Bryan Robbins, SMU’s unknown Olympic Coach Part Two: The right time to walk away

(If you missed Part One: The legacy of diving, click here)

As Robbins began to consider retirement, the life lesson he learned many years ago began to poke at the back of his mind – knowing when to walk away. So in 1980, ready to focus on his family, Robbins retired.

“When I came here to coach I taught 7 classes and coached. I was busy.” Robbins said. “Because of Title IX, I was coaching the men and women and traveling with them. We would leave on a Monday, comeback on Sunday, and have to turn around and leave again. I wasn’t overworked, but double the travel was hard.”


The 1976 U.S. OIympic Diving Team. [Robbins bottom left.] Photo courtesy of: TSDHOF.

It was a decision that not many people could understand. After being so successful at such a young age, many people expected Robbins to continue coaching. However, he realized his priorities were changing.

Robbins coached in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics (almost…), the 1975 and 1979 Pan American Games and was the 1975 World Aquatic Games Coach. From his achievements on the board, to the achievements of his athletes, Robbins knew his career with diving was complete.

The underrated, overachieving diver was ready to settle down and relax. Robbins met his wife when he was 24, after dating for four years they made the decision to get married.

“It was a good decision,” Robbins said as he smiled, “we’ve been incredibly happy together.”

In 15 years, Robbins had accomplished more in the world of diving then most athletes accomplish in a lifetime of competition. From an All-American diver to Olympic coach, Robbins proved that he was a master both on and off the board.

Robbins chose to walk away from diving because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Deep down he knew that he had reached his full potential and that he now had much bigger responsibilities at home.

“I felt like I had done everything that I could do – what am I going to do, do it again?” Robbins said.

It wasn’t arrogance or pride that caused Robbins to walk away, it was simply a man realizing that it was time to let his dream go and shift his focus to the dreams of his children, a decision that is hard for many parents.

Bryan Robbins accomplished what many people only dream of doing, and he walked away from a lifestyle that many athletes become swallowed up in.

After his retirement from diving in 1980, Robbins continued teaching full time at SMU until 2008 when he retired and was awarded Professor Emeritus.

SMU replaced Robbins with current head diving coach Jim Stillson. It was during the recruitment of Stillson that school officials promised to build new swimming and diving facilities; ones that matched that 25 straight conference titles that the teams had won. But 35 years later, SMU swimming and diving is still without any type of pool that resembles collegiate facilities worthy of such a program.

Once the archrival of the University of Texas, a powerhouse in swimming and diving, SMU is nothing more then a small blimp on the map in Dallas. Even though it is a popular destination among international students, SMU swimming and diving has suffered because of the inability to recruit high level athletes since the university lacks adequate facilities.

“We used to have thousands of people come to the meets,” Robbins said. But now, only a hand full of fans show up, much less follow the sport.

Robbins retired as the only SMU coach to coach multiple Olympic teams, and even though current men’s basketball coach and Hall of Famer Larry Brown was an Olympic coach, Robbins still remains the only Mustang to coach the Olympics while actively coaching at SMU.

From leaving the University of Arkansas to turning down an offer from UT, Robbins heart has always been with SMU.

“We didn’t like them at all,” Robbins explained, “and I love SMU. I always have and always will. When they offered me the job I didn’t think twice about it.”

For Robbins being a Mustang wasn’t just something he did, it was something that will always have a special place in his heart.

In 2009, SMU announced their plans to build new swimming and diving facilities, as well as new golf facilities, and while rumor has it that the new natatorium will be located on east campus, SMU is still without anything that resembles a proper collegiate training center for swimmers and divers.

SMU’s swimming and diving teams are rich with tradition and championships, however the championships and tradition that once adorned Perkins Natatorium have slowly began to fall away and fade into a thing of the past.

2 years ago
Swimming & Diving
Written by Jesse Carr
Jesse is journalism major at Southern Methodist University and co-founder of The Stable. A die hard Texan, Jesse loves Lonestar beer, tattoos, God, anything sports related, and contributes coverage of all SMU athletics.