By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATHENS, Ga. – The first time Jack Bauerle got pushed into the pool came in the fall of 1979 when his Georgia women’s swimming and diving team defeated Brenau University, a women’s college in Gainesville, Ga., that now competes at the NAIA level.
How things have changed in Athens, where Bauerle – currently in his 34th season as head coach – has made more splashes than he can possibly remember. The nation’s winningest active coach and the most successful coach in Southeastern Conference history, Bauerle has directed his teams to four NCAA Championships and nine SEC titles. He is the first coach in collegiate history to put both his men’s and women’s teams in the top five nationally in the same year.
“It hasn’t been easy because when we started, we weren’t very good,” Bauerle said by phone from his office in Athens. “When we won against Brenau, I got thrown in the pool; the kids were so excited. It took 17 years for me to get thrown in again when we won our first conference championship. This conference was loaded already with good teams. We just tried to survive and hang in there long enough, and we became a pretty darn good team.”
If Bauerle’s career were to be defined only by the victories and the trophies, it would sell short a full understanding of what he has accomplished during his time in Athens. There is just one program, in any sport, in collegiate athletics that can boast three NCAA Woman of the Year winners, and it is Georgia swimming and diving.
Bauerle, who took over the Bulldog men’s program in 1983, has – between the two genders combined – mentored 28 NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship recipients. He also is active in a number of local organizations in his community.
Through it all, Bauerle has stood the test of time. Now well into his fourth decade of coaching at Georgia, Bauerle remains at the top of his profession and continues to find new and innovative ways to outsmart the competition and relate to new generations of student-athletes.
“There are two timeless qualities about Jack and the way he coaches his team,” said Matt Kredich, head coach at Tennessee. “I think it’s pretty simple. He treats people really well and works really hard. Hard work will never go out of style. Being able to treat people well and have rock-solid values is what his program is based on. Those two things are going to lead you to success no matter what year it is and no matter what generation you are coaching.”
The idea of becoming one of the most respected and successful figures in swimming history was the furthest thing from Bauerle’s mind when he was growing up in Glenside, Pa., a picture-perfect middle-class American suburb that was filled with kids of all ages during his upbringing.
If there was a sport being contested, Bauerle wanted to be a part of it.
“Swimming was probably third or fourth in my list of favorites at that time,” Bauerle said. “I played every sport. I played basketball virtually every day of my life, whether it was organized or not.”
His brothers were swimmers and that’s what initially got Bauerle interested in the sport, but it was a summer experience at the Manorlu Club that made him fall in love with swimming.
“My brothers swam at Abington YMCA and I was no different than any other kid, I wanted to do what my brothers did and, eventually, I wanted to beat them,” Bauerle said. “I ended up with really good coaches at the Manorlu Swim Club and I was probably just as enamored with the coaches as I was with the sport. I loved the camaraderie of it all and most of my best friends ended up in swimming, so I kept rolling along.”
As Bauerle’s prep career came to a close, he had aspirations of swimming for Ohio State, but a chance visit to Athens, Ga., had the same affect on him that the Classic City has had on many others.
That year was 1970. Bauerle has never left.
“I knew I wanted to go away to school,” he said. “Even though I loved the area where I grew up, I thought it would be good for me. I was pretty much set to go to Ohio State, but I took one more trip down here and just fell in love with the people and way of life. The guys on the team were great. The next thing I knew, I had come into a whole different world in 1970. It was a different world, but a good one.”
It was at the University of Georgia that Bauerle began to come into his own. Moving to a different environment at 18 years of age was paying off as he had hoped.
“I think I grew up a lot in college and I certainly learned a little bit about myself,” Bauerle said. “I was a school-record holder, but our team wasn’t very good, so the records I broke needed to be broken. I came here on a full ride and was a medium-range college swimmer, but I worked hard and ended up as one of the co-captains my junior and senior years.”
Upon Bauerle completing his eligibility as a swimmer, head coach Pete Scholle offered his pupil a graduate assistant position overseeing the men’s distance swimmers. The rest, as they say, is history.
He may not have always known it, but Bauerle was born to be a coach. His childhood friends were aware of that fact well before he was.
