A crowd of more than 200 people gathered Saturday, Nov. 2 at California State University, Northridge to honor one of the greatest coaches in the 55-year history of Matador Athletics. Pete Accardy, who was 72-years-old, passed away on July 13 from cancer in Del Mar, Calif.
During his illustrious 24-year career as head coach of the CSUN men’s swim team, and 15 seasons as head coach of the CSUN women’s swim team, Accardy coached the Matadors to a record 13 NCAA team titles (nine for men, four for women), which is still a collegiate record.
An overflow crowd filed in to the campus pool area where coach Accardy enjoyed unparalleled success. The memorial tribute included former swimmers, former coaching colleagues and friends who had the upmost respect for Accardy for his abilities to teach student-athletes not only to be great swimmers but also great students, and more importantly, great contributors in the community.
The impressive list of attendees included former head coach and the Matadors’ first athletic director, Sam Winningham; former Matador men’s head basketball coach Pete Cassidy; Joel Barr (an assistant coach for Accardy for 23 seasons); Brandon Martin, Ed.D. (CSUN’s current director of intercollegiate athletics) and former Matador head baseball coach and athletic director Bob Hiegert.
“Pete lived his life to the fullest,” said Hiegert. “He enjoyed life. Swimming was a big part of his life. His swimmers were a part of his family. If he said at the beginning of the year the team was going to pretty good, that meant they were going to win the national championship. Pete was a great teacher, a great motivator. I think the genius of Pete was that he got every swimmer to (personal record) by the end of the season.”
Accardy coached more than 300 NCAA Division II All-Americana at CSUN. The list included Michele Hampton, a 14-time All-American and a 12-time NCAA champion. Hampton had originally planned on attending USC, but one day Accardy called Hampton with a scholarship offer.
“It turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened,” said Hampton, who was inducted into the Matador Hall of Fame in 1990.
Accardy graduated from Cal State Northridge, competing on the first swim team and first basketball team in school history (1958-59).
“We were both guards,” remembers Cassidy. “He was a great player to work with and an outstanding person. We joined the same fraternity. We will always be great friends — forever, forever, forever.”
When Accardy retired from Cal State Northridge in 1993, his wife, Barbara, and the entire family moved to Del Mar, where Accardy owned more than 75 thoroughbred race horses. During this past summer, a couple races were named in his honor at the Del Mar Racetrack.
“Pete was the best,” said Barbara. “He was caring, considerate, loyal and honest as the day is long. Pete was somebody that people respected. He always viewed success as a swim coach as a team effort. The kids did the work. He just happened to be along for the ride. He could point out things that would bring out the best in the everybody.”