Passages: Don Easterling, Legendary North Carolina State Coach, Dies at 90

Photo Courtesy: Competitor

Passages: Don Easterling, Longtime NC State Coach, Age 90

Don Easterling, who led North Carolina State to 17 ACC titles over 24 years at the helm, has died, the school announced on Saturday. Easterling was 90 years old.

Easterling led the Wolfpack from 1970-94. He won 15 ACC championships at the helm of the men’s team and two with the women, including 12 consecutive men’s crowns from 1971-82. The high point came in 1973, when the Wolfpack won ACCs by winning all 17 events at the meet.

He posted a career record of 328-118 in dual meets, including 162-64 vs. ACC opponents. Easterling was also the founding coach of the NC State women’s swimming program. His two titles in charge came in 1979-80.

“We will all miss the fiery, passionate, and unique coach, Don Easterling,” NC State head coach Braden Holloway said in a team statement. “There are so many stories that someone could say about him, and they still wouldn’t do him justice. He was a pioneer of the sport, wore his heart on his sleeve, and influenced so many at NC State, the stories about him still echo today. He’s been a big supporter of Wolfpack swimming and diving ever since he stepped away from coaching and he’s always been a great mentor and friend of mine, always wearing his red.”

Easterling took over for Willis Casey in Raleigh in 1970 after having coached at the University of Texas-Arlington, which he led from 1966-70. That included an NCAA runner-up finish at NCAAs in 1969. Among his charges there were 1968 Olympians Doug Russell, who won gold in the 100 fly and medley relay, and Ronnie Mills, who won bronze in the 100 backstroke. He got his start at Fort Worth Panther Boys’ Club and Buford Aquatic Club in Texas, where he coached from 1952-70.

Easterling coached swimmers who compiled 40 All-America performances (24 men, 16 women). His charges included seven Olympians, five Olympic medalists and four Pan Am Games medalists. That includes American Olympic medalists Steve Gregg (silver in the 200 fly at the 1976 Montreal Olympics) and Dan Harrigan (bronze in the 200 back in 1976) and 1980 Olympic gold medalist Duncan Goodhew of Great Britain.

Inducted to the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016, Easterling was a two-time ACC men’s swim coach of the year (1984, 1992) and the women’s coach of the year once (1991). He was named the National Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1993.

In 2021, Easterling was named one of the top 100 greatest college coaches in the last 100 years by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA). He was inducted to the North Carolina Swimming Hall of Fame in 2017 (alongside another of the Olympians he coached, American relay gold medalist David Fox). He is also in the Texas Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame.

“(He) was one of the all-time greats in NC State history for any sport,” Holloway said. “Coaching teams to 17 conference championships is an amazing feat, but better than that are the stories that you hear from the alumni about Coach Easterling and how he led this program with so much passion. One of my favorite pictures of Don is after he jumped in at the end of a meet to celebrate with a young man after they won the last relay and that right there sums up Coach Don Easterling. We’re all going to miss him.”

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x