He held the respect of all his swimmers, revered by students as the rock of the aquatics program.
He trawled the Internet in private, leading a life of lies in search of drug-fueled sex with strangers.
"What are u interested in doing?" he wrote in an email from his University of Tennessee account. "I love it all. ... better hurry if u are horny."
UT records don't make clear whether John Trembley, the disgraced former University of Tennessee men's swim coach fired Jan. 3, ever acted on his online offers of sex or whether that double life extended past a few days in May and June of last year when Trembley advertised on Craigslist from his UT-issued computer as a man less than half his age, swapped nude photos with prospective sex partners and traded lewd emails with another user claiming to be a 17-year-old boy.
Trembley lost his job as the university's second longest-serving coach for those emails but will face no criminal charges. Knoxville police said Friday they found no evidence of a case to prosecute.
Trembley says he's sorry and blamed his behavior on depression and drug abuse. He wrote in a statement sent out by his lawyer, Donald A. Bosch, that he sought treatment and believes he's now in recovery.
"For the past several years, I have been treated for depression," Trembley wrote. "More recently I have struggled with substance abuse and addiction to fantasy communications with others through the Internet. ... I continue to seek and receive treatment and have been substance- and destructive behavior-free for 2012. ... I deeply regret any harm leveled on anyone. ... It is a beautiful day and it is great to be alive."
Bosch pointed out the investigation found no proof Trembley engaged in such discussions with any of his swimmers or any other UT students.
The university fired Trembley, 59, three days into the year with no public explanation other than a vague accusation of "gross misconduct." UT police turned the case over to KPD investigators two days later.
Trembley — a husband, Bible study leader and father of three — had been a decorated UT swimmer and the university's longest-serving coach except for women's basketball head coach Pat Summitt. He coached for 23 seasons before UT officials terminated his contract, which would have lasted through June 2014.
The job paid close to $180,000 in total compensation.
Trembley had the right to appeal his firing. He didn't.
The investigation kicked off with questions from a former Olympian about Trembley hitting up boosters for money. A graduate student, Drew Rutherford, complained on Dec. 2 that Trembley had asked former UT swimmer Melvin Stewart, a Trembley protégé and 1992 winner of two Olympic gold medals, for a check made payable to him personally, according to a UT police report.
Stewart then called Coleman Weibley, UT director of swimming operations, to ask what would be done with the money, saying Trembley might be hitting up others for cash as well. University officials questioned Trembley and brought up rumors of drug use that he didn't deny.
"Mr. Trembley explained that he was going to use the money for personal gain but did not elaborate further on what," UT police Cpl. Ben Doty wrote in a report. "He advised ... that he had a change of heart and deposited the money into (a private account)."
He asked to retire with two years' pay.
Officials noted Trembley had shown signs of depression since the death of assistant swim coach Joe Hendee, who lost a battle with brain cancer that April. Reports claimed he sometimes sat under his desk in the dark.
Officials later found components of a crack pipe there, according to another report.
UT police searched Trembley's computer Dec. 22, looking for financial records, and discovered the emails and photos, all apparently sent over a period of about two weeks in spring 2011 when Trembley visited Ventura, Calif. He described himself in the messages to men and women as a "sane, clean, educated guy" — 32 years old in some messages, 26 or 27 in others — "into giving/receiving ... maybe more."
He bragged about a passion for cross-dressing and anal and oral sex. He offered to pay for a cab for one Internet user, who claimed to be a 17-year-old boy, to visit his hotel room and offered marijuana and methamphetamine as a reward.
"I can (have sex) all night when I also enjoy Ms. Tina (slang for meth) which I have here," Trembley wrote. "I will pay for ur cab both ways and we can party and play most or all night ... ur call!"
UT officials confronted Trembley with the messages.
"Mr. Trembley seemed stoic or coached during the termination hearing even when presented with the solicitation emails," Doty, the UT police corporal, wrote. "He flipped through the emails and would only say 'yes' as he flipped through them."
Trembley asked whether he could keep the emails. UT officials fired him instead and turned the emails over to KPD's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
"The university responded quickly and decisively," UT spokeswoman Margie Nichols said.
KPD Investigator Richard Giammarino, a financial-crimes specialist, and ICAC investigators worked the case for the next four months but determined the evidence wouldn't support criminal charges.
"The allegations have been ruled unfounded," KPD spokesman Darrell DeBusk said Friday.
He gave no other details.
Trembley grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., and swam for UT from 1970 until his graduation in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He won five NCAA championships for the university, set three records and was a nine-time All-American.
He joined the men's swim team staff as an assistant coach following graduation and helped guide the team to the university's first and only national swimming championship in 1978. He left in 1980 to coach for Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania but returned to UT in 1988 as head coach.
Trembley's accomplishments at UT included leading the team to SEC titles in 1989 and 1996 and winning the SEC's Coach of the Year award six times.