Letter: Tribute to Coach Al Buehler

letter to the editor

Albert George "Coach" Buehler was a University of Maryland track star, legendary coach and professor at Duke University. A three-time member of the U.S. Olympic track and field coaching staff, Coach made prolific contributions to the sport and classroom, reuniting frequently with his former student athletes until his death on January 5, 2023 at The Forest at Duke Retirement Community in Durham, NC.

The son of Albert Lewis and Elizabeth Quiner Buehler, Coach was born in Philadelphia, PA and raised in Hagerstown, MD. He was married to the love of his life, Delaina Underwood Buehler, who diligently cared for him every day for 64 years. They started and ended each day with their trademark "10-second kiss". He is survived by Delaina and their children, Elizabeth Buehler Ivy (Hunter) of Memphis, TN; and Albert William "Bo" Buehler (Lynn) of Wilmington, NC; and grandchildren Julia Katherine Buehler, Ruth Elizabeth "Ruthie" Ivy and William Hunter "Will" Ivy, Jr.

Many of his athletes and students are quoted in the film and book about his life, Starting at the Finish Line, by his former Duke students, Amy Unell and Grant Hill. Coach was a quiet trailblazer for causes, including international relations, women's athletics and racial justice. He teamed up with his close friend, LeRoy Walker, North Carolina Central University's track and Olympic coach. Coach Buehler invited Walker's team to train on the Duke track during the height of segregation in the South. Buehler and Walker hosted historic televised track events at Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium, including the Pan Africa-USA International Track Meet (1971), Martin Luther King Jr. International Freedom Games (1973) and USA-USSR International Meet (1974).

Arriving at Duke University in 1955, Coach was a beloved friend and mentor to thousands of Blue Devils who adored their enthusiastic professor and fondly remember his aphorisms, including "Results, Not Excuses''; "Inch by Inch, Everything's a Cinch''; "Actions Speak Louder Than Words"; and the tenet of his life, "Esse Quam Videri," the state motto of North Carolina, which means "to be rather than to seem." Coach loved his adopted state and was honored to receive The Order of the Longleaf Pine award. He holds the record as Duke's longest tenured professor, retiring from teaching in 2015 after six decades. That same year, he received the University Medal, Duke's highest honor for distinguished meritorious service.

While at Duke, Coach Buehler served as faculty chair of the department of physical education and coached 10 All-Americans, seven Penn Relay Champions, six ACC Championship cross-country teams and five Olympians. He is a member of the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame, North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the U.S.Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. When not spotted on the track sporting his trademark straw hat or driving around Durham in his 1969 gobi gold Karmann Ghia, he was in his office, Room 101 in Cameron Indoor Stadium, teaching his seminar, "History and Issues of Sports." 

Coach felt church was at the core of his spiritual life. Every Sunday for 25 years, he climbed the 20-foot wooden ladder to ring the bells over the city of Durham from the steeple at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church. Sailing the world was a favorite pastime he shared with family and friends. He cherished the idleness of the sea from Duckblind, his two-story floating house in Wilmington, where he enjoyed steaming crabs with his grandchildren who affectionately called him "Bop," a name he cherished.

"There is a sign in Duckblind that reads Il Dolce Far Niente, which means 'the sweet art of idleness'," says Delaina Buehler. "We've sailed through some pretty rough seas, and Al has always brought us home safe and sound."

A memorial service for Coach Buehler will be held at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church on Saturday, January 28, 2023 at 2 p.m. in the sanctuary. Click here to view the online service at 2pm. Memorial donations may be made to the Al Buehler Athletic Endowment Fund at Duke Athletics (919-613-7575), The Salvation Army of Durham or the charity of your choice.

Amy Unell's favorite class at Duke was Coach Al Buehler's "History and Issues of Sports" seminar in Room 101, Cameron Indoor Stadium. Unell, Trinity '03, directed the film, "Starting at the Finish Line" (Apple TV+) and authored the book of the same name.


Share and discuss “Letter: Tribute to Coach Al Buehler” on social media.