Jack Bauerle is “in jail.”
Well, he’s not really in jail, like he quipped to a team spokesman Wednesday.
But the Georgia swimming coach is not where he should be — on the pool deck — as he has been suspended from coaching during competition since Jan. 4.
Instead, he spent the five days of the Southeastern Conference swimming and diving championships in the makeshift press box at Gabrielsen Natatorium. It’s a building not named after him but it is the house that Jack built, with his five national title banners dangling across the pool from his vantage point.
He was in my seat, actually. (Who am I to ask a five-time national champion coach to move in his own house?)
It was my seat until a laminated name plate reading “Coach Jack Bauerle, Georgia Swimming & Diving” was taped in my spot Thursday, shifting the whole row down a seat.
Stopwatch in hand, heat sheets close by, Bauerle didn’t miss a championship heat or final, but watched from afar as his defending national champion women crushed the field en route to a fifth consecutive conference title.
The mysterious suspension, which was handed down the morning of his 500th career victory and involved the academic status of swimmer Chase Kalisz, seems to have rules of its own. Bauerle can be on the pool deck during warmups and coach during practice, but he is stuck in purgatory when competition starts.
Open records requests made by the Banner-Herald have turned up fruitless — under state law, documents cannot be released until 10 days after the investigation of a state employee concludes.
So, the six-time NCAA coach of the year had to get resourceful, using the phone of a former swimmer to call his assistant coaches on the pool deck — “I’m not supposed to be coaching,” he said Wednesday — to pass messages along to his athletes or discuss relay lineups.
All with executive associate athletic director Carla Williams and University of Georgia president Jere Morehead nearby in the adjacent row during Day Two of the championships.
The Georgia women have a legitimate shot at repeating as national champions, which are March 20-22 in Minneapolis, Minn.
Can Bauerle go? Will he travel with the team? Make his own arrangements? Does he use vacation days to go?
Thirty-five years in the business and five national championships surely means he’s rubbed shoulders with the right people to earn himself a spot on press-row purgatory in Minneapolis if he goes that route. What’s to stop him from doing the same back-channel coaching he did during the SECs?
Both the Georgia women and men seemed to get along just fine under the tutelage of Bauerle’s assistants throughout the SEC championships, but NCAAs present a different field. The Lady Bulldogs’ chances of repeating could hinge of Bauerle’s poolside presence.
Kalisz, who was suspended the same day as Bauerle but reinstated two weeks later, was not allowed to discuss his or Bauerle’s suspension during any post-meet interviews this week.
“I couldn’t ask for a better college experience,” he said Friday when asked about his experience at Georgia and the coaching staff. “… Jack is like a second father to me.”
When does the suspension begin to affect recruiting?
Is the suspension meant to be a lesson? A statement? A power play?
A cloak has been draped over this enigma.
And there’s no timetable for a possible return, athletic director Greg McGarity said Saturday.
When will he get his Get Out of Jail Free card?
Or does he get one at all?
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