“I have a couple of friends that tell me that anytime we went anywhere as young kids, I’d always organize kids and games,” Bauerle said. “I was an organizer. I guess in a way, I was always coaching.”
If there were a prototype for a collegiate coach, Bauerle would be it. It is his individualized approach to each athlete and his love for, at the core, teaching above all else that has made him the master of his craft.
“I think it just comes down to building the relationship with the student-athlete,” said Stefanie Williams, a 28-time All-American at Georgia and now an assistant coach for the Bulldogs. “He is very keen and very aware of all athletes, men and women. He gives great advice and when athletes believe in you and have positive reinforcement, they work harder and compete harder together for their coaches and particularly Jack.”
One of Bauerle’s prize pupils was Kristy Kowal, the 2000 NCAA Woman of the Year and recipient of the NCAA’s Top VIII Award. An Olympic silver medalist in the 200-meter breaststroke, Kowal is now an elementary school teacher in her home state of Pennsylvania and has freshly ventured into coaching.
“I’ve just recently started coaching and, just seeing what Jack was like as a coach, that’s the person I want to be as a coach,” Kowal said. “He rarely raised his voice; he just had a way of getting you to do things. He had a way of explaining things and breaking things down for you, making complicated things so easy.”
The personality of the Georgia swimming and diving program epitomizes all of the traits that Bauerle stands for and all that exude from him on a daily basis.
“There is no better motivator than Jack,” Kowal said. “He has such a good energy about him; it kind of glows outward from him. When you’re around him, he is just really uplifting. He is always high energy in practice and meets. He put so much effort into training you and making sure you were doing everything right that you wanted to succeed for him.”
“Go get some As!”
That’s what you’ll hear following any morning practice at the Gabrielsen Natatorium. For most coaches, their post-practice speeches might consist of some comments about practice or lasting motivational thoughts about the sport. For Bauerle, he makes sure the focus for his athletes is on academics.
“That was the last thing we heard as we headed into the locker room to go get ready for school,” Kowal said. “He definitely emphasizes that there’s swimming and then there’s life after swimming. I was lucky that my sport continued a long time, but I knew that teaching was always something that I wanted to do.”
It’s no surprise that success in the classroom is a central focus to Bauerle. After all, he would tell you that he was molded more by his professors than his coaches during his time as an undergraduate.
“The two biggest influences at UGA were actually my English professors, not my coaches,” Bauerle said. “I had two professors – Tom Tuggle and Gerry Chambers – that really changed my life. They got me interested in English. I was floundering and I’m not sure if I would have finished school if not for them. They had nothing to gain by spending time with me; I wasn’t going to write the great American novel. They just took an interest in me and that taught me a lesson about coaching: If you take an interest in an individual, you’re going to get an awful lot out of them.”
Bauerle’s track record as a collegiate coach reflects the importance he places on academics.
Six of his athletes have earned the prestigious H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. Bauerle’s athletes have earned more McWhorter Awards than any one school has across all sports.
The number of SEC Academic Honor Roll and CoSIDA Academic All-America selections garnered by Bauerle’s athletes are too numerous to count. And it is quite a regular occurrence for his swimmers to take home the Joel Eaves Award, given to the senior male and female athletes with the highest grade point averages at the University of Georgia.
“Jack is a very smart man and he knows that swimming will help you grow as a person with travel, dedication and discipline,” Williams said. “It is a very challenging sport because we don’t have an offseason, but he is also aware that swimming will only take you so far. If you excel in the classroom, that’s going to open doors for the future. When you grow academically or give back to the community, it’s going to help you in the next chapter of your life.”
That balance is central to Bauerle’s life and he knows that teaching his student-athletes to maintain such equilibrium is critical to their success.
Courtney Shealy Hart, a former 19-time SEC Champion swimmer under Bauerle and now the head men’s and women’s swimming coach at Georgia Tech perhaps understands that better than most. She also lettered in volleyball during her time with the Bulldogs and graduated with honors.
“I think he keeps everything in perspective,” she said. “He knew swimming was not the end-all, be-all and afforded me the opportunity to play two varsity sports. He leads a well-balanced life. He is able to keep things in perspective, go with the flow and make adjustments along the way. Those are all signs of a great coach.”
