At the University of Tennessee, or Big Orange Country, as some insist on having it, the In sport these days isn't football or basketball. It's swimming. Four years ago Tennessee didn't even have a team. Now the Volunteer swimmers work out in a $1.7 million Aquatic Center which has, among other features, subdued lighting, filtered air and piped-in music to train by. Their coach, Ray Bussard (pronounced buzzard), is a bright, cheerful guy who freely admits that he is really a football coach at heart. But he also has a lot of novel ideas about swimming—like the Timettes, a group of 30 striking coeds in orange miniskirts who serve as official timekeepers at home meets. Says Bussard, "It kind of makes the visiting teams lose some of their concentration."
The darling of the Timettes, and the World's Fastest Human (Afloat), is Dave Edgar (right), a tall, handsome junior who likes girls, fast sports cars and late hours—probably in that order. In his tumultuous career in Knoxville, Edgar has broken curfew almost as often as NCAA and American records.
Only two weeks ago Edgar was in, uh, hot water again. He entered his white BMW in a sports car rally and won a modest silver trophy. His fellow swimmers were properly impressed. Bussard wasn't. He rushed over to Edgar's dormitory room, where the first thing he saw was the trophy.
"Hi, Coach," said Edgar. "Look what I won."
March 1, 1971
"Arrggghhh," said Bussard.
Last Saturday night Edgar and his teammates were in Dallas for a dual meet against another unbeaten team—Southern Methodist. This was considered to be swimming's answer to the Cotton Bowl, since each team is easily the best in its conference—Tennessee in the Southeastern, SMU in the Southwest. The SMU pool was decorated with various signs ("Hang Tenn" was one), and 2,000 Mustang fans hooted when Tennessee came out wearing Bussard's latest gimmick—Davy Crockett coonskin hats. ("Just to let 'em know where we're from," said the coach.)
Much of the hooting was for Edgar and his understudy, freshman John Trembley. Earlier in the season Trembley had tied Edgar's national record of 20.5 in the 50-yard freestyle. "That's fine," said Edgar, "but I want to get back on top." He did two weeks ago in a dual meet against Alabama in Knoxville. Without psyching up, shaving down or tapering off, Edgar broke his American records in his two specialties—the 50 (20.4) and the 100 (45.0). Says Edgar, blithely, "I think I can get below 20 in the 50. That night my start was so bad I saw the other guys hit the water."
Against SMU, Edgar's speed was the difference in a thrilling meet whose outcome wasn't determined until the last split second. Early on, Edgar splashed to an easy win in the 100 in a pool-record 45.58, but that was nothing compared to his anchor leg in the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay. As the lead-off swimmers mounted the starting blocks, the scoreboard showed that Tennessee had an inconclusive 55-51 lead. To the winner of the relay would go seven points—and the meet.
With the fans standing and screaming, Tennessee's first three swimmers built up a two-yard lead for Edgar, who would be swimming against SMU's talented Jerry Heidenreich. But Edgar blew his last turn—"I went into the gutter," he said later—and Heidenreich had a yard advantage with less than 25 yards to go. "I thought we had it locked up," said Red Barr, SMU's veteran coach.
But Edgar went into high gear. He caught Heidenreich 10 yards from the wall and touched a split second ahead of him. Tennessee was timed in 3:05.25 to SMU's 3:05.66. Only the World's Fastest Human (Afloat) could have pulled it out. While the Vols mobbed Edgar, SMU was all shook about its first home loss since 1960.
For Tennessee it was another episode in a success story that has been nothing short of meteoric. In 1966 the school didn't have a decent pool and had been without a swimming team for 16 years. Then Bussard was hired, the Aquatic Center was built and things began to pop. In 1969, Bussard's second season, the Volunteers took a team of sophomores and freshmen to the SEC meet and won the title, ending Florida's 13-year supremacy. Last year Tennessee was runner-up in the SEC but finished ninth in the NCAAs, thanks to Edgar's gold medals in the sprints; now they are gunning for another SEC title this weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and another high finish in the NCAAs. Says Bussard, "We like to think we can be the next power in college swimming."
When Tennessee hired Bussard, the swimming world thought the appointment ridiculous. A graduate of Bridge-water (Va.) College, where he had been the No. 2 pole vaulter behind Bob Richards, Bussard spent 17 years as a high school track and football coach; his swimming credentials were limited to summer recreation programs around Chattanooga. He was given the swimming job at Tennessee only after the school had turned him down for the positions of track coach and director of the Aquatic Center.
