Late to the Game: Let’s Give It Up for Eddie Reese

Late to the Game: Let's Give It Up for Eddie Reese

Assistant editor Chris O’Connell isn’t from Texas; he’s from New Jersey. That’s OK though—he’s here now. But without growing up in a place that cherishes college sports the way many parts of the South—and especially Texas—do, Chris has taken it upon himself to learn more about all aspects of college athletics in a series we like to call Late to the Game.

Texas has a reputation for excellence in athletics, though, if you’re reading this, or are a person who simply knows how to read, this is glaringly clear, and you’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to bring it up in the first place. Well, dear reader, fret not. Also give me a break. I am not here to tell you what you already know, but to unpack virtual reams of information and reassemble cold hard facts inside a cocoon of humorous narrative, and place it in front of your doe-eyed faces in order to illuminate your entire being with sports knowledge. In other words, I looked at the Internet for you. Mostly Wikipedia.

Is this a debate over the best player in Texas history? I could do that, but do you really want another Vince Young vs. Earl Campbell greatest-Longhorn-ever thinkpiece? Yes? Well too bad. We’re talking swimming today, and not even swimmers—a swimming coach.

Darrell K Royal won three national championships and is regularly named among the top college football coaches of all time. Jody Conradt’s women’s basketball teams—especially the 1986 NCAA Tournament-winning team—transformed the sport. Clyde Littlefield invented the Texas Relays and won 25 conference titles in 41 years as head track coach. The list goes on.

But there’s one coach who makes these gods look like mere mortals, and his name is Eddie Reese. He’s coached men’s swimming and diving at Texas for 37 years, and before this week, I’d never heard of him.

Maybe that’s because, sadly, Olympic sports just aren’t as sexy for some people. We don’t pay as much attention to world-class athletes with perfect bodies gliding gracefully through the air and water, or sustained excellence over almost 40 years. We have been fools!

Eddie Reese isn’t just the greatest coach on campus, he’s easily the most dominant coach in UT athletics history. It’s not even close. In his time on the Forty Acres, Texas has won 35 straight conference titles. Read that last sentence again. The last time another team besides Texas won either the Southwest Conference or Big 12 was during former football coach Fred Akers’ third season. Jimmy Carter was president.

On March 29 of this year, Reese’s team swam away—see what I did there?—from 2nd place California to win the NCAA national championship, his 11th. With that win, Reese set a record for coaching teams to national championships in four different decades. It feels like Texas should recognize this man’s achievements. Oh, in 1996, Texas honored Reese with an induction into the Hall of Honor while he was still coaching, making a special exception because hey, it was inevitable anyway.

New men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart, when asked at his April 3 introductory press conference on why he chose Texas over seemingly any other open job, referenced the culture of winning at the school, specifically calling out swimming and diving. When Steve Patterson was asked about the state of Texas basketball the same day, he turned the conversation to the culture of winning at Texas. And who did he name check?

“At The University of Texas, we’re about playing for championships,” Patterson said. “Look at what Eddie Reese has done here in 37 years: 30 times in the top three, 22 times in the top 10, 11-time National Champion …”

The go-to guy for pointing out excellence is always Reese.

He’s also modest without any gee-whiz posturing. And let’s be clear: Reese has the right to talk as much trash as 10-time NCAA Tournament championship-winning UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma. He just doesn’t.

“I’ve got 10 rings from winning 10 championships … I have no idea where they are,” Reese said, after winning his 11th. “My grandkids play with them.” OK, mentioning your grandkids in a press conference is a tad “gee-whiz,” but I swear he was being tongue-in-cheek. He continued: “But I know what every kid did and how much they improved. That’s what really matters. The number of championships … it just means I’m old.”

So why is Reese such a great coach? My theory: He’s an alien, or he’s been abducted by one. If you haven’t X’ed this tab out yet, please hear me out.

After Reese graduated from the University of Florida, where he led the Gators to three SEC titles, he stuck around as a graduate assistant, earning a master’s degree in 1965. His next stop? Roswell, New Mexico, home of Pat Garrett—the sheriff who gunned down Billy the Kid—Demi Moore, and a ton of aliens (probably)!

Reese coached at Roswell High School for two years, plenty of time for some little green men to implant some sort of device in his brain that controls his thoughts, making Reese a Manchurian coach, except instead of a brainwashed assassin hellbent on eradicating capitalism, he’s been reprogrammed to annihilate the rest of the Big 12 for all eternity. The invisible gamma rays now located behind his eyes can shoot out to make his athletes swim faster and the water in their lanes easier to kick through. Of course, through it all he is a perfect gentleman, so as to not arouse suspicion.

Or he could also just be the best ever. It’s probably that.


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