If you didn’t know what Bauerle looked like, it would be entirely possible that you could be standing in a room with him and not realize you were in the company of one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history.
Bauerle traces his humble approach to life back to his parents and his upbringing. It is also a quality that the coach says is commonplace in Athens.
“That’s one aspect of Georgia that I like – I have many friends that are very successful, but they don’t act it,” Bauerle said. “That attracted me more than anything. It goes back to my mom and dad; they pretty much accepted everybody. They had friends in every social strata and I know my dad treated everybody the same, no matter who they were. If that’s one trait I got from him, I’ll be happy because I think it is the best one. That has given me the opportunity to be around a lot of different people. That enriches your life if you go around town and feel like you’re with 30 of your best friends every day.”
Kredich remembers an early encounter with Bauerle and how the veteran coach took an interest in him early in his career.
“One of my first experiences with Jack was in an elevator at NCAAs and I was coaching at the University of Richmond,” Kredich said. “I had one swimmer and he had a full team of 17. He was in the middle of a hunt for a championship and he took time to talk to me about my swimmer. In the few minutes that we had, I felt like I had known him for a long time.”
Kredich’s first impression of Bauerle was one that seems universal. Bauerle has a way of putting those around him at ease, whether he is just meeting them for the first time or is a longtime friend.
“I think Jack is just a people person,” Kowal said. “You will meet him for the first time and feel like you’ve been best friends forever. When I brought my sister in law down to Athens, I was trying to explain Jack. I told her that she would feel like they had been best friends forever. After only a few minutes, she said, ‘now I understand what you mean.’”
In fact, that very impression of Bauerle was what led Kowal to Georgia in the first place.
“From the moment I met Jack when I was on my first national team, he was someone I really connected with,” Kowal said. “I knew as soon as I met him that I wanted to swim for him. I came home and told my parents I wanted to go to Georgia. They were like ‘What?’ He was someone I trusted with my career and I wanted to swim for him.”
From the outside, one might assume that Bauerle’s accomplishments may have given him a sense of entitlement. For anyone who knows him, that couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter the number of trophies that pile up in Bauerle’s office, what will never change is his willingness to assist others.
“He is very, very competitive but does a great job balancing that competitive nature,” Williams said. “He would help anybody, whether it is the janitor or the president of the university. He just treats everybody like he would want to be treated. I think he knows when to be really competitive and when to kick back and be the Jack that a lot of people know. He is an overall great guy.”
Perhaps it is also the journey that Bauerle took to success that has kept him grounded. His programs have been successful for the entirety of his tenure, but it took nearly two decades before he hoisted his first SEC Championship trophy in 1997. The first of his four national titles came in 1999.
“It was a long haul when you look at it,” Bauerle said. “We couldn’t get the best swimmers all the time, but we got some great kids. Our lives changed pretty considerably when we got the new pool in 1995. We lost our second meet in that pool in November of that year [to Florida] and the ladies have not lost a dual meet in there since. It’s been 17 straight years.”
Impressively, the Georgia women have an active streak of 82 consecutive home dual-meet victories and counting.
Bauerle’s commitment to making Georgia the standard upon which other programs are judged has been about laying a solid foundation that is built to last.
“It took him a long time to get there,” Shealy Hart said. “For three decades, he built the program, had the support of the university behind him and surrounded himself with great people. It’s a combination of all of that – working hard and being dedicated to the sport.”
One might be surprised upon entering Bauerle’s office at what is found adorning its walls.
There’s no doubt that Bauerle is a Renaissance Man but, on the surface, one might not be able to guess one of his favorite hobbies.
“Jack is a hunter,” Kowal said. “He loves to go hunting and he has these mounted deer heads all in his office. He used to always try to make me sit and face one.”
Knowing Kowal’s dislike of his hunting hobby and, especially, the mounted heads, Bauerle thought he would have fun at practice following a successful day out on the range.
“One day we were swimming and Jack had been hunting that afternoon,” Kowal said. “We were swimming and he was just doubled over laughing. I was trying to figure out what he was laughing about. I looked up on the starting block and there was this deer with antlers that he had brought back; just the skill on the blocks. He was dying laughing because he knew it would freak me out. I jumped out of the water.”
