Cal Bentz, who led Nebraska to 26 swimming and diving conference championships, died at his home in Lincoln on Tuesday, July 4. He was 84.
Bentz coached swimming for more than 50 years, leaving his greatest impact at the University of Nebraska in the 1980s and 1990s.
A former Nebraska swimmer himself, Bentz coached the Huskers from 1962-63 on an interim basis, before spending 15 seasons as a high school coach at Omaha Westside. He returned to Lincoln as the head coach of the Huskers in the fall of 1978, and served in that role until he announced his retirement on Dec. 11, 2000. Overall he spent 24 years as head coach of the Husker men’s squad and eight years as head coach of the combined men’s and women’s programs.
Bentz, who led the Big Red to 16 men’s conference championships including 15 consecutive Big Eight titles from 1980 to 1994, also was the leader of the Nebraska program while the women won 10 conference crowns, including five straight Big Eight/Big 12 titles from 1994 to 1998. Overall, Bentz helped guide the women to 18 top-two conference finishes from 1979 to 2000, and the men to 21 top-two conference showings in his career.
He led the men to five consecutive NCAA top-25 finishes from 1996 to 2000. From 1993 to 2000, he guided the women to eight consecutive top-20 NCAA finishes.
In 1999-2000 both Husker programs finished among the top 20 at the NCAA Championships, as the men took 13th and the women finished 20th. The men’s best NCAA finishes came with 10th-place showings in 1988 and 1989. Overall the men finished among the top 20 nationally 10 times under Bentz.
The Husker women produced their best finish in school history by taking eighth at the 1997 NCAA Championships. The women finished in the top 20 at the NCAA Championships in each of Bentz’s final eight years leading the program.
Bentz produced a total of 94 men and women All-Americans (first team and honorable mention). He was a six-time conference coach of the year, claiming his final award following the women’s 1997 victory at the Big 12 Championships. He swept coach-of-the-year honors at the final Big Eight contest in 1996.
On the international level, Bentz produced swimmers who competed internationally at the Olympic Games, Goodwill Games, Pan-American Games, World Championships, European Championships, Pan Pacific Games and World University Games. From 1976 to 2000, the Husker program produced 21 Huskers who competed in the Olympics, including two-time Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder Penny Heyns and Adam Pine who captured a gold and a silver in Sydney.
A 1955 graduate of the University of Nebraska, Bentz was a four-year swimming letterwinner. He was team captain during both his junior and senior years. In 1961 Bentz returned to his alma mater when he was named the interim head coach of the Husker men’s team. Bentz then spent 15 years as head coach at Omaha Westside High School. He led Omaha Westside to 16 state championships. Bentz, who also coached at Lincoln High, was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. He also received a Nebraska Alumni Achievement Award.