Passages: Legendary SMU Coach George McMillion

Former SMU coach George McMillion (left) and Olympic gold medalist Steve Lundquist -- Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

George McMillion, who coached the SMU men’s swim team from 1971 to 1988, passed away Tuesday. According to a letter from his family, McMillion had been battling Alzheimer’s and Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus.

McMillion also swam for SMU, captaining the team in 1954 and winning two Southwest Conference championships. He was also an assistant coach for 14 years before becoming a head coach.

At the helm of the Mustangs program, McMillion won eight consecutive Southwest Conference titles and helped his team finish in the top ten at the NCAA championships 14 times. He also coached 10 Olympians and five Olympic medalists (Steve Lundquist, Ricardo Prado, Rich Saeger, Jerry Heidenreich and Ronnie Mills) that combined to win ten medals, six of them gold.

McMillion’s funeral service will be held Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, according to a letter from his family.

Read SMU’s announcement of McMillion’s death below:

Known to most on the Hilltop as “Coach Mac,” legendary SMU swimming coach George McMillion has died. McMillion’s passing on Nov. 7 came just days after the dedication of the new Robson & Lindley Aquatics Center and Barr-McMillion Natatorium last week. McMillion was the head coach of the SMU men’s swimming team from 1971-88 after a standout career as a student-athlete and 14 years as an assistant coach. His impact on the SMU swimming program helped inspire the construction of the new center and led to his name being attached to the facility.

“I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved with SMU swimming while attending SMU,” said former SMU swimmer and a lead donor to the Aquatics Center Bruce Robson. “Coach Mac made an impact on my life and the lives of so many others. His influence will continue to be felt at SMU for years to come.”

A lead donor, Steve Lindley, said, “I always admired Coach Mac’s commitment and dedication to and passion for SMU, its swimming and diving programs, and especially his swimmers. You can’t put a value on this. Not only was he a very successful coach, but he was truly interested in and positively impacted all the people he touched. I am also very thankful to all those that helped make the new Aquatic Center and Natatorium a reality. This was Coach Mac’s vision and it is certainly a very fitting legacy to him.”

SMU President R. Gerald Turner echoed Lindley’s sentiments.

“Coach Mac’s legacy as a student-athlete, mentor and coach will live on has an enduring legacy at SMU and in the world of swimming,” Turner said. “His accomplishments at SMU are legendary, but it’s the positive impact he had on those around him that will forever define his greatness.”

Former SMU swimmer and a lead donor, Dr. Jody Grant, said McMillion built on a history of winning at SMU.

“Coach Mac added to the outstanding swimming tradition established by Coach Red Barr many years ago,” he said. “It’s been an honor to be associated with the program over the years. Coach Mac will be greatly missed by all of us in the swimming community, but what he helped build here at SMU will live on forever.”

SMU Director of Athletics Rick Hart said McMillion was revered by the SMU swimming community.

“The Robson & Lindley Aquatics Center is a reality because his commitment and love of SMU swimming and diving inspired others to give back,” Hart said. “While we are saddened by his passing, and I will personally miss visiting with him on Thursday mornings, we take solace in knowing that the Barr-McMillion Natatorium will serve as a fitting tribute and a legacy to his influence and impact on our program.”

SMU men’s swimming coach Eddie Sinnott said McMillion’s relationships spread far and wide.

“Coach Mac was a fixture on the SMU campus for over six decades, as a student, athlete, teacher, coach administrator and alum,” Sinnott said. “He impacted literally thousands of lives, both young and old, throughout his time on the Hilltop.”

As a student, McMillion was captain of the 1954 SMU team, winning seven Southwest Conference individual championships. McMillion also helped the Mustangs to team championships in 1953 and 1954. He returned to SMU to become an assistant coach for 14 years, then succeeded Coach A.R. Barr in 1971. That same year, McMillion was honored as the Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Trophy recipient, which is presented annually to an individual or organization which, in the estimation of the recipient’s peers, has contributed in an outstanding way to swimming as a competitive sport and healthful recreational activity.

McMillion led the program to eight consecutive Southwest Conference Championships and was named SWC Coach of the Year four times. He coached 78 All-Americans and 15 NCAA Champions, while his teams earned 14 NCAA top-10 finishes.

“Coach Mac was a big influence on my life and coaching career,” said head women’s swimming coach Steve Collins. “I came to SMU in the fall of 1977 to work as a graduate assistant with the SMU men’s team to learn from George McMillion. During the course of my career, Coach Mac was a mentor and a friend whom I will miss dearly.”

