Longtime Duke swimming and diving coach Dan Colella died Friday night due to complications from cancer, the school announced Saturday.
The 60-year-old Colella coached the Blue Devils men’s and women’s teams since 2005, mentoring ACC champions, all-Americans and Olympic medalists during his Duke tenure.
Dr. Abby Johnston McGrath, a U.S. Olympic diver in the 2012 and 2016 games who won a silver medal at the London Games, remembered Colella on Saturday as “a wonderful man who had a huge impact on my life.”
“Even at 6 a.m. practice,” she wrote in an email to the News & Observer, “he had a smile on his face and greeted you with a “Hello sister!” He had a laid back personality but when he got fired up, everyone listened. Dan made you feel like family and his family was also an integral part of them team. They had us to their house for meals, his kids were often on the pool deck and his wife made us shirts mocking our rivals.”
Twice named the ACC diver of the year during her Duke career, McGrath won an NCAA championship and later graduated from Duke medical school following her international diving career.
“Even after my time on the team,” McGrath said, “he made an effort to stay in touch because he genuinely cared about his athletes beyond our aquatic achievements.”
Just the fifth coach in Duke history, Colella oversaw the Blue Devils’ men and women as both programs made appearances at the NCAA championships in each of the past 13 seasons. Duke produced at least one ACC champion in seven of the past 12 seasons.
Duke swimmers and divers captured five NCAA individual titles during his tenure, which included 64 athletes named all-American over the past 14 seasons.
The 2021-22 season saw the Blue Devils set 10 school records. Duke’s women’s team finished fifth at the ACC championships earlier this year, matching its best-ever finish, while placing 24th at the NCAA championships.
In 2014, Duke’s Nick McCrory became the first athlete in NCAA Championship history to win four national championships in men’s platform diving. He joined McGrath on the U.S. team at the 2012 London Olympics where he teamed with David Boudia to win a bronze medal in synchronized diving.
Colella came to Duke after 12 seasons as head coach at Tennessee. Prior to that he was an assistant coach for the Volunteers.
He graduated from Sewanee, The University of the South in 1984, where he was a two-time captain and three-time team most valuable player during his college swimming career.
Colella and his wife, Victoria, have four children: Henry, George, Ellinor and Caroline.
“I’ll really miss him and my heart is with Victoria and his kids,” McGrath said. “What an incredible life and legacy he leaves behind.”
A memorial service for Colella will be held Jan. 15 in the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center.
Colella’s death is the second tragedy to hit Duke’s athletics department in the past four weeks. Greg Dale, Duke’s Sport Psychology and Leadership Program director who had worked in the school’s athletics department since 2000, died from cancer on Nov. 24.