Passages: Olympian and Princeton Swim Coach Bill Farley Passes at 73

Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

Former Princeton Swimming & Diving Coach Bill Farley passed away in late August at his home in Sacramento. Bill was 73 and will always be remembered as a great coach, mentor and friend.

William Winfield “Bill” Farley was born in Fort Devon, Massachusetts on November 10, 1944.  He was active in all sports until at the age of 15, he dedicated himself to swimming for the legendary USC Coach Peter Daland, who was then coaching the Los Angeles Athletic Club.  LAAC produced a long list of world class swimmers, including legendary distance swimmers Roy Saari and Murray RoseCharlie Campbell ‘73 remembers being a 10 year-old age grouper in the outside lane in the LAAC pool watching Farley and his cohorts with awe.

After graduating from St. Francis High School in La Canada, California, Bill went on to become one of the most decorated and accomplished swimmers in University of Michigan history.  Bill won multiple Big Ten Conference Championships in the 200, 500 and 1650 yard freestyle events. He was named All-American in 1964, 1965 and 1966. It is rumored that he set the American Record in the 1000 yard freestyle in a practice time trial at Michigan, after a full lunch of spaghetti and meatballs. He graduated from Michigan in 1966.

In 1963, at the age of 18, Bill placed 4th in the 1500 meter freestyle at the Pan American Games in Brasilia, Brazil. In 1964, he was selected to the United States Olympic Team. He placed 4th in the 1500 meter freestyle in Tokyo, Japan.

After his swimming career at Michigan, Bill retired from competition with ambitions to be a college swim coach.  He received his Master of Science in Education from Eastern Michigan University in 1969. While still in Ann Arbor, Bill coached a young Peter Daly ’76 at Ann Arbor Swim Club.

Bill had a long and successful career as a college coach, including as Head Coach of his beloved Michigan Wolverines, and over 10 years as Head Coach of Women’s and Men’s teams at Fairfield University in Connecticut.  At Fairfield, Bill completely turned around a losing program, becoming the winningest coach in Fairfield swimming history.  He also produced 150 All-Academic athletes while at Fairfield.

But Bill’s coaching record at Princeton is what we all remember. He arrived at Princeton in 1969 at the age of 24 to coach the freshmen men.  From 1970 to 1979, Bill coached the Men’s Varsity to six straight Eastern Seaboard Championships, and five Ivy League Titles.  During this period, he amassed a dual meet record of 275 wins and 79 losses, a .776 winning record.  Bill coached multiple All Americans, eight NCAA finalists, and an NCAA Champion, Charlie Campbell ‘73, who also won Gold at The Pan American Games in 1971.  

Charlie’s relationship with Bill, started in that LAAC tank, came full circle at Princeton.  Bill taught Charlie how to properly shave his face.  Bill also taught Jim Clarke ’77 how to be a well-behaved and conversant roommate on swimming road trips. 

Jim said recently, “Under Bill’s leadership we became a team.  As a team we worked incredibly hard.  We learned to care about each other, support one another, and depend on each other.” Mal Howard ’75 said, “He was by far the best coach I ever had.  He had a way of getting the very best out of every one of us.  It is hard to believe he was only 26 years old when I arrived at Princeton in 1971.”

Bill’s record as Head Coach of the Women’s Varsity was even more impressive, since he essentially started that program from scratch.  From 1971 to 1975, he led the Women to two Eastern Championships and a 3rd place finish in the 1973 National Championships.   

He produced two National Champions, nine All Americans, and a National Championship American record setting freestyle relay.  In a “pre-Title IX” era, Bill created an extremely high-quality program and an outstanding competitive opportunity for Princeton Women, an exception to college programs of the day.  Bill welcomed women of all abilities to practice with the men’s team in the shared and constrained space of the old Dillion Pool.

Carol Brown ’75 said, “Bill encouraged me to try out for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Rowing Team.  His support, and my swimming-based fitness were instrumental in my bronze medal result.”

Several members of the Women’s and Men’s teams who benefitted from his coaching and friendship tell stories about Bill.  These stories are equal parts quirky and touching.  Bill was caring, compassionate and weird, all in one package.  Stories about Bill can only be told by the people who lived them.  We hope to have an opportunity to tell and hear those stories at some point in the not too distant future. 

Bill is survived by daughter Jessica Farley Gillooly, son James Anthony Farley, grand-daughter Rose Kathryn Gillooly and grand-son John Christopher Gillooly. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

The Friends of Princeton Swimming is discussing an appropriate tribute to Bill.  There will be more news on that in the near future.


Obituary contributed by Princeton University Swimming & Diving and Mike McCaffery ’75.

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. avatar
    Myron D Scott

    Pictures?

  2. avatar
    Lizzie Lawlor

    Bill’s Fairfield swimmers would love to attend any tribute that is planned if possible- please share details or contact me and I would be happy to facilitate, lizzie.lawlor@gmail.com

  3. avatar
    Jeanne Osborn Di Muzio

    My time with Bill spanned two university stints…..first at Princeton during my many visits to cheer on the late Lloyd P. Wallace followed by his time at Fairfield U. where we worked together. He teased me about distracting Lloyd but I made up for it by supporting the Stags!

  4. avatar
    J. A. Gilbert

    Coach Bill was my swim coach from 1984 through 1985 when he was the Aquatics Director at the International School in Manila, Philippines. He was a game-changer in the school’s swim program, bringing innovation in training and expanding the competitive base of the local league. He left an indelible mark on swimming in the Philippines, and influenced generations of international swimmers. May he rest well, and may his family find peace.

  5. avatar
    Kevin Williamson

    My name is Kevin Williamson ,a double Olympian from Ireland .Bill coached me at U of M where I swam my fastest 1650 in 15 42 to place 6th at big 10. He was a tough coach and his sets were some of the hardest I ever completed but I still talk about them . 6 x 500 yds on 5 min was a stand out .RIP Bill

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Author: Diana Pimer

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Diana Pimer was a breaststroke/IMer at Keene State College and is the NEISDA Conference record holder in the 200 IM. She is currently an Age Group Coach at AGUA in New York City and has covered major competitions for Swimming World including the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, 2015 and 2017 FINA World Championships, USA Swimming Nationals and more.

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