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Swimming / John Weyler : Don Gambril Makes Real Place for Himself in the Land of Bear Bryant

February 25, 1985

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It seems as if you can't take a step in this town without bumping into some kind of a tribute to the late University of Alabama football coach, Paul (Bear) Bryant. Every building on campus resembles a houndstooth hat museum. Almost every wall has at least one picture of the beloved Bryant.

Even Crimson Tide swimming Coach Don Gambril's office--in the Aquatic Center on Bear Bryant Ave.--is decorated with pictures of his longtime boss.

Gambril's tanned face gets its share of wall space in more than a few swimming offices across the country, though. Bryant may have been the grandfather of college football, but Gambril has quite an impressive family himself.

Gambril, who was named head coach of the U.S. Olympic swimming team last year after a successful (177-22) 18-year major-college coaching career, has seen 21 of his former assistants or swimmers become head coaches on either the high school, college, club or national level.

Here's a look at just a few of the more prominent ones:

--UCLA Coach Ron Ballatore, a 1984 Olympic assistant, was Gambril's first assistant at the national champion City of Commerce Swim Club in 1964. For a long time, he rented Gambril's house in Temple City before finally purchasing it.

--Stanford Coach Skip Kenney, also on the '84 Olympic staff, was Gambril's assistant at Cal State Long Beach, Harvard and Phillips 66 Swim Club in Long Beach where they won the national championships in 1969, '70 and '71.

--Arizona Coach Dick Jochums worked under Gambril at Phillips 66 and succeeded him at both Phillips 66 and Cal State Long Beach.

--Princeton Coach Rob Orr swam for Gambril for eight years at Phillips 66.

--Dennis Pursley, who swam and coached at Alabama before developing world record-holder Mary T. Meagher at the Lakewood and Cincinnati Pepsi-Marlins swim clubs, just completed a four-year stint as the head coach at the Australian National Swimming Institute.

--Current Pepsi-Marlins Coach Jay Fitzgerald, who will take over the Santa Clara Swim Club this spring, was a Crimson Tide assistant for two years.

--Concord Pleasant-Hill Coach Mitch Ivey, who helped Nancy Hogshead return to form before the '84 Olympics (she won three golds and a silver), swam for Gambril at Cal State Long Beach.

--San Jose Swim Club Coach Jonty Skinner, who was an Alabama All-American and broke the world record in the 100-meter freestyle two weeks after the '76 Olympics, has led his team to consecutive National Junior Olympic titles.

--Irvine Aquatics and Saddleback College Coach Flip Darr was an assistant of Gambril's at Phillips 66.

"Most of those people worked for nothing, or next to nothing at one time," Gambril said. "I've got five people who want to come here next year and they're willing to work for nothing, too.

"Anybody who wants to coach that bad has at least one of the ingredients it takes to make a good coach."

Gambril says he's "flying by the seat of his pants" when comparing his training techniques with the more-scientific approaches of the Eastern Bloc nations, but his knowledge of the sport is still highly regarded. He conducts a coaching clinic every summer that lures coaches from all over the world. And he now publishes each season's entire workout schedule at the end of the year and makes a healthy profit on the book.

"I don't have to do any extra work," Gambril said. "I used to just have copies of the workouts bound for my assistants and then the demand just began to grow."

Alabama assistant coach Brian Gordon thinks he knows why the books have done so well.

"There are a lot of coaches out there who want to see those workouts," he said, "but there are a lot more parents who want to be able to tell their kids' coaches, 'That's not the way Don Gambril does it.' "

Makes sense. The way Don Gambril does it has worked for a long, long time.

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