8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - January 28, 2002 W
After more than four decades as Michigan's men's and women's diving coach, Dick Kimball will step down at the end of this season.
By Courtney Lewis and Kyle O'Neill Daily Sports Writers
Wandering down the entranceway
of Canham Natatorium, it is easy to
get lost in a sea of endless memo-
Photos of past teams line the cor-
ridor, and for the fans who can't help
but notice, these portraits offer a
glimpse of Michigan swimming and
But amidst the decades of change
visible on this single wall, there is
one constant - a small wiry man
with intense eyes and a gentle smile:
Men's and women's diving coach
His hair grays as the years pass,
and his wrinkles deepen, but he's
In 1956, Michigan was blessed
with the arrival of Kimball the ath-
lete. Three years later Michigan had
no problem making Kimball the
coach. And now, after a lifetime of
irreplaceable tutelage in and out of
the pool, he leaves as Dick Kimball
After this season Kimball, 66, will
step down from a job that was given
to him by Fritz Crisler, making him
the last coach who remained from
Crisler's era as athletic director.
Although his love for coaching and
the sport will remain with him
always, the year-round demands of
recruiting were no longer what he
Throughout his 43 years of head-
ing the Michigan diving program,
Kimball has had unparalleled suc-
cess. He has been part of 33 Big Ten
champions, and five NCAA champi-
ons - three as a diver and two as
coach. He was named Big Ten Coach
of Year four times, and NCAA
Coach of the year in 1984 and 1988.
Kimball's divers have succeeded
internationally as well - nine win-
ning Olympic medals and four of
those taking home the gold,
But Kimball's mark on the sport
extends well beyond statistics,
awards or even championships.
"He's impacted the way I live my
life," sophomore Jason Coben said.
Coben has undergone a transfor-
mation since his arrival at Michigan.
As a lax freshman, he was over-
whelmed by Kimball's grueling
practice schedule and was not totally
committed to academics.
"I didn't have that hard of a work
ethic," Coben said. "My grades were
slipping. My attitude was basically
(that) I had to dive to keep my schol-
arship. I wanted to go to the
Olympics, but I didn't know how to
work that hard. He sat me down and
talked with me, and the things he
said inspired me to do better."
Coben's accomplishments this
season are a testament to Kimball's
ability to get through to his divers.
By Michigan's third meet this season
Coben had qualified for the NCAA
Diving Zones, and he recently
earned recognition as Big Ten Diver
of the Week. Coben said his grades
have improved too.
The once unmotivated diver now
thrives on hard work and shares his
coach's passion for the sport.
Women's swimming coach Jim
Richardson knows that the achieve-
ments of athletes like Coben have
occurred frequently with Kimball at
"He has this great ability to read
people and know how to motivate
them to do things that they don't
think they can do," Richardson said.
"With some kids, he's had to be
patient, and in some probably more
loving. With others he's had to be a
tough task-master. But in either way,
Kimball knows how to reach them."
The relationship that has devel-
oped between Coben and his coach
is so strong that when Kimball told
the team this would be his final year,
Coben's immediate reaction was
"To dive for someone for two
years, see them every day, and then
Though retirement will give diving coach Dick Kimball a chance to relax, he is still planning to stay active with trips around the world and by assisting the Michigan program.
just have them out of your life, that
would be rough," Coben said.
Time, and Kimball's promise that
he will be around if needed, have
eased the young diver's anxiety, and
Coben is sure that Kimball's influ-
ence will linger long after he's gone.
"That work ethic that he has,
instilled in us, we'll have that for the
rest of our lives," Coben said, adding
that when he talks to former Michi-
gan divers, the things Kimball taught
them are evident. "They go to work
early and when they don't have any-
thing to do, they have to clean the
house or something. They have to be
always doing something. Just like
It's not-just divers that Kimball
touched at Michigan. He has a
unique interest in and knowledge of
"He's one of the few old-timers
who sees swimming and diving as
one team ,... All the swimmers love
him," men's swimming coach Jon
Even when removed from the
duties of coaching, Kimball, like
many of his divers, will always be
first in line to lend a helping hand or
a friendly hello for the Michigan
"I'll help out here to get the next
coach situated here, if he wants me
to," Kimball said, alluding to his
own desire to have a second coach
around to assist in managing either
the women's or men's divers when
their schedules conflict.
