2006 ASCA Hall of Fame Inductee


During Dennis Pursley’s coaching career he was a five time Olympic coach, a recipient of the U.S. Olympic Committee Chair’s Coaching Award, an American Swimming Coaches Association “Coach Of The Year”, an American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee and was recognized in 2003 as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the History of USA Swimming”. He personally coached swimmers of both genders to world record performances and to the podium of the Olympic Games and/or the long course World Championships in all four strokes and both IMs.

While a student at Trinity High School in Louisville Kentucky, Dennis was multiple times a state champion, team captain and All American. After graduating in 1968, he attended the University of Alabama where he was an SEC champion, team captain and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. His coaching career began as a volunteer assistant coach under Coach Don Gambril at the University of Alabama while serving as the head coach of the University Aquatic Club. In 1974, Dennis returned to his home town as the head coach of Louisville’s Lakeside Swim Club. With Coach Pursley at the helm, Lakeside progressed from an unranked status with no regional or national qualifiers to a regional championship team title and a top 10 national championship finish. In 1979, he was appointed to the coaching staff of the USA Pan American Games team. In this competition one of his swimmers, Mary T. Meagher, surprised the swimming world by establishing her first of several world records.

From Lakeside Swim Club, Coach Pursley moved on to assume the head coaching responsibilities for the Cincinnati Marlins and led them to three national championship team titles. Eleven swimmers on his 1980 championship team accounted for 28 world rankings (top 25) in individual events, and eight Marlin relays were ranked among the top 25 in the world in that same year. After placing six swimmers on the 1980 USA Olympic Team who accounted for three world records (from Mary T Meagher and Bill Barrett) and four 1st place world rankings, Coach Pursley was appointed to the USA Olympic Team coaching staff and was awarded 1980 “Coach of the Year” honors by the American Swimming Coaches Association.

In 1981, Coach Pursley was named the first head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) where he served as the head coach of the combined team for two years and of the men’s team until August 1984. In the 1984 Olympic Games, the AIS led a resurgence in Australian swimming with a second place finish to the United States in the medal count. Six of the AIS athletes who had trained under Pursley (4 men and 2 women) accounted for half of Australia’s medals. Only one of these athletes was ranked among the top 20 in the world (18th) in 1983. After the 1984 Olympic Games, Coach Pursley began a three year term as head coach for the Olympian Swim Club in Edmonton, Alberta where his team progressed from fifth to first in provincial championship competition.

During the first decade of Coach Pursley’s career, his swimmers accounted for 7 world records, 12 American Records and 20 U.S. National Championship gold medals; as well as numerous medals in major international competitions – including the Olympic Games and the World Championships.

In 1989, Coach Pursley was appointed the first National Team Director of USA Swimming and was responsible for all aspects of the National Team program. During his 14 year tenure in this position the medal production of the USA in international competition increased substantially. The USA team finished first in the medal count in both men’s and women’s competitions in all three Olympiads, culminating with 33 medals (14 gold) in the 2000 Olympics which was described by “Sports Illustrated” magazine as the greatest team performance of all time. In recognition of his contributions, Coach Pursley was presented the United States Olympic Committee Chairman’s Coaching Award for 2000.

Coach Pursley returned to the deck in 2003 as the head coach of the Brophy East Swim Team in Phoenix Arizona, and later that year he was selected as one of the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming. He was inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2008 he was named head coach of British Swimming and served in that capacity through the 2012 London Olympics.

After the 2012 Olympics, Coach Pursley returned to the University of Alabama as the head coach to lead his alma mater back to a position of national prominence in swimming and diving. Coach Pursley’s second year men’s team was named “Breakout Team of the Year” by the College Swimming Coaches Association and went on to achieve six consecutive top 15 finishes in the NCAA Championships in his seven year tenure, including four top 10 finishes. He was named University of Alabama men’s “Coach of the Year” in 2016 and his team was named “University of Alabama Men’s Team of the Year” in 2019. His women’s team rewrote the school record books establishing new school records in 17 of the 19 events and finished in the scoring column in the NCAA Championships six consecutive years.

Dennis Pursley’s life and career has been supported and inspired by his Catholic faith and his wife, Mary Jo, and five children, Brian, Lisa, David, Steven and Joseph (JJ).

Dennis Pursley’s Athletes

    • Mary T. Meagher
    • Lisa Buese
    • Bill Barrett
    • Glenn Mills
    • Stephanie Elkins
    • Kim Carlisle
    • Kim Rhodenbaugh
    • Diane Johannigman
    • Stephanie Elkins
    • Greg Higginson
    • Lori Armbruster
    • Bruce Dorman
    • Lisa Curry
    • Ron McKeon
    • Paul Rowe
    • Greg Fasala
    • David Orbell
    • Tim Ford
    • Georgina Parkes
    • Glenn Beringen
    • Michelle Pearson
    • Suzie Baumer
    • Audrey Moore
    • Mark Stockwell
    • Georgina Parkes
    • Glenn Beringen
    • Rob Woodhouse
    • Sue Landells

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