An era comes to an end: legendary swimming coach Carl Samuelson retires

Over the last 32 years the name “Sam” has come to represent an extremely successful Williams swimming program. But after years of dominance, Sam’s legacy has come to an end.

Swimming Coach Carl R. Samuelson, “Sam” to his swimmers and friends, is currently on leave for the academic year and will retire in June, leaving behind more than three decades of success, tradition and memories.

“Coach Sam’s style was characterized by a respect for the judgment and abilities of his swimmers, and an astoundingly deep understanding of swimming technique,” Andrew Diemer ’97 said. “He is unlike any coach that I have come across.”

Samuelson came to Williams in 1966 from a coaching position at Springfield College, succeeding 30-year-coach Bob Muir who never had a losing season during his Williams career. Upon his arrival, Samuelson quickly befriended Muir and strove to continue Muir’s successful tradition.

“Coach Muir was extremely successful here and was a tough act to follow…He was a wonderful person, and I have tried to live my life much in the same way that he did,” Samuelson said.

Samuelson, who maintained an excellent relationship with Muir until his death in 1997, adopted and developed Muir’s approach to coaching in his tenure at Williams. Samuelson’s style basically involved doing everything that was in the best interest of the students, and teaching them that their time swimming should be both enjoyable and an essential part of their college education.

“The team’s success over all these years is a result of the students enjoying the doing,” Samuelson said. “The enjoyment is always the most important.”

Samuelson’s career was, indeed, extremely successful. His teams won the women’s Division III championship in 1982 and 1983, the first two years that Williams was eligible. His women’s team has also won the last 12 New England Championships, while his men have won the last 13. On top of the team success, Samuelson has coached 201 men’s and 143 women’s All-Americans, including seven men’s and 47 women’s individual national champions. Samuelson was named national Division III Women’s Coach of the Year three times, in 1982, 1993 and 1995.

Samuelson also attributes his teams’ successes to the hard-working, dedicated atmosphere that the College has created. He always focused more on the overall team and learning experience than he did on extensive physical training, and this required a good amount of individual motivation and responsibility.

“My kind of system doesn’t always work, but here at Williams, it does…It should be understood that this kind of environment is special—it doesn’t just happen on its own,” Samuelson said. “Williams has a wonderful tradition, and I’d like to feel that I helped continue it.”

Many of Samuelson’s former swimmers would agree that he has gone above and beyond the duty of maintaining Williams’s winning special tradition. The former coach said his ultimate goal at Williams is for his alumni to look back at their time in retrospect and see their experience as something very significant and not just a competition. His alumni seem to have done this, and they have much praise for their former coach.

Former swimmer Tom Gratian ’98 said, “Sam stands among few individuals who, in addition to exemplifying unparalleled effectiveness in his area of expertise, have, at the same time, deeply influenced me in the development of my own personal character and approach to life in general. While he demonstrated to me the utmost professionalism, he also served as a father figure.”

Another former swimmer Bradley Maron said, “Coach Sam exemplifies the quality in character and ability that marks the Williams community. He remained central to his goal of promoting excellent swimming not at the sacrifice of personal well-being.”

Jessica Stokes ’99 echoed Maron’s sentiments and said Samuelson’s coaching philosophy and dedication have carried over into her personal life upon graduation.

“In the pool, Sam’s confidence in us helped us attain a level of success few thought possible,” Stokes said. “After leaving Williams, we are similarly inspired by his confidence in our character to exceed our expectations and fulfill our dreams.”

Samuelson’s presence will be sorely missed at Williams, but he will continue to live in Williamstown and support the College and swimming program. Samuelson and his wife, who worked in the College’s health center for many years, plan on traveling quite a bit, but they plan on living out their retirement here in Williamstown.

“It would be impossible to break away from here,” Samuelson said. “It’s like my retiring—It’s really hard to break away from something that you’ve done for so many years, especially when I’ve enjoyed myself as much as I have.”