FOR THE RECORD: 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: Assistant Swimming Coach; 1983 PACIFIC GAMES: Coach; 1979 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: Coach; Coach of Two Olympic Gold Medalists; Coach of Three World Record Holders; Coach of World Championship Gold Medalist; Coach of 6 NCAA National Champions; Coach of NCAA National Championship Team (University of Tennessee); Clinic speaker at 4 ASCA World Clinics, 60% of State High School Clinics, 3 Countries.
Ray Bussard did more for the sport of swimming than developing champions. His role went beyond preparing National and Olympic Champions. He sensationalized the sport, built spirit and made believers of his athletes. Lucky for swimming, because he would have been good coaching any sport.
He learned to swim at age six in a creek bed outside his home in rural Virginia, but his early interests were in field sports. By college age at Bridgewater College, he was National AAU All-Around Champion in track and field, and All-State football player and an all-tourney selection in basketball. Among his teammates was Bob Richards, Olympic Pole Vault Champion in 1952 and 1956. After graduation, he coached these sports in Virginia and Tennessee high schools, establishing state champions.
It was only during the summers, that Ray became involved in teaching swimming for the Red Cross, conducting life saving programs and managing swimming pools. He started the Chattanooga Swim League in 1960 and six years later moved to Knoxville as Head Coach of the newly established swimming and diving team at the University of Tennessee. He took his principles for success from his high school multi-sport coaching days and applied them to his swimmers. For another 22 years, he guided the team to national prominence and its swimmers to international stardom. Ray Bussard was a winner who hated to lose.
On the university level, Bussard established a career winning percentage of .926, compiling a 252-30 dual meet record. He became known as swimming’s gimmick man by building team spirit among the athletes and excitement among the spectators when he introduced zany antics to the program. At away meets, his teams poured orange colored water (Tennessee colors) into the opponent’s pool, oranges were passed out to spectators, and they were given orange leis around the neck. The Timette Organization of college girls was formed to time at swim meets. The coonskin hat, made famous by Davy Crockett at the Alamo, was worn (first at a meet with SMU in Texas in 1971) to solidify the effort. When America was going through a rebellious period of time, Bussard insisted upon a dress code, proper behavior, a hair code with no mustache and a travel code that stressed proper dress and procedures. He was loud, and he was tough. And his swimmers respected him for it. Bussard’s biggest contribution to swimming was in sprinting. He defined it as “quickness control”. He applied the physics of his “rebounding – ball sports” to the pool developing the fast “Tennessee Turn” and “Tennessee Start”, and making his swimmers unbeatable in short course races.
Ray coached swimmers to 6 world records, 3 Olympic gold medals, 19 American records and 44 NCAA gold medals. His swimmers, Dave Edgar never lost a college sprint race (including three years against Mark Spitz), Matt Vogel won 2 gold medals at the 1976 Olympics, and Andy Coan won 2 golds at the 1975 World Championships among other national champions and international competitors include John Trembley and Lee Engstrand. Fourteen of his swimmers won NCAA gold medals. His 1978 Tennessee team won the NCAA National Championship. He was National Coach of the Year (1972, 1978), Assistant Coach of the 1978 USA-USSR Dual Meet, 1979 Pan American Games, 1984 Olympic Games and 1983 Pan Pacific Games Coach. He has received the National Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Trophy and, with Ruth, originated the Baton of Victory Award to honor all the men’s and women’s coaches who have won NCAA Championships. He has conducted clinics in over 60% of the United States. Over two dozen of his swimmers have continued in swimming as coaches including current Tennessee Coach John Trembley.
His southern drawl, loud jackets, zany antics and fast swimmers will go down in the history books.
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