Legendary swimming coach Moriarty dies at 98

Phil Moriarty, right, with Don Schollander '68. In addition to captaining the Yale team, Schollander won four gold medals at the 1964 Olympics and added another gold and a silver at the 1968 Games.
Phil Moriarty, right, with Don Schollander '68. In addition to captaining the Yale team, Schollander won four gold medals at the 1964 Olympics and added another gold and a silver at the 1968 Games. Photo by Danielle Spambanato.

Phil Moriarty, a Yale swimming and diving coach who led athletes to collegiate championships and Olympic medals over his four-decade career, died of natural causes last Saturday. He was 98.

Moriarty, who began coaching in 1939, arrived in New Haven when Yale’s swimming program was a national powerhouse. After serving as assistant to head coach Bob Kiphuth, he built on the legendary coach’s success, guiding his teams to a 195–25 dual-meet record and 11 Eastern Intercollegiate Swim League championships before retiring in 1976. The athletes Moriarty coached, several of whom went on to win Olympic gold medals, remember him both for his coaching techniques and for being a father figure and source of guidance in and out of the pool.

Moriarty, right, with Olympic gold medalist and former Yale captain Mike Austin ‘64.
Yale University
Moriarty, right, with Olympic gold medalist and former Yale captain Mike Austin ‘64.

“A coach for an athlete at Yale is someone that they probably see more than any other educator,” said John Lapides ’72, a former Yale swimmer and former president of the Yale Swimming Association. “Those people are really important not just in terms of physical development and achieving athletic goals but also in terms of maturation and personal development. [Moriarty] was one of those coaches.”

Moriarty came to Yale immediately after graduating high school in 1932. Initially a swimming teacher for Yale students, he eventually joined the swimming and diving coaching staff and went on to coach the U.S. diving team at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was elected into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1980 and the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010.

His former athletes attribute their successes in the water to Moriarty’s training and credit him with understanding their individual motivations and abilities and adapting his coaching techniques accordingly.

“I came to Yale as a good swimmer, but Phil’s the guy who got me from there on,” said Mike Austin ’64, a former Yale team captain who won gold in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the 1964 Olympics. “He found ways to relate to each of us.”

Gary Tobian, a gold medalist in the three-meter springboard at the 1960 Olympics, describes Moriarty’s coaching as instrumental to his success. Tobian said Moriarty trained him to execute the mechanics of a dive he had previously struggled to pull off.

Moriarty’s influence stretched beyond the confines of the pool, his former swimmers said.

“We were becoming adults and [Moriarty] sort of bent the curve for us a little bit,” David Johnson ’69 MED ’73, a member of the Yale team who swam in the 1968 Olympics, said. “We grew up in a way that was honorable and honest, and all the good things you’d think about people — being friendly, helpful, courteous, kind, cheerful, brave — all of these things, he just inculcated in us like a father would.”

Moriarty, left, with former captain and Olympic gold medalist Steve Clark '65 in 2005.
Danielle Spambanato
Moriarty, left, with former captain and Olympic gold medalist Steve Clark '65 in 2005.

Before Johnson applied to Yale, he said he visited New Haven and saw a wall in Payne Whitney Gymnasium listing the names of Yale athletes who had competed at the Olympics. Moriarty told Johnson that his name, too, could be etched into that wall if he tried hard enough.

Moriarty remained involved with the swimming team even after retiring from his coaching position. His successor, Frank Keefe, said Moriarty contacted him at least once per month for the rest of his life.

Moriarty moved to Florida in 1981 and had lived there ever since, according to the New York Times. He was visiting Mystic when he died.

Moriarty is survived by his three children, Philip, Richard and Ellen, seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.


Kirsten Adair contributed reporting.

Correction and clarification: Aug. 28, 2012

A previous version of this article misstated the name of Frank Keefe, Phil Moriarty’s successor as coach of the swimming team. The article also implied that John Lapides is the current president of the Yale Swimming Association, a position he no longer occupies. Additionally, a caption accompanying a photo in the article incorrectly stated that Don Schollander ’68 won four Olympic gold medals after captaining the Yale swimming team, when in fact Schollander won the medals in question prior to matriculating at Yale.

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