Hobart “Hobie” Billingsley, one of the most distinguished diving coaches in NCAA history, passed away on July 16, 2022, in Bloomington at the age of 95.
Some Hoosier fans may be unfamiliar with Billingsley, though his name should be just as synonymous with success as some of the great Indiana coaches.
Hoosier diving teams coached by Billingsley won all six of the program’s national titles during his tenure which ran from 1959 through 1989. He coached numerous Olympic teams, individual Olympic and national champions, and revolutionized the sport like no one else before him.
Hailing from Erie, Pennsylvania, Billingsley was a diving champion who exhibited competitive excellence from his high school days. As a senior, he became the first high school diver to medal in an American Amateur Athletic Union national championship, claiming a bronze medal.
After high school, Billingsley attended Ohio State University, earning an athletic scholarship and taking home national collegiate titles under the guidance of 11-time national champion coach Mike Peppe.
Following two years of service in the Army after his freshman campaign, Billingsley finished his physical education degree as a Buckeye in 1951. He received his master’s from the University of Washington two years later.
His competitive diving career had ended, but his coaching career was just beginning.
Billingsley got his start as a coach working at various high schools in California and Michigan from 1953 to 1957, all for a teaching salary of just $3,900 ($37,000 today) and a coaching salary of $500 ($5,500 today).
Billingsley’s first big break came in 1957 when he became the second-ever, full-time diving coach in the country, leading the Ohio University Bobcats. Two years later, he left the Buckeye state to become the head coach of the IU Hoosiers.
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Billingsley quickly earned a reputation as a revolutionary coach. In a Sports Illustrated interview, Olympic diving gold medalist and collegiate diving coach Bob Clotworthy called Billingsley a “renegade, a crusader who will try anything.”
Billingsley coached using terms such as double-axis displacement as well as linear and transitory motion, meticulously applying laws of motion to the world of diving despite scoring a 22% on his college physics final.
Billingsley’s “renegade” coaching philosophy paid off — divers coached by the Pennsylvania native and his right-hand man, head swimming coach James “Doc” Councilman, won a total of 115 national titles, including six consecutive NCAA championships from 1968 through 1973, according an article published by the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Standouts who trained under Billingsley include Ken Sitzberger and Lesley Bush, both of whom were gold medalists at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. He also coached Cynthia Potter, who holds the nationwide lead for women’s national titles with 28.
In addition to his collegiate accomplishments, Billingsley also coached United States Olympic teams in 1968, 1972 and 1976.
Billingsley not only got results, he also earned the respect of his divers.
“Hobie sold me on Indiana University, what he planned to do and, most of all, on Hobie Billingsley,” Rick Gilbert, the first national champion in Billingsley’s program, said in 1962.
For his numerous achievements, Billingsley was voted as American diving coach of the year for seven consecutive years from 1964 through 1970 and elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1983.
The leader of one of the greatest dynasties in college sports ended his coaching career in 1989, following 31 years of unparalleled success.
After retiring from coaching, Billingsley remained in Bloomington as a teacher, recruiter and fundraiser. He judged Olympic diving in 1992 and 1996, reciting the Olympic Oath at the1996 games in Atlanta. He also ran a summer diving camp, mentoring coaches at home and abroad.
Billingsley’s legacy is immortalized in the national championship and Olympic banners that hang in the Councilman Billingsley Aquatics Center, bearing his name on campus today.