‘The character of Jack’: UGA’s Bauerle one away from 500th career win

Jack Bauerle can take on several different titles.

Hunter, tennis and basketball player, swimmer, surfer, fisherman.

Father, coach, teacher, winner.

Georgia’s swimming and diving coach has won five NCAA titles, 10 Southeastern Conference championships and collected 499 wins since becoming the head coach of the women in 1979 and the men in 1983.

Bauerle has a shot at another milestone to go along with the laundry list of other achievements and accolades. The Bulldogs host NC State at 2 p.m. today, Bauerle’s first chance at his 500th career victory. The women, ranked fourth with a 6-0 record, have not lost a home dual meet since the 1995-96 season. The men boast a 5-1 record and are ranked 10th.

And for a man who has had thousands of words written about him over four decades, the most interesting stories can be told by those who know him best — his former swimmers in their own words.

The Athens Banner-Herald reached out to a handful of Bauerle’s former swimmers — Kelly Frazier, Beth Timmons, Kristy Kowal and Courtney Shealy Hart — and compiled their anecdotes for a better look at Bauerle.

Frazier competed for Georgia from 1994-97 and captained the 1997 team that won the SEC title that season, which was Bauerle’s first. Timmons, who swam from 1996-99, was the captain of the team that won Bauerle his first national title in the 1998-99 season. Hart swam for Bauerle from 1997-2000, along with Kristy Kowal, and is now the head swimming coach at Georgia Tech. Hart and Kowal were both captains of the 2000 team that brought Bauerle his second NCAA title.

First impressions

Frazier: “I was intimidated. This short, bald man. You would think that he wouldn’t hurt a flea, but he has this persona about him that you knew he was going to push you to the hardest you could be pushed. You wanted it. It made you want to do whatever he asked you to do. You wanted to do well for him, but he was definitely real intimidating going into his office. … He has an intimidating aura around him.”

Kowal: “He was actually a coach on my first international trip and I was in high school and he was put in charge of the breatstrokers. I don’t think he knew that I was going into my senior year of high school because I was only 16, so I hadn’t gotten a call from Georgia or anything. After my trip with him where he was in charge of my stroke group, I came home and I was like, ‘So I wanna go to Georgia.’ My parents were like, ‘What?!’ ‘Yeah, I really like this guy, Jack, he’s so friendly. I want to go swim at Georgia.’ So he obviously had a huge impact on me. … You meet Jack and you made a friend from the first minute you met him.”

A day at the fish farm

Timmons: “I’m from Ithaca, N.Y., so he came up to Ithaca to do a home visit. I had no idea what this sort of thing was about and my parents had no idea. My father at the time worked at the local university and he had an indoor fish farm. He knew that Jack was a big outdoor sportsman, so we took him to the fish farm and my parents loved the day that my dad gave Jack a big net and told him to stick it in the tank. Jack dipped it in and caught about four or five fish. I know that we didn’t really know what we were doing as a family looking at colleges, but he made us all feel like I was important … so he did what he had to do to make us feel valued and that included going fishing at the local fish farm.”

‘Go get some As!’

Kowal: “At the end of the morning practices, we would leave practice and we would generally go lift or go to breakfast and then go to class. He would go, ‘Go get some As!’ That’s exactly what he did. For his athletes, there was always a bigger picture. Swimming was going to end at some point in your career whether you go onto be a national champion, a world champion, an Olympic champion, he knew that eventually you needed a game plan for after your career was over. He understood the importance of balancing your academics with your athletics and that academics was what was going to carry you on later in life when you’re finished with swimming.”

Frazier: “My year, we had four people who won the NCAA post-graduate scholarship. We all wanted to show Jack that we were competing in the classroom as well. It was unheard that four people would win an NCAA post-graduate scholarship in one year. Myself and three others won it that year and I think it was a lot of Jack constantly stressing the importance of academics in addition of athletics and making us all better people. I think he cared about us as people and as athletes, but more so he wanted to make us better people because he knew swimming was not going to be what we were going to be doing forever. Every day after practice: Go get some As!”

Hart: “He did that all the time. I remember that, and I do that now as well. I’ve definitely gotten that from him.”

‘Swimmers on land’

Kowal: “Every year he would take us up to the tennis courts and we would have a whole tournament. Swimmers on land — you never know what you’re going to get. Courtney Shealy and I had to play Jack in our last match and his big rule was no cheating, no putting top spin on anything. We’re playing and the next thing you know, Jack’s putting spin on the ball and knocking it. ‘You’re totally killing us!’ He’s just sitting there on the other side laughing, giggling.”

Get-out swims

Frazier: “We used to have these get-out swims. He’d always give us Capri Suns and we could hit a time goal. It’s amazing how fast you’d hit your time goals for these Capri Suns. But for whatever stupid reason we would hit these crazy time goals just so we could get a Capri Sun and get out (of practice) 10 minutes early. For a stupid little incentive, it got everybody going on some crazy, crazy times, so that was a super fun memory.”