Upon arriving in Knoxville, Bussard declared that "I think a coach is a coach, no matter what the sport," and he began applying to swimming some of the techniques and gimmicks he had learned in track and football. Everybody sat back to see what the Vols would do—swim or punt. As senior Frank Bryant, one of Bussard's first seven recruits, recalls, "My AAU coach in Cincinnati said I was nuts for going to Tennessee. He told me, 'That guy is nothing but a high school football coach.' "
Fortunately for Bussard, he had the full support of Bob Woodruff, the Tennessee athletic director and himself an old football coach. "When Ray first came to me he had a list of all the things he wanted to do," says Woodruff. "I told him that swimming was like football. The first thing you have to do in football is get yourself some horses; the first thing you have to do in swimming is get yourself some fish." Bussard did just that in 1968, his rookie season, and Tennessee's fish were 8-2 in dual meets and second in the conference.
Where many coaches have elevated swimming to an esoteric science, Bussard is an unpretentious sort who believes in keeping it simple. "I think coaches have done about as much as they can as far as the mechanics are concerned," he says. "In the future, nutrition and psychology are the things that will make the difference." What Bussard has done at Tennessee, more than anything, is to build team spirit and create a sort of instant tradition. He restricted hair length and instituted a dress code and a curfew. He plastered the Aquatic Center with posters designed to uplift ("Let me swim like a champion today"; "Zero in on zero defects") and he instituted team cheers, team awards, team insignia, team uniforms, team slogans, team prayers and even team hair dryers.
One of Bussard's more inspired moves was the integration of coeds into the program. He appointed four female managers to pass out vitamins, put drops in the swimmers' eyes and swab out their ears. He built up interest in the Timettes so that they are now a campus status symbol, ranking right up there with being a cheerleader or a majorette. Last fall 130 girls tried out for the 30 positions. At home meets the Vols—wearing bright orange warmups—bound into the pool area like a basketball team, charging through a huge wooden "T" that has swinging doors at the base. Sometimes Bussard does a little number for the national anthem: two knockout coeds, wearing bikinis and holding an American flag, float down the pool in a canoe (the propulsion comes from a swimmer at the bow) while the crowd stands and sings. Another Bussard stunt is the ritual that takes place at road meets before the opening event, the medley relay: a Tennessee swimmer pours a bottle of water from his home pool into enemy waters. It never fails to arouse the opposition. At last year's SEC championships, for instance, swimmers from the six other participating schools formed an ad hoc committee to dip out the Tennessee water.
The waters in Knoxville aren't always untroubled. Being a former football coach, Bussard is something of a traditional moralist and disciplinarian, and he occasionally finds himself at odds with his athletes. In the fall of '69, he was confronted with a full-scale mutiny. The majority of the team and even an assistant coach wanted no curfew, no dress code and the opportunity to live off campus. "For three days we didn't go into the water," says Bussard. "We debated for hours. At first I had only one coach and two swimmers on my side, but we finally won out."
Now Tennessee's swimmers are invariably short on hair and long on neatness. Says one swimmer, "I think Coach would rather have five mediocre swimmers with short hair than 30 great ones with long hair." At times Bussard personally inspects the swimmers' dormitory rooms, but most of the police work is left to the Orange Knights, a committee of swimmers which is supposed to see to it that everyone observes training regulations. Says Bussard, "There's no room on our team for the radical or the leftist."
There is, of course, room for a rugged individualist—especially if he can swim like Dave Edgar. A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was a national high school champion, Edgar put Tennessee on the swimming map on Jan. 17, 1970, when his 20.5 in the 50 set a national record. It happened in a dual meet at Navy, and later, when Edgar entered the mess hall at Annapolis, the midshipmen gave him a standing ovation. Then six Navy men picked up Edgar—chair and all—and hoisted him to their shoulders. They ran him from one end of the hall to the other, between lines of standing midshipmen. It was a tribute normally reserved for astronauts or football stars like Joe Bellino.
While Edgar has been Bussard's most talented fish, he also has been his sorest trial. One night during his freshman year Edgar and some buddies were out riding around Knoxville well past the curfew hour. Their car slipped off a road and Edgar's left hip was thrown out of joint. That put him out of the SEC meet—which Tennessee won, anyway—but he did have some consolation. "I got to see the Daytona 500," Edgar said.
Last season, two weeks before the NCAAs, Edgar again made waves. "I had taken my date to her dorm," he says, "but when I got back to my room she called and said she wanted to see me again. So, well, I went." He was turned in to Bussard by a member of the Orange Knights. The coach gave his star three choices: quit the team, stay home from the NCAAs or give up his scholarship. Edgar chose the last, and then got it back by winning the sprints at the NCAAs.
Now Edgar and Bussard laugh about their differences, but the coach's laugh is just a little hollow. "Dave is a good-looking kid and he also likes to have a good time, so he has problems," says Bussard with a sigh. "I've got to work to slay ahead of that boy. Every morning I get up and wonder what the news about him is going to be today."
Forget it, Coach. Your swimmers know just how you feel. Every morning they get up and wonder what their football coach is going to come up with next.