If you ask some of the stars from Willis Casey’s talented men’s swim teams of the 1960s what they remember about their coach, it’s not uncommon to hear about the disciplinarian in him.
“I can remember being thrown out of the pool and [Steve] Rerych thrown out of the pool,” says Pat Gavaghan ’67, who was an All-American swimmer in 1965 and 1966. “…He didn’t think I was swimming hard enough.”
Casey’s swimmers say it was that discipline that led them to find the best within themselves. And that led to them doing their best for NC State, as the Wolfpack won or shared 16 Southern Conference and ACC championships in 30 years.
But it was on this day in in 1969 that Casey started down another successful path at NC State. He was promoted to athletics director, a post he would hold for 17 years, until 1986.
As swim coach, Casey focused on building a program that could compete nationally with the other powerful programs at the time, like the University of Southern California. And when he found success, a national reputation and renowned recruits, many from the North, soon followed.
His disciplined approach didn’t change when he took over as athletics director.
“As a swimming coach, he was known as a legend before his time,” wrote Devin Steele in the 1986 Agromeck. “As an administrator, he was known as a financial wizard.”
Casey’s first task when he took over was to remedy an athletics program that was more than $100,000 in the red. And that debt grew even more as the construction of Carter-Finley Stadium, started in 1965, continued.
“Paying off Carter-Finley Stadium is credited mainly to Casey’s mastery of budget,” wrote Steele. The facility was to be paid for through gate receipts only, and under Casey’s leadership, that money was never used to supplement the overall budget. As a result, the stadium was paid for in 28 years ahead of schedule in 1979.
In the mid-1970s, Casey was instrumental in giving women’s sports a home at NC State when he hired Kay Yow as women’s basketball coach and coordinator of women’s athletics.
“When we started getting 1,800 to 2,000 women’s students, we knew we needed to start a women’s program,” Casey said in the 1986 Agromeck article. “…[W]e went before the Board of Directors and they decided to form six teams and finance 54 scholarships.” His hiring prowess was always celebrated because of his picking Yow, but he also hired Lou Holtz and Jim Valvano.
In 1992, Carmichael Gymnasium’s swimming complex was dedicated as the Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center.