On the international level, McMillion mentored 10 Olympians, including five Olympic medalists — Steve Lundquist, Ricardo Prado, Rich Saeger, Jerry Heidenreich and Ronnie Mills. His Mustang swimmers earned a combined six gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

McMillion was inducted into the SMU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011, the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Texas Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Robson & Lindley Aquatics Center and Barr-McMillion Natatorium honors SMU swimming and diving’s tradition of excellence.

“Our dream of building an Aquatics Center has been realized, and I am so grateful that he was able to see the finished product shortly before his death,” Collins added. “His legacy will live on and be honored in the Robson & Lindley Aquatics Center and Barr-McMillion Natatorium, and through the lives of the many people touched as a teacher, swim coach and friend.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the McMillion family.”

Memorial gifts may be made to The Coach George McMillion Men’s Swimming Endowment Fund at SMU, online at www.smu.edu/giving or by mail to SMU Gift Administration; PO Box 402; Dallas, TX  75275-0402.

“From the Learn to Swim Program to the Olympic gold medal, he helped young men and women reach their goals, while helping them develop into the people they ultimately became. His legacy will forever be remembered in the hearts of those he touched. He has run his race, and he has won,” Sinnott concluded.

 

4 Comments

4 comments

  1. avatar
    Greg

    I’m deeply saddened to hear this news. Coach was a mentor, colleague and friend who taught me much during our year together on the deck and the years after his retirement. I’ll cherish the Maverick games we went to at Reunion and our treks to the old Arlington Stadium and the ballpark in Arlington to watch the Rangers. I quickly learned not to let him drive as, if you ever were in the car when he was behind the wheel, can attest to the fact that it was a white-knuckle experience. He loved B-B-Q, used to change from dress clothes to a shirt, athletic shorts, pulled up white socks and tennis shoes for practice everyday. Oh, and don’t forget the whistle! If memory serves me his locker was named “Thunder Duck”!

    Coach Mac was old school. Usually he would pull an index card from a steel file that had a pre-typed practice on it. As a young coach l marveled at how those practices would invoke memories of squads from 15-20 years prior when they were given the same practice. “I remember when Quick or Veris or Heidenreich did this one.”

    He also loved to golf and over the summers helped place many a young coach at country clubs around the metroplex. Of course this meant free golf for Coach!

    RIP Coach Mac. You made a bigger difference and impact then you know.

  2. avatar

    Great tribute by Greg regarding Coach Mac. He was one of a kind. Glad I got to visit with him a while back while working the SMU Classic a few years ago. I remember as a high school swimmer growing up in Dallas going to watch SMU dual meets in the 70’s and 80’s in good ole’ Perkins Natatorium. Watching his teams compete was always a treat. The environment in that venue was electric and the swimming was amazing! Veris, Lundquist, Heidenreich, Prado, Mook, Greg and many, many more all shined under Coach Mac. One of my favorite memories of Coach Mac was around 1996, while helping with the SMU Swim Camp, I watched him lead the “learn to swim” program with dozens of kids every day. He was energetic, fun and in his element. Plus, he was in the water every day doing what he loved in the pool that was his home away from home. I always appreciated and respected the fact that so many years after retirement from coaching that the staff at SMU still embraced Coach Mac and kept him involved in the program. I am thinking of all my SMU swimming and diving friends tonight. Can’t wait to see your new pool! RIP Coach Mac.

  3. Pat Kennedy

    Prayers for the family, friends and all of former swimmers of Coach Mac.

  4. avatar

    Coach Mac was the person every coach could admire and perhaps long to be. He treated his swimmers like sons, and this brother of two of his swimmers, like one as well. He proved the ‘person in the coach’ is more important than what the ‘workouts are.’

    I will long remember when he was inducted into the ASCA Hall of Fame. I counted 26 former swimmers that made the trip to celebrate his career that night—one of the largest athlete attendance ever at that banquet. The standing ovation he received was the same type of respect he gave right back to his swimmers over the years.

    After Eddie Reese moved to Texas and UT won it’s first Southwest Conference title over SMU (ending a long streak by SMU), the staff and team was fitted with rings. In that process, each Texas member was asked, “What initials do you want inside your conference championship ring?” Assistant coach Dana Abbott said with a smile “S-M-U.” The ring engraver said, “Eddie Reese already asked for those initials.” The humor was all generated by the long standing excellence that Coach Mac, and his predecessor Red Barr, had established in the state of Texas. SMU was a program to strive for.

    …what a special man Coach Mac has been. Thank you for your life Coach.

Author: David Rieder

avatar
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.

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