Passages: Richard Fetters, Former Michigan State Coach, Dies at 98

Photo Courtesy: Michigan State Athletics

Former Michigan State University men’s swimming coach Richard Fetters passed away on Saturday, June 1, in Indianapolis, Indiana.  He was 98.

Coach Fetters was born in South Bend, Indiana, and served in the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy during WW II.  He served in the Pacific Theater and piloted TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.  After the war he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Indiana University.

His coaching career started at South Bend Riley High School, where he coached for six years.  His Riley swimmers were team state champions in 1956 and 1957.  After a two-year stint coaching at Fort Lauderdale High School in Florida, he moved his family back north to Royal Oak, Michigan where he coached at Royal Oak Kimball High School and founded the Royal Oak Penguins Swim Club.

Beginning in 1962, Fetters proudly wore the Green and White as coach for the Spartans, first as an assistant under Charles McCaffrey and then as head coach beginning in 1970.  He also founded the Spartan Swim Club.  Career highlights at Michigan State included 19 individual Big Ten Conference champions, four Big Ten relay champions, 51 individual All-American swims, 16 relay All-American swims, and five individual National Champions.

Ken Walsh, a member of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, Olympian, and former world record holder, said of Fetters, “Coach Fetters was one of those remarkable coaches that made you want to do it!!  We all knew that he was with us 100% on every lap in practice, and that if we maintained the pace he planned for us, then we could succeed.”

After spending 26 years at MSU, Fetters and his wife, Dorothy, retired to Beaufort, South Carolina.  He started the Paris Island Masters Swim Team which later became the Beaufort Masters.  He coached this team for 22 years, winning all three South Carolina Masters state championship meets (long course, short course meters, short course yards) 14 years in a row.

Richard Fetters’ coaching career spanned 60 years and he was inducted into the South Bend Riley High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the Indiana High School Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame, and, in 2014, the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  But given all those honors one of his biggest thrills was getting to coach all six of his sons, including three as Spartans.

He was married to Dorothy for seventy-one years, and she preceded him in death in March 2018.  He is survived by 5 of 6 sons: Pete (Boyne City, MI), John (Tucson, AZ), Paul (Falls Church, VA), Joe (Brownsburg, IN), Matt (Bethesda, MD) and also three grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.

Those desiring to make contributions in his honor can contribute to the Michigan State University men’s swimming team or the Richard Fetters Scholarship fund through the Spartan Fund.

— The above press release was posted by Swimming World in conjunction with Michigan State. For press releases and advertising inquiries please contact

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4 years ago

Susan Kasley Sniegowski

4 years ago

I knew Coach Fetters over many years…I was also a swimmer from South Bend and a MSU Spartan (1954-1958). I remember him as a really nice man as well as a good coach… I followed his career and his teams from his days at South Bend Riley thru his retirement at MSU and beyond. “RIP Coach Fetters”

David J Richards
4 years ago

Mr. Dick Fetters was my English Teacher and swim coach during the period 1954-1958 in which SBR won the Indiana High School Championships a couple of times with several of us on the team winning individual first places. He was a leader who inspired hard work and its reward of success. I can’t think of a man who has lived a better life that resulted in so many stories of success for so many young people. May He Rest In Peace.

Dave Richards