Passages: Long-Time Notre Dame Coach Tim Welsh Dies After Battle With Cancer

Photo Courtesy: Notre Dame Athletics

One of the longest-tenured NCAA swimming coaches in history, and one of the most well-respected, Tim Welsh, lost his battle with cancer Wednesday June 2.

Welsh coached at Notre Dame for 30 years — 29 in one stint, then a return on an interim bases between coaches in South Bend.

He announced his cancer diagnosis in 2019 at an ASCA World Clinic. Welch spoke with Swimming World at the event, detailing the battle and his career. He compared coaching swimming to life. “It’s hard, it’s challenging, and it’s rewarding. It’s just like practice. If practice isn’t hard, it doesn’t work. If it’s not beautiful, we don’t stay with it. If we don’t love it, we get out of the game.”

Welsh said he would reflect on a lot of life lessons he gave out to his athletes during his time as a coach. He talked about Haley Scott, who was injured in the infamous bus accident that the Notre Dame women’s team endured in the early 1990s, and how she helps people fight through similar tragedies that she experienced. Welsh said that Scott was one of the first people that reached out to him after his diagnosis.

Tim Welsh had a 326-179-1 (.645) dual-meet record beginning with his arrival at Notre Dame in 1985. His teams won 22 league titles (15 in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, six Big East Conference championships, one North Star Conference championship) and finished as runner-up on seven occasions (two in the MCC and five in the Big East).

Welsh’s squads won 45 Big East Conference individual and relay titles over their 18-year membership in that league. His men’s swimming student-athletes achieved 23 invitations to the NCAA Championships, including 20 bids in his last four seasons alone, gaining All-America honors on 12 occasions.

tim welsh photo

Tim Welsh. Photo Courtesy: University of Notre Dame

Under his guidance, the Fighting Irish captured the program’s first Big East title in 2005 and repeated the feat in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013. Notre Dame sent competitors to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in six of his past nine seasons, with Frank Dyer earning the program’s first All-America honor in 2012 and a record nine Irish swimmers competing at the 2013 NCAA meet. Notre Dame sent eight student-athletes to the NCAA Championships during Welsh’s final season in 2014.

The most apparent reality of the Welsh era at Notre Dame was the almost everyday occurrence that breaking university records became. During his tenure, Welsh saw his student-athletes break the Notre Dame record in every event–on both the men’s and women’s sides–on multiple occasions. In all, more than 200 university records were set under Welsh’s tutelage. The Irish established 12 marks each during the 2004-05, 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. In the lists of the top 10 performers in each swimming event in Notre Dame men’s history, no names remain from the pre-Welsh era.

The Irish women’s coach from 1985-86 through 1994-95, Tim Welsh and his teams posted a 93-50-1 (.649) dual meet record, winning MCC titles in each season from 1987-95. His teams also claimed the Eastern Intercollegiate Championship in 1990 and again in 1995, when the last women’s program Welsh coached finished with the best record in school history at 14-1. During his 10 years at the helm of the Notre Dame women’s program, Welsh sent 11 swimmers to the NCAA Championships, including three-time All-American Tanya Williams. In that span, every Irish women’s university record was broken.

Welsh received the National Collegiate and Scholastic Swimming Trophy, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America’s (CSCAA) highest honor. The award is presented to an individual or organization for having contributed in an outstanding way to swimming as a competitive sport and as a healthful recreational activity in schools and colleges. Welsh received the Richard E. Steadman Award from the CSCAA in 1993. That award is given annually to a swimming or diving coach in the high school, club or university ranks who, in the opinion of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc., and the CSCAA, has done the most to spread joy and happiness in swimming.

Notre Dame bestowed its Presidential Achievement Award on Welsh in 2009.

Welsh was honored for his special service to the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and the sport of swimming by receiving the ASCA’s distinguished Ousley Service Award in 2004. One of Welsh’s key developments is the ASCA Fellows Program, which is designed to professionally and thoroughly prepare the next generation of coaching leaders. Welsh was named President of ASCA in September 2009 with the term coming to a close in the fall of 2011.

Tim Welsh received the CSCAA’s Distinguished Service Award for his 35 years of service in college coaching and was deemed the organization’s Division I men’s representative on its Board of Directors in 2009.

Prior to coaching at Notre Dame, Welsh spent eight years as the men’s and women’s head swimming and diving coach at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. He led the men’s squad to a 65-26 mark, including two NCAA Division III national championships. Welsh graduated magna cum laude from Providence College in 1966 and went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1967.

Welsh became the men’s assistant swimming coach at Syracuse in 1974, after leaving Winthrop College (S.C.) where he had taught English.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Anonymous

    This is terribly sad. Tim was a legend in the coaching community. He taught us all valuable lessons, both in and out of the pool. Thanks for sharing so much Tim.

  2. avatar
    Dr P.M.Reddy

    It’s great loss to swimming fraternity. May his soul rest in the & God bless his family.

  3. avatar
    john christopher Nirmal Kumar

    This is terribly sad. Tim was a legend in the coaching . A great loss for swimming world.