That story has become the stuff of legend around the Georgia program.
“We came up from the water and just saw these antlers,” Williams said. “It was disgusting. He just put it on the starting block while we were swimming.”
While many coaches are single-minded in their quest for excellence it is, perhaps, because of the balance in his life and his wide variety of interests that Bauerle has been able to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
“I never thought I’d have quite a few of the passions that I have now,” Bauerle said. “I couldn’t get near an ocean, so now I hunt a lot. I have a lot of friends that bird hunt and deer hunt. They are terrific friends and they could care less about what I do for a living.”
The Olympic Games, especially in the sport of swimming and diving, signify the highest level in sports. Not only is it an opportunity to compete against the best, but it is also a unique occasion to represent one’s home country in the international spotlight.
Bauerle has mentored countless athletes to the Olympic Games, including 13 swimmers representing eight nations with Georgia ties in the 2012 Beijing Games.
But Bauerle’s influence on the Olympic stage hasn’t just stopped with the accomplishments of his athletes. Bauerle was appointed as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2000 Games and was named the U.S. Women’s Head Coach for the 2008 Games.
His stint as head coach produced a total of 14 medals – the most of any nation – including two golds. Twelve athletes from his Georgia program joined him in 2008 at the Olympics.
“It’s an honor and a privilege and I view it as such,” Bauerle said. “It’s a great thing representing the USA, but when you have your own athletes there, it is even more special. It takes you to places and allows you to make connections with people that you never would have had.”
The lessons that Bauerle taught his athletes when they were swimming for the University of Georgia have been the same ones that have allowed them to prosper at the Olympic level.
“Jack never believes in giving up,” said Kowal, who once was part of a world-record-holding 4x100-meter relay. “Anybody is beatable on a given day but, no matter what, you fight hard. If you were there, he wanted you to give your all or don’t bother being there. I knew every day that I walked out of the pool that I had given it 100 percent and if I didn’t, I was disappointed. Just being around that, the expectation for everything was, if you’re going to do it, do it well and give it your all.”
Bauerle has stood the test of time. Maybe it’s his balanced approach to life or his passion for helping young adults. Perhaps it’s his genuine love for others or his unwavering commitment to his core values. More than likely it’s his unique combination of all of those factors that have elevated the child of baby boomers who grew up in suburban Pennsylvania into perhaps the most successful coach in the history of his sport.
The Hall of Fame coach – he belongs to the American Swim Coaches Hall of Fame, the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Georgia Aquatics Hall of Fame, the LaSalle College High School Hall of Fame and the Montgomery County (Pa.) Coaches Hall of Fame – relates just as well to the athletes on his current team as he did on his very first squad in 1979.
“I think if you just sit and listen to who they are and what they are, it is fun,” Bauerle said. “Change is good, not bad. They’re living in a different time and a more difficult time. They have a lot more stuff going on and a lot more things to take away their attention. It’s an interesting time, just like when I was brought up. Being a kid in America in the late 50s and 60s was an interesting time musically, politically and sports wise and it was absolutely great, but you have to pay attention to kids and accept the fact that things are going to be different.”
Though things have admittedly changed throughout the years, Bauerle has never altered the principles on which he founded his program.
“Some things have to stay the same,” he said. “You have to have a sense of discipline and you have to have manners. Those are universals that can never change.”
It is, fittingly, no surprise that Bauerle isn’t worried about the lasting legacy of his program standing for the championships his teams have won above all else.
“I would hope it stood for integrity first and certainly success in the pool and outside of it,” Bauerle said. “Having a sense of loyalty has meant the world to us and has made our program really good. You have to have everybody on the same page – everyone getting along and working for the same goal and not being worried about who is getting the credit.”
It seems appropriate that the top headline on the swimming page of the Georgia Web site this week is entitled “Bauerle Reaches Another Milestone With Bulldogs.” But, more importantly than his lengthy list of triumphs is the fact that Bauerle is genuinely enjoying a lifelong journey with an endless destination.
“I have been given a lifetime of being around athletics and being with good people,” Bauerle said. “I think, more than anything, one’s happiness just depends on who you are surrounded with. I’ve been surrounded with the best of company and I’m having a great time pretty much every day.”