ISHOF Honor Coach, Gus Stager dies at 92
Former Olympic and University of Michigan Coach Gus Stager died on Saturday at age 92.
by Daniel D’Addona
“The entire Michigan swimming and diving community sends its condolences to the family of former head coach Gus Stager, who passed away on Saturday,” the University said in a statement.
Stager was an All-American swimmer for Michigan (1947-50) served as head coach for 26 years (1954-79, 1982). He led the Wolverines to four NCAA championships (1957-59, 1961). Stager was head coach of the 1959 Michigan team that is still regarded as “the best team of all-time.” The story on Stager’s 1959 Wolverines can be read in the May 2019 issue of Swimming World.
He also served as head coach for the U.S. Olympic Team at the 1960 Games in Rome. In 1982, Stager was enshrined in both the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the U-M Athletics Hall of Honor.
Gus Stager’s ISHOF bio:
From 1923 until 1978, the University of Michigan had only two swim coaches: Matt Mann and Gus Stager, both Hall of Famers. Matt’s coaching philosophy included the premise “always follow a punker”. Gus Stager, an outstanding middle distance freestyler under Matt, chose to ignore this advice when he took over the Michigan reigns from the world’s most successful coach in 1953. All he did to contradict his otherwise eloquent master was win four NCAA team titles, win the 1960 Rome Olympics over a favored Australian team that had totally dominated in 1956, and won the Pan American Games in 1967. Stager completed his hat trick by coaching the U.S. team to victory in the first World Championships at Belgrade in 1973. In 25 years as Michigan head coach, Gus’ teams finished first or second in the Big Ten 23 times. His 1959 college team was perhaps the most overwhelming in NCAA history, out-scoring the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams combined.
After prepping at Newark Academy, Gus was a 3-time NCAA finalist as a swimmer. His coaching career began at Dearborn, Michigan High School where he won a mythical National Championship and the State Crown 3 times in four years before going to Michigan. His retirement after the 1978 season at Michigan was interrupted by another year of interim coaching in 1981-92. Stager’s many great swimmers included Olympians Carl Robie, Dave Gillanders, Dick Hanley, Bill Farley, the Wardrop twins and Juan Bello. NCAA high point winner Tony Tashnikheads an impressive list of national champions including Fritz Myers, Cy Hopkins, Breezy Nelson, Ron Clark, Frank Legacki, and many more. On the lighter side, Gus the competitor beat all of his swimmers at walking on the bottom of the pool and jousting from over-turned starting blocks. He is proudest of his part in key rule changes such as the no-touch turn, electronic judging and adding the thousand and the second diving event to the NCAA dual meet program.