Seven-time National Champion Coach Jack Bauerle, head coach at the University of Georgia for the men’s and women’s swimming teams, was kind enough to discuss his time in the Olympics.
Q: You’re from Philadelphia, so what brought you to Georgia?
Coach Bauerle: Georgia recruited me; I had my full scholarship to Ohio State, but I had one more recruiting trip left. Next thing you know, I fell in love with the people and the place, mostly the people.
Q: As a swimmer, did you ever think you would comeback to Georgia as a coach?
Coach Bauerle: Well in a way Hamilton, I never left. I came here in the fall of 1970; Mike Cavan was the quarterback. I started coaching immediately after I finished my eligibility. The very next year I was coaching the Athens Bulldog Swim Club, and I was also helping with the men’s swim team as a graduate assistant. Forty-six years later, here I am. We weren’t real good at first, but we had some great kids and some great people that came in here that probably had more heart than talent, but they really helped this program out. Some of the best people in this program were the ones that helped get us started.
Q: Only you and one other coach are a part of the 300-win club, and you have never lost to Tech, so what is that like?
Coach Bauerle: That’s correct, there is only one other guy, and he’s the head coach at Boston College. I have 300 wins on the women’s side and I think I’m fourth with the men. The number one coach for the guys is Bob Kiputh. He coaches at Yale, and I think he has over 600 wins, so he’s probably safe. I also hold the longest tenure as a coach [forty-six years] in the SEC [Southeastern Conference].
Q: You just won your 7th National Championship, so is there anything different you’re doing to prepare for another win at the national level?
Coach Bauerle: Well every team is different, so you have to prepare them differently. The personalities change every year, and I think the coach has to adjust to the team. The swimmers have to adjust to the coach a little bit, but I think any good coach will tell you they adjust to the personality of their team. The real goal is to be in the best shape possible, and I believe that last year the men and women were both the best conditioned. The women won it all, and the men came in the top five. That part of our program is a universal idea, but the next thing we focus on is how each athlete is properly motivated.
Q: You have gone into championships heavily favored and as the underdog, so how does each National title feel different?
Coach Bauerle: [Laughing] they all feel good. The first one might be the best because it’s the first one. When you win one, you know you have one under your belt, so you could probably just quit right then, but the win just makes you want another one even more. I’ll tell you what, the one this year might be a close favorite because over the three-day meet we were supposed to lose to two teams, Cal [California] and Stanford, by at least the point total of one day of swimming. Basically, it was a major, major upset. Then there was one in 2005 that we sort of won on the first day, so that was pretty enjoyable too. This one was the sweetest in many ways, but Hamilton I’ll tell you what, what we’re very proud of is that we’ve won one in the past three decades. We won in 1999, a few in the first decade of the 2000s, and now we have three of the last four National Championships.
Q: People say the highlight of your career was the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but in your eyes, is that the peak of your career?
Coach Bauerle: No, I think being the head coach was a real honor, but my peak moment might’ve been this Olympics in Rio. We had more athletes, and we were absolutely on fire in the Olympic trials. We continued that in the real Olympics, and we literally had 1/6th of the USA Olympic team that were former or current swimmers here at Georgia.
Q: On the Georgia swimming team, you have a couple of swimmers that are not Americans, so what is like with the competing against the US?
Coach Bauerle: Here is how it works; I pull for them very quietly. We had two young ladies, Brittany MacLean and Shauna Lee, which swam for Canada. They medaled, and I was so proud of them. It was the perfect storm because they did not beat the US relay team, but they did medal, so for me it was the perfect world.
Q: Dantzler told me you were a huge surfer; he said you’ve been all around the world on surfing trips, so tell me a little bit about your surfing hobby.
Coach Bauerle: I have three [surfing] friends, and we go somewhere every year. We’ve been to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and some boring places in the United States, but we usually go out of the country because the waves are so good. My favorite place is the Mentawai islands, which are off the coast of Sumatra. We lived on a boat for ten days, and it was exceptional. For two days we surfed off a deserted island where we saw no people. That was good news, but the bad news was they had lost some people there because there is no one around to give you medical attention. That place was probably the scariest because we had to sort of swim for our lives a couple times due to the coral reefs. (He said this very casually like he there was nothing to it.) In return, if you caught the wave, it was the prettiest wave you’ve ever seen. The waves were around twelve to eight feet, so for a guy who is going on sixty-five that was about my limit.
Q: Finally, I always close out with a football question, so what are your predictions on the Kirby era?
Coach Bauerle: I think there is an adjustment just because he is a new coach with new people, but I think he is a very good coach, which he showed at the school he just came from. Anytime a coach comes in for their first year it is an adjustment because he’s with new athletes that he’s never coached before. I think we are in great hands. I have great respect and I’m great friends with all of the previous Georgia coaches. It’s like father-son with Coach Dooley. I’m close friends with Jim Donnan and Ray Goff. The year after I graduated, Ray Goff won the SEC player of the year award, which was in 1976. Jim and I play tennis once or twice a week, and coach Richt and I are close enough that I’m living in his house. He’s truly one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. I have three most memorable games. 1971, Auburn vs. Georgia, was our only loss that season, but it was a terrific game. The 1976 game when we beat Alabama 21-0, and the last game was when we beat Tech 29-28 off of a two-point conversion, and it was after we had been down 28-0 at the half. I think there are some good memories that are getting ready to come up, and I am just so thankful to be part of a university where football is fun, and a school where I’m able to watch football in the prettiest stadium in this country. There is no better place to watch football than at Sanford Stadium.
Although Coach Bauerle and I played phone tag for three to four days as he was recruiting and working out with his team, he still found time for my questions. The opportunity to interview him resulted in a stellar conversation. Thank you, Coach Bauerle; you are one of the greatest leaders Georgia athletes will ever see.