The prankster

Kowal: “I would sit during meetings and strategically place myself so I would not have to look at one of the deer heads (in his office). He would start putting stuff in his chairs so I would have to sit in one of the chairs facing his deer head. One time he went hunting and brought it back. He kept saying, ‘Come here, I want to show you this.’ And I wouldn’t go into his office and look, so I was doing backstroke in the middle of warm-ups and I see him doubled over laughing. I’m like, ‘What is he laughing so hard about?’ … And I look up and there is bloody (deer head) with the antlers and there’s crap on him … There was still like, I don’t know what you call it, meat? Gore! There was gore on this thing and it’s dripping into the pool. It was dripping into the gutter. It was so gross. That was the best one. That was by far the best prank that he ever did.”

‘Jackman’

Timmons: “One year we had a T-shirt and it was kind of a spoof on superheroes like Superman and Batman. On the back it says Jackman and it has … a caricature cartoon of him in a Speedo and ripped (with a) six-pack but it only had basically three hairs on top of his head. But he was fine with us wearing that T-shirt all year long even though it kind of teased him about his hairline. But I think he was always a good sport about that.”

The storyteller

Kowal: “He gets so into the stories and so animated that he tells such a great story. It’s almost like you can visually see the story as it’s happening in your head. He just has this way with words. Last year I got to go to a swim clinic and work the swim clinic with Jack. I came in at the end of one of his speeches and … he’s just standing up there talking. He was telling stories and the entire crowd — there were like 500 coaches there — they were mesmerized. There was no one talking, there was no one on their phones, everybody were just sitting there in rapid tension just watching him. He’s a jokester but he’s also an awesome storyteller.”

Rooting for the underdog

Kowal: “His favorite swimmers are not the ones that walk in the best in the world. His favorite swimmers are the ones that are the walk-ons on the team that makes NCAAs. We had a girl (Missy Faucette, 1996-99) on our team that was one year ahead of me. She was from Atlanta and she worked so incredibly hard. She was a walk-on and she qualified for NCAAs and we always said that that was Jack’s favorite thing in the world because you have someone who was scrappy. She worked her tail off to get onto that team. Nothing came easy for her, she wasn’t the most talented person, but she made up for everything in hard work and dedication to her team, and I think that’s what Jack likes the most about it is that she worked for everything that she achieved and she loved that. It wasn’t the person that could just walk in and qualify and get an A-cut (time) their first meet. It was someone who fought tooth and nail every single day, every single practice to get better and better until they finally achieve their goal.”

Alumni eat first

Timmons: “I think that one thing that Jack always does, he values the history and tradition and history of the University of Georgia. He really values his alumni. He really values the people who built the program before each generation of athletes that came through. I don’t think I appreciated that when I was 18 or 19. We’d have our Homecoming tailgates and we’d see what we thought were old people — people in their 30s like I am now — and we’d think, ‘What are these people doing here, eating all of our food?’ And Jack would always tell us before Homecoming to make sure to let the alumni eat first. I think that’s something that he really values is honoring the people who got you where you are.”

Try it out

Timmons: “He knew that I had played basketball in high school and so when my swimming eligibility was up, I had one more year to finish my degree. He actually talked to Coach (Andy) Landers of the Lady Dogs basketball team. Jack worked out an opportunity for me to try out as a walk-on my fifth year. That was a great experience for me that would never have happened unless Jack talked to Coach Landers.”

Phone call to a rival

Hart: “He knew I was interviewing for (the Georgia Tech head coaching position) and I actually asked him to call on my behalf. I knew that was going to be hard for him. But I just thanked him for all that he had done and let him know that he’s going to always be a mentor for me even though maybe a rival at this point, but definitely always a mentor.”

‘The character of Jack’

Frazier: “There was a time my freshman year that we were about to beat Florida. We had never beaten Florida before ever. He wanted to beat them so bad. They had Olympians, I mean, they were the team to beat for many, many years and then my freshman year, we were about to beat them and we go into the last relay and we were supposed to get second or third in that relay. And I — me — I miss my time. He could’ve been pissed off. I mean, we had the chance to win against Florida, against a team he had never beaten before. But instead of coming down on me and beating me up and telling me I’m a loser, which he could have because I missed my turn on a stupid error as a freshman athlete, he came to me after the meet and the next day and just really comforted me and let me know that I was a valuable member of the team when he was so disappointed that he lost this meet. It was his first real chance to beat them. And the luckily we beat them many times since then. That was a big point you can show the character of Jack. Even when the times success didn’t go his way, he was an admirable person.”

Staying in touch

Kowal: “He knows everybody and remembers everybody. My students from nine years of teaching, they all run together. But he as an ability to tell you somebody that swam 20, 30 years ago, what year they were with, who they swam. It’s amazing. It is amazing to me that he is still able to keep track. He stays in touch with people. I feel like I can still at any point pick up my phone and give him a call and just carry on a conversation as if I was still down there. I think that’s one of the coolest things about the relationship that Jack holds onto. Once you’re gone from Georgia, you still have a relationship with him. He still keeps in touch with you, you still feel like you’re part of his life.”

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