Legendary Coach Frank Keefe Dies at 85; Leaves Lasting Legacy At Numerous Stops
05 May 2023, 12:05pm
Legendary Coach Frank Keefe Dies; Leaves Lasting Legacy At Numerous Stops
Legendary swim coach Frank Keefe, who led Yale for more than 30 years and coached a slew of Olympians, has died. Yale confirmed his passing in a statement on Friday. He was 85.
Keefe leaves a long legacy of coaching. He spent a decade at Suburban Swim Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, a regional powerhouse club that continues to churn out collegians. Among his earliest pupils were Olympic medalists Carl Robie and Tim McKee.
The main part of Keefe’s career was spent at Yale, coaching the men’s team from 1978-2010 and the women’s team from 1980-2010. So respected was his work that the Ivy League women’s swimming championship trophy was named the Frank Keefe Trophy while he was still coaching. He combined to win 485 dual meets with the Bulldogs. He won the men’s Ivy League championship in 1991-92 and led the women’s team to five crowns, including undefeated seasons in 1992-93 and 1996-97.
“We have lost a legend,” said current Yale head swim coach Jim Henry in a university statement. “He was an outstanding teacher, coach, ambassador, father and friend who meant so much to so many. Frank loved his swimmers and loved Yale.”
“Frank dedicated his career to the growth and evolution of competitive swimming,” Yale Director of Athletics Victoria M. “Vicky” Chun said. “We were lucky to have him lead Yale Swimming for over three decades, and his legacy will continue to live on through our program.”
In 2009, Keefe was given the American Swimming Coaches Association Award of Excellence. He also won the 2022 USA Swimming Award.
Though he had long-standing ties to Connecticut as an East Haven native, Keefe’s first forays into coaching came outside of Philadelphia. He swam at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania and at Villanova University, graduating in 1960.
He began coaching at Philadelphia Country Club, which led to working at Monsignor Bonner High School (Robie’s alma mater), Saint Joseph’s Prep and Saint Joseph’s University. Robie would go on to win gold in the 200 butterfly at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, an early advertisement of Keefe’s guidance.
Keefe joined Suburban in 1966, a centrally located hub for swimming the greater Philadelphia area founded in 1950 by fellow coaching legend Peter Daland. Keefe produced his first major success at the 1972 Olympics with double silver medalist McKee. He would branch out by 1976 to start Foxcatcher Swim Club, at the John DuPont estate pool that Suburban had access.
By 1978, though, Keefe was drawn back to his roots in Connecticut, becoming the Robert J.H. Kiputh Director of Swimming. (He had already mentored nine Olympians at that point.) He was on the staff of the U.S. Olympic swim team in 1984 (as assistant coach), 1988 (as head manager) and 2000. Keefe was the head coach for the U.S. teams at the 1975 and 1979 Pan American Games and an assistant on the squad at the 1979 World Championships. At Yale, Keefe also founded Omni Swim Club in New Haven, which he directed for 20 years.
After his retirement from Yale in 2010, he remained very active around the pool. He returned to the Philadelphia area with his wife Kathleen, who died in 2014 after 54 years of marriage. He served as a volunteer assistant coach at Villanova, Swarthmore College, La Salle University and Shipley School and as an interim director of aquatics at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, in an echo of the work he did uniting coaches and programs in the Philadelphia area in the 1960s.
Keefe helped create USA Swimming in the late 1970s, separating it from the Amateur Athletic Union and gaining control of sanctioning swimming events in the United States. Keefe was the AAU’s National Time Standards Chairman from 1974-79. He was ASCA’s vice president from 1976-78 and its president from 1978-80. He served on the Olympic International Organizing Committee from 1973-88.
Keefe is a member of the Villanova Athletic Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Aquatics Hall of Fame and the American Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the latter enshrinement occurring as part of its fourth class in 2005.