, touching in 51.11 in a local meet in Ft. Lauderdale, to break Jim Montgomery’s previous mark by one hundredth of a second. But he ended up holding the mark for less than three weeks before Montgomery took it back and became the first man ever under 51.

Coan won three gold medals at the 1975 World Championships in Cali, Columbia, including the 100 free, and he then swam at Tennessee from 1976 until 1980.

In 1978, he won both the 50 and 100 free at the NCAA championships and was a key cog in helping the Volunteers win the program’s first NCAA championship and, to that point, the first won by any school from the SEC. Over the next two seasons, he split the NCAA titles in the 50, 100 and 200 free with Auburn’s Rowdy Gaines.

Coan chose not to participate in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He is a member of the Tennessee and Pine Crest Hall of Fames.

Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel here.

Press release from International Swimming Hall of Fame:

The International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) sadly reports that Andy Coan has passed away after a long illness in a Hospice facility in Boca Raton. He was 60 years old. In 1975, at 17 years of age, while representing the Pine Crest High School and swimming for ISHOF Honor Coach Jack Nelson, he broke Jim Montgomery’s 12-day old world-record in the 100 meter freestyle.

Later that year, Coan won three gold medals representing the USA at the 1975 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Cali, Colombia, as a member of the 400 freestyle, the 400 medley relays and an individual gold in the 100 freestyle. He continued his winning run at the 1975 United States National Swimming Championships, where he won the 100 free.

After graduation from Pine Crest in 1976, Coan attended the University of Tennessee on a swimming scholarship. At UT he won seven NCAA Championships, including the 50 and the 100 freestyle twice.

Andy missed two opportunities to compete in the Olympic Games. He came up short in 1976, and when the Carter Olympic boycott was announced, he chose not to participate in the post Olympic Trials.

Until health issues prevented him from doing so, Andy could be found on the pool deck helping Sid Cassidy and Jay Fitzgerald coach their teams at the Saint Andrews School and at his alma mater, Pine Crest.

He was diagnosed withe Guillian-Barre disease several years ago and had gone from total paralysis to a point were he was able to travel to Santa Clara, Calif., for a reunion of the USA’s 1975 World Championship team, organized by the ISHOF. But then came a battle against liver cancer that ultimately took his life.

“Andy was a great friend of swimming and the Pine Crest School,” said the schools coach, Jay Fitzgerald.  “He was always generous with his time and always positive – even through all his health issues. He will be missed.”

Coan still holds the Pine Crest School records for the 50 and 100 freestyle at 20.19 and 43.99, respectively, dating to 1975.  Amazingly, those times would have won the 2016 state titles, without a tech suit or underwater starts and turns.

Andy leaves behind his 13 year-old son Richard and his girlfriend, Karen Britton, who faithfully stood by him through all of his health problems.

A memorial service is being planned to take place at the ISHOF, in Fort Lauderdale in late April.



  1. Pat Kennedy

    Prayers and blessings for his family and loved ones. Andy was one of the greatest spinters of my generation.

  2. avatar
    Skip Thompson

    Those Pine Crest School Records were American Records at the time they were swam in February 1975. Technically the 50 Free was the fastest time recorded but they did not keep 50 Yard Free Records in the AAU and did start until 1980 so he was not given credit for the AR in the 50 Free. However it was faster by a small margin than the NCAA Record when swam and he is one of a very few swimmers to have swam to an American Record while in High School. He was part of Tennessee’s big three sprinters along with David Edgar and John Trembley and all of them had American Records at one time.

  3. Maureen Fluehr Carll

    RIP,Andy.Prayers and condolences for all who knew and loved you.

  4. avatar

    I was a young lad in 1975…..swimming was in my blood….and andy coan was my hero!!!…..tennessee put 4 swimmers in the finals of the 50 free at ncaa…..back when only 6 swimmers made finals!!!!……andy had a bad car wreck but came back as strong as ever……those coon skin caps were sooo cool!!!!!……those tennessee teammates are forever in my mind….john ebuna….sells….matt vogel….trembley…..R. I. P… man…..gone but never forgotten……

  5. John J. Coan

    Too young indeed! Shared the same last name; but never met him. Knew of him from a record he held at Belmont Shores pool in the 100free.

  6. avatar
    Kurt Wienants

    Was an honor and a privilege to have swam, trained, and loved Andy, at Ft Lauderdale Swim Team under Jack Nelson. Although 4 yrs older, he treated me and everyone else as an equal, despite his fame and success in the sport. A true leader by example through his extremely hard work. The guy could flat out sprint. He fought so long and hard in typical Andy fashion, first against Guillen barre, and then cancer. I will miss my friend, he was such a fine human being.

  7. avatar
    Jim Wilson

    I had the great fortune to have had Andy as a friend all the way back to 7th grade at Plantation Middle School before he rose to such incredible levels in the swimming world. I once went on a double date with Andy in 1975 just a few days after his record 100 free…and it still hadn’t sunk into me that he was the best in the world. I was trying to be the best in the county in a different sport and here he was at the World level, but you would haven’t known it. Later in life we re-connected when he found out my daughter was being recruited by UT as a diver… and I am thankful for the time we did spend, albeit way too little as I live in a different state. Andy…was the poster child for never giving up from health issues to business ideas and of course, the amazing 50 free win at the NCAA’s after the car wreck. I know now that he can rest in peace…but he will not be forgotten as we share his amazing life. There is a fund for his son’s college education being established, so please try to get that word out.

  8. avatar
    Richard Hartman

    I swam against Andy at the HOF pool when he broke Montgomery’s record. Did not know he had all the medical issues. Sad to hear…

  9. avatar
    Laurence Rubel

    Andy will truly be missed – a true gentleman and a great ambassador to swimming. RIP old friend…

  10. avatar
    Don Gambril

    Not only did we have some great competions with Andy in his days as a Vol but I did get to Coach him when he was on the World Student Games team to Bulgaria. Great team member and competitior.
    Don Gambril

  11. avatar
    Glenn Kaye

    Having have had the pleasure of saying, Andy took his first competitive strokes for me has to be an honor. Yes, this skinny little kid from the city of Plantation, FL walked onto the Nova Complex Pool Deck, and immediately showed his love and compassion for a sport that he would excell in to the highest of levels. He certainly was a coaches dream as he went on to be an unbelievable talent who never give less than 100% in each and every practice. session. He also excepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and walked In In the knowledge that he too was a sinner, but through the Holy Spirit has been saved.

    We love you ANDY

  12. avatar
    Rob Ramirez

    You will always be missed but never forgotten. My thoughts and prayers to the Coan family. Andy, God Bless You; I and my family will always remember your kindness. Your buddy and friend always Rob Ramirez

Author: David Rieder

David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

Current Swimming World Issue

Trouble Viewing on Smart Phones, Tablets or iPads? Click Here