"Not getting up at six in the morn-
ing every day will be nice, but on
most days I'll be usually be up
early," Kimball said. "I told my play-
ers I'd be by just to wave at them
(during morning practices) as I go
That energy, which spills into his
bubbling personality, has baffled
coaches and athletes alike. After
more than four decades at Michigan,
Kimball hasn't slowed a bit. Besides
rollerblading, he swims a mile every
day, dives off the 10-meter platform,
and always, always has a joke to
share. Coben called him "a four-
year-old trapped in a 66-year-old
Bob Webster, who dove at Michi-
gan during Kimball's first years and
won Olympic gold medals in 1960
and 1964, remembers that liveliness.
But what really impresses him, and
.what he thinks has kept Kimball
going, is his "total dedication."
"I've always marveled at his tun-
nel vision," Webster said. "I got over
it. I coached for 20 years and then I
said that's enough, and I moved on
to something else. But Dick has that
fire in his belly. That's rare in life,
not just in diving."
Perhaps with the rare combination
of a charming persona, fierce com-
petitiveness and love for the sport, it
was inevitable that Kimball would
excel for so long. He could have
found success anywhere. But
encouragement from his teammates,
soon to be his first coaching class,
convinced him to start his career in
Ann Arbor - and his loyalty has
kept him here.
"Dick's a Michigan man,"
Urbanchek said. "He had many
opportunities to go to other schools.
He was probably the top diving
coach in the country, and he could
have gone anywhere he wanted to.
But he's true blue. His heart is into
Staying at Michigan didn't mean
that he would miss opportunities to
see the world. In fact, he's been to
enough places that it would take a
separate article just to list them.
* He's been to every state in the
U.S., Japan five times, China and
Russia twice each and all over
Europe and South America.
But considering every place that
he has gone, there is no trip for him
like the Olympics - which he had
been a part of every time from 1964-
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"There is no other sporting event
which you can compare to the
Olympic games," Kimball said. "You
go there as an athlete or a coach and
to just meet with the other competi-
tors, to dine with them and to house
with them-is an unbelievable experi-
Being in another country, one
would think that it would be difficult
for someone unfamiliar with the lan-
guage or culture to be able to teach.
For Kimball, though, the universal
language of diving is all he needs.
"Coaches in diving are the same
all around," Kimball said. "I can
walk into a program, not know the
language and still just by signaling
the motions, I am able to coach
His ability to coach foreigners has
caused problems for him, though, as
in one instance he trained a Swedish
diver for five weeks at one of his
camps, only to have her come back
and win a gold medal over his U.S.
Out of all his travel destinations,
there is one that Kimball sees as his
"I really like Japan," Kimball said.
"Every time I've been there I've
enjoyed it. The first time I went
there was in 1958, and I was on tour
with eight synchronized swimmers
and two Michigan divers. We did
shows at all of the military bases in
Japan, Korea, the Philippines and
In the time that Kimball spent
overseas, he was able to experience
history as it was made.
His trip to Korea included a heli-
copter flight to the North Korean
border where, even though there was
no fighting at the time, there was
still a military presence. He also was
one of the first to fly over Russia
when its airspace was opened up in
Kimball had a taste of the Com-
munist way of life with meets in the
former Soviet Union, China and East
Germany when the Berlin Wall was
When looking back at those
events, Kimball, always a coach
first and historian second, still
remembers East Germany and the
U.S.S.R. - not so much for the sig-
nificance of having Americans in
competition there, but because his
teams received poor judging in both
With his retirement, Kimball will
be able to add more countries to his
passport, as his teaching is in high
demand world wide.
But Kimball plans to be available
at any time to help out the Wolver-
ines, which is certainly good news
for whomever takes over this presti-
gious coaching position.
"You can't replace a Dick Kim-
ball," Richardson said. "He's such a
unique combination of tremendous
work ethic and a sense of humor.
Maybe we can find someone who
will grow into that mold with the
same kinds of ethics, commitment to
his student-athletes and love of the
Next year, new photographs will
hang nn that wall in Canham Thev
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