Bill Diaz, the long-time University of Miami swimming coach, has died after a long illness. He was 89.
Diaz, a Palmetto Bay resident, was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and coached UM swimmers for 15 years, building the school’s program into a powerhouse before he retired in 1985.
Diaz came to Miami in 1950 on the trail of his girlfriend’s parents, who had migrated from New York. A World War II veteran and war hero, Diaz flew more than 20 combat missions over Japan as a gunner in a B-29. After the war, he went on to graduate from New York University with an education degree.
In 1953, he was assigned to Miami Jackson High School as physical education teacher where he was persuaded to take control of the school’s swimming team. “Four years later, we won the state championship,” Diaz said in a recent interview. “And then we won it four years in a row and I don’t think anybody has done that since.”
Miami Springs Senior High School opened in 1963 and Diaz jumped at the opportunity to go to the new school in that booming area of Dade County and he built another high school swimming dynasty from the ground up. He added four more state titles to his resume and polished his reputation in the swimming world.
Diaz, a five-time Dade County High School Coach of the Year, coached such acclaimed swimmers as like Bubba Tongay, Wendy Fordyce, Louis Janos, who held the high school world record in the 50-yard freestyle, and Penny Estes, who at 14 years old won the national AAU championship in the 200-meter freestyle.
In 1970, UM Athletic Director Charlie Tate called and asked Diaz to revive the struggling swimming program at the University of Miami and he accepted the offer. At first, Diaz couldn’t convince blue-chip swimmers in the United States to come to the UM, so he went to South Africa and found several quality national swimming champions, including Tyrone Tozer and Robert Vandermere. He found others at the Philadelphia Aquatic Club and then landed David Wilkie, Scottish Silver Medalist and two-time Gold Medal winner from Great Britain’s Olympic team.
In 1971, Diaz chalked up another honor by initiating a women’s swim team at the UM and making it the first college in the United States to award a swimming scholarship to a woman. He then won successive national collegiate women’s championships in 1976 and 1977.
Deciding that the UM needed a diving program, Diaz brought in former Olympic diver Tom Gump to set it up and coach diving greats such as Olympic Gold Medalist Greg Louganis, All Americans Lenny Leyland, Steve McFarland, Greg Garland and others.
Diaz UM swimming squads posted four top-10 NCAA Championship finishes and finished in the top-20 at the NCAA Championships 11 times. In 1974, 1977 and 1982, his men’s teams won National Championships. In 2007, the UM and Coral Gables officials honored Diaz with the installation of a giant huge electronic scoreboard that bears his name.
Diaz is survived by his wife of 66 years, Martha, sons Bill, John and Rick, five grand children and five great grand children. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the UM Athletic Dept. (Hall of Fame) in honor of Coach Bill Diaz. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. at Oak Lawn Memorial North, Caballero Rivero Woodlawn, 3344 SW 8 St., Miami.