Of all the 2011 USF Athletics Hall of Fame inductees, Bob Grindey's career may be the most fascinating.
He came to campus in the spring of 1964 as an assistant professor. By the time he left, he had served as a member of the first USF Athletics Council, Chairman of the Florida AAU Swimming committee, an associate professor on the physical education faculty, an assistant athletic director, and perhaps most notably, as head swimming coach.
Grindey was one of the architects of USF Athletics, long before conference affiliations, fancy facilities or television contracts. In many ways, he was among the corps of founding fathers for the department. The success of his swimming program is impressive, but it's only part of his story.
Being a USF coach in the 1960's in any sport was a challenge in itself.
"The pool was being built when I got here," recalls Grindey. "Unfortunately it wasn't being built for competitive swimming. A lot of things needed to be modified. Luckily the indoor pool was about to be started and I was able to help with that project."
Budgets were tight in those early days; travel was...well, maybe memorable is the right word.
"We started with rented station wagons. You couldn't drive unless you were 23 years old," says Grindey. "So coaches of other sports had to pitch in and drive."
It created a special bond between those early USF coaches.
"We were all fighting the same battles," laughs Grindey. "Not too much money, limited number of participants. All of the coaches realized that without helping each other, we were sunk."
Despite the limitations, success came early and often.
In 1969, the first year USF swimming was eligible, the Brahmans finished 12th in the NCAA Championships. They took second in 1971 and fifth in 1972, stunning success for a program so young and so often outmanned. Many times the Bulls simply had fewer swimmers than the opposition.
"We had a lot of open lanes," says former student athlete Pete Kenning. "But we had a lot of pretty good swimmers."
"Our results were fabulous for the amount of swimmers we had," says USF Hall of Famer Joe Lewkowicz. "The talent that Bob was able to develop in people was crucial."
"We started with six guys but they were good athletes. What saved us was having guys who were willing to do some events that weren't their specialty. We had to find guys willing to do that," says Grindey.
Find them he did. From 1969 to 1972, Grindey's swimmers won six individual national championships and one relay national championship. Remarkably, 17 of his swimmers brought home a combined 80 All-American Awards in five different events.
"He was exceptionally strong on self discipline," recalls former USF swimmer John Connelly. "He was very high on ethics. He expected you to tell the truth. He was the hardest working coach I ever swam for, and he expected that and more from you."
While Grindey is being inducted for his prowess as a swimming coach, he had many other accomplishments during his long USF career. It was Grindey who developed the first physical education course in skin and scuba diving in the state university system. He served on the first USF Athletic Council, helping to formulate policies and procedures for USF's early athletic competitions. He was the meet manager for the 1966 Men's National AAU swimming championship. And, of course, in 1969 men's swimming graduated to the NCAA level and Grindey's coaching success blossomed.
The mark he made on his student-athletes has lasted well beyond his coaching days.
"He kept us all together," says Kenning. "He touched everyone in the athletic program. Bob's had a positive influence on a lot of people for a long time."
"He is one of the most influential people that ever walked in to my life," says Connelly. "It was a blessing that he did."
As Bob Grindey joins the class of 2011, USF Athletics has the opportunity to look back to the early days of the program, and to see how those times translate to where the department is today. The efforts of pioneers like Grindey go a long way toward explaining the remarkable growth of present day USF Athletics.
As for the coach, he has little trouble deciding what his most special memory is.
"It was seeing those young people who had a dream. No one had ever heard of this school," he said. "But they worked very hard and got some recognition. Seeing them mature and seeing other people acknowledge what they did at USF was very satisfying for me."