His swimmers regard Doc Counsilman as the wisest and most gentle of men, which still leaves the Indiana coach perhaps a virtue or two shy of being a saint. For sure Counsilman lacks mercy. There he was the other day, pacing the pool deck of the University of Tennessee's Student Aquatic Center and actually fretting over his team's chances of winning an unprecedented sixth straight NCAA championship. "If we make too many mistakes, we can lose this meet," Counsilman insisted. What he neglected to say was that even before the three-day competition began, Indiana had placed a large order at a Knoxville store to print up T shirts bearing a big number 6 on their backs.
The Hoosiers could have put on their new shirts at almost any time without fear of embarrassment, but they elected to hold off until the final points were in, and these gave Indiana a 358-294 advantage over host Tennessee, an emerging power that beat out Southern Cal by 34 points for second place. The Volunteer swimmers no doubt received a lift by being in Big Orange country, manifestations of which included an orange scoreboard and orange folding chairs, not to mention orange miniskirts worn by the Timettes, a corps of Tennessee coeds who punched stopwatches and draped orange leis around the necks of every swimmer in sight. In the opening ceremonies a couple of Timettes slipped into orange bikinis—they also wore orange nail polish—and carried Old Glory across the pool by canoe. The flag, blessedly, was red, white and blue.
Amid the hoopla, Indiana was coping with the kind of problems that any other school gladly would have welcomed. One team member, Mark Spitz, had graduated and gone Hollywood, and if talk of post-Olympic letdowns was rampant, it was because Indiana had in its ranks no fewer than six swimmers who were at Munich. Two of them, Gary Hall and John Kinsella, had suffered disappointing Olympics, but both had recovered this season to help Indiana run its string of consecutive dual meet victories to 88 and Big Ten titles to 13. Kinsella, however, admitted to a case of what amounted to post-Spitz tristesse.
"We could always count on Mark for a laugh," Kinsella said on arriving in Knoxville. "He'd say something irrelevant at our team meetings, and everyone would crack up. This year we're too serious. We're not laughing enough."
April 2, 1973
Kinsella did his part to lighten spirits at Knoxville by winning both the 500-and 1,650-yard freestyles, each for the third straight year. Hall took second in two events, then won the 200 butterfly, but it was Indiana's triumphant 800-yard freestyle relay team, on which he swam anchor, that finally unburdened everybody once and for all. Relays at NCAA meets are worth twice as many points as individual events, yet Indiana for some reason had failed to win one since 1969—or 11 straight relays going into this year.
The Hoosiers had made it 12 straight on Thursday, the meet's opening night. Partly to blame was Mike Stamm, the top U.S. backstroker, who excelled later by winning his specialty at both 100 and 200 yards and setting American records of 50.91 and 1:50.524. In the 400-yard medley relay, however, Stamm finished his leg well in the ruck, dooming Indiana to third behind Tennessee and USC. "I was just trying too hard—I was too tight," he said. Indiana got through the first day with a 26-point lead, but there was apprehension. "I was starting to wonder if God wanted us to win this meet," said Hall.
Then came the relay that ended the four-year drought—the 800 freestyle—Indiana winning it in a U.S. record 6:36.39. Along with Hall's strong anchor there was a blazing 1:38.05 leg by freshman Fred Tyler, an Olympian who had traveled in Europe after Munich and had enrolled at Indiana only this past January. Tyler also did well in three individual events Thursday and Friday, taking a third, a fifth and a sixth to amass 31 points, or most of the 39-point lead with which Indiana entered the final day.
With some of its best events coming up, the Hoosiers' biggest worry at this point was Counsilman's right ankle, which he twisted when he stumbled at poolside, spraining it severely enough that he spent the rest of the meet limping. For anything like suspense you had to turn to the battle for runner-up, a position that Southern Cal had occupied for four straight years. While playing Avis to Indiana's Hertz, USC Coach Peter Daland had built what he claimed was the world's tallest swim team. The loftiest of the Trojans was junior college transfer Jack Tingley, a gifted 6'7" distance swimmer who bumped his head a couple of times on the low ceiling that overhung the Aquatic Center's starting blocks. Another towering figure was Olympian Steve Furniss, a 6'3½" sophomore who shattered Gary Hall's U.S. records in both individual medley events, outracing Hall in the 200 in 1:51.385 and then taking the 400 in 3:55.16.
But Furniss' exploits were not enough. Southern Cal was lamentably weak in the sprints, and this was exactly where Tennessee was strong. The man behind the Volunteer surge was Coach Ray Bussard, whose showmanship goes beyond his obsession with orange. He also dresses his team in Davy Crockett coonskin hats, so called after the Tennessean who, according to song and legend, killed a bear when he was only 3. Ah, symbolism! Tennessee was in its third year as a national power—it had no swim team whatever until 1968—and the bear it was baiting was Southern Cal.
The Vols were led by John Francis Trembley II, a grinning, wide-eyed fellow who shaved his skull for the meet, and kept his hands warm between events by wearing gloves so furry they might have been fashioned from his shorn locks. Trembley is a parachutist and an accomplished organist whose repertoire includes Laura, Blue Moon and assorted mood music that, he says, "you and your wife might like to listen to while having dinner." He tells of preparing for races by going into a self-induced trance taught him by a hypnotist back home in Loudonville, N.Y. "It helps me cut down the amount of concentration necessary to relax," Trembley explains, perhaps. Whatever his secret, he is a worthy successor to ex-Tennessee freestyler and free spirit Dave Edgar.
With the partisan crowd cheering him on, Trembley entered the Aquatic Center's water five times and climbed out a winner in every instance. He took three individual events—the 50 and 100 freestyles and the 100 butterfly—and he was on Tennessee's winning 400 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams. It was the 400 freestyle relay, the meet's last event, that sealed second place for Tennessee. Trailing the Vols 262-260 and outmanned by Trembley and Tennessee's other sprinters, Southern Cal went for broke and was disqualified when another tall Trojan, 6'4" Steve Tyrell, left the starting block before his teammate had touched.
The reason for Tennessee's strong showing, apart from its home-water advantage, is its audacity in competing for talent with such traditional powers as Indiana, Southern Cal and UCLA. Another school doing the same is the University of Washington, which expects next fall to enroll three of the four high school boys—including distance star Rick DeMont—on the '72 U.S. Olympic team. Washington Coach Earl Ellis, whose Huskies finished fifth in Knoxville, is understandably eager for next year's meet. "It'll be nice for a change not knowing on the first day who's going to win," he said.
Indiana still will merit consideration in any such deliberations, even though Counsilman may never again approach the recruiting coups he pulled by landing Spitz, Hall and Kinsella in successive years. "The superstars are becoming better distributed," he admits. "It's getting harder for one school to get them." But Counsilman expects another good crop of freshmen next year and, while he loses Hall by graduation, both Kinsella and Stamm, double winners at Knoxville, will be back.
So will Fred Tyler, the newcomer who pumped life into the Hoosiers last week. "It was up to the freshmen on our team to make up for Spitz," Tyler said. "I knew if the team didn't do well, everybody would blame us freshmen." Tyler has red hair, wire-rimmed glasses and the mildest of manners. Although he lacks the flamboyance of a Spitz, his fine, ascetic features would not disgrace one of those $2.85 (with mailing tube) posters. He was an especially compelling sight at the poolside victory celebration in his new T shirt, the one with the big 6 on the back.