Former swimming and diving coach Freeman dies at 60

Andrew Baker

Jean Freeman, who coached the Gophers women’s swimming and diving team for 31 years, died Thursday evening of cancer. She was 60.

Freeman, a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, led the Gophers to back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1999 and 2000. The Gophers placed in the NCAA Championships in each of Freeman’s last 20 years as coach. Under Freeman, 48 Gophers earned Big Ten titles in 53 individual events and 23 relay events.

Coached by Freeman, current Gophers women’s co-head coach Terry Nieszner became the first female Gophers athlete to win All-America honors in 1973-74. Nieszner was the first of 58 Freeman-coached athletes to win a total of 203 All-America awards.

“[Freeman] was a true pioneer of women’s athletics and such a wonderful role model for all of us,” Athletic Director Joel Maturi said in a release. “First as a student-athlete, then as the head coach of our women’s swimming and diving program and most recently as the president of our M Club, Jean had a heart of maroon and gold. We will miss her, but her legacy will certainly live on.”

A Minnesota graduate, Freeman was a member of the Gophers swimming and diving team from 1968-72. She then spent one year as an assistant coach for the team before becoming head coach. Freeman was inducted to the Minnesota Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Minnesota Womens Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

“Words cannot describe the tremendous pain and loss felt by everyone whose life Jean touched,” Nieszner said in the release. “It was no accident that in her final hours she had the strength to sing the Minnesota Rouser led by Joel Maturi.”

Freeman earned her 200th career victory in 2001 and retired after the 2003-04 season. From her retirement until January 2010, Freeman served as President of the M Club Hall of Fame.