Remembering Ram Legend Art Solow
Jan. 6, 2012
By John Hirn
In 2011, CSU lost several legendary Aggie and Ram athletes including Perry Blach, Bill Tavener, Ollie Woods and John Toliver. On May 19, 2011, CSU Hall of Fame Coach Art Solow passed away at the age of 86. Solow guided the men’s swimming teams from 1959 to 1975 winning one team WAC championship, producing 14 NCAA All-Americans and 25 individual WAC champions.
Solow, a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, served with the US Navy in WWII on an ammunition ship in the South Pacific. After graduating from college, he coached high school athletics in the Detroit area from 1949 to 1959, elevating himself to Director of Athletics at Kimball High School.
In 1959, Solow attended the national swim meet and met Colorado State’s original swim coach Tommy Tompkin. Tompkin, who founded the CSU swimming program in 1926, talked to Solow about coming to Fort Collins to take over as the new coach of men’s swimming. Solow’s daughter Karen Hartman remembered, “Dad was a highly successful high school swim coach but wanted to coach at the university level.”
Solow arrived at CSU in 1959 to coach in the same facilities that Tompkin opened in 1926 which was the small pool located in the Glenn Morris Field House on College Avenue. Solow also took on the duties of an instructor in the physical education department which at that time was part of the athletic department.
In 1966-67, the new pool at Moby opened and Solow’s teams took off in the national rankings of swimming, diving and water polo. From 1967 to 1975, 14 of Solow’s athletes were named as All-Americans by the NCAA, six of them to mulit-year All-America teams.
One of his finest athletes, John Mattos, a California high school champion swimmer who arrived at CSU in the fall of 1968, won two All-American honors (1969 and 1970) and in 1980 began a legendary career as head coach of the Rams’ women’s swim teams retiring in the spring of 2011.
Mattos had fond memories of his coach and mentor saying, “I liked Art immediately and knew that he was putting together a great team at an incredible university. I was enamored with Colorado from the get go and because I loved the mountains (and skiing) it was not a very difficult decision for me to make to go there.”
Solow’s career with the Rams swim teams was one of the most successful of any coach in school history. In 1972 he was named the NCAA District 7 Swimming Coach of the Year following his team winning the school’s only WAC championship in men’s swimming. He sat on the member’s board of the NCAA Swimming Rules Committee from 1972 to 1974 and in 1971 Solow was named by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America as a “Master Coach.”
Solow’s teams consistently competed in the NCAA Championships, finishing as high as eighth in the nation in 1970. One of his finest swimmers, Ralph Hutton, who won a silver medal in the 1968 Olympics before coming to CSU, finished as high as second in the NCAA tournament in 1970. Hutton, a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, represented his country in a total of three Olympic Games. (1964, 1968 and 1972) Mattos placed fifth in the nation in 1970 and was a member of Solow’s 1970 water polo team that finished seventh in the NCAA Championships.
Solow’s teams continued to be successful, but in the spring of 1975 he resigned as the head coach of men’s swimming with a record of 129 and 30 in dual meets and concentrated on his duties as a professor in the physical education department. Solow’s daughter Karen said, “Dad put all of his heart and soul into coaching. I think he was ready for a change, and he loved teaching. He wanted to focus on working with pre-service teachers.”
After years of financial struggles and three more head coaching changes later, CSU Athletic Director Fum McGraw dropped men’s swimming in the spring of 1980. Solow continued to teach at Colorado State University until his retirement in 1985. He served on the US Olympic and International Swimming Committee from 1980 to 1984 and was the secretary/treasurer of the US Competitive Swimming Committee in 1983.
In 1995, Solow was inducted into the CSU Sports Hall of Fame and during his speech he offered to “pass the hat” to bring in money to resurrect men’s swimming at CSU. His love of CSU and the sport he coached for so many years showed during the ceremony.
John Mattos looked back on his swimming days at CSU and fondly remembered how Solow made their teams so good. Mattos said, “Our sole focus, thanks to Art, was on the National Championships so we ALWAYS did extremely well at the highest collegiate level and left the conference accolades to the Univ. of Utah. Utah would beat us every year in conference because that was their team focus and we'd just slam them were it really counted at NCAA's.”