Georgia's Bauerle shakes off NCAA case in return to coaching

While sidelined by an NCAA investigation that threatened his life's work, Jack Bauerle tried to make the best of it.

He caught up on his reading. He spent more time with family and friends. He went on the surfing trip of a lifetime off the coast of Sumatra.

Yet, there was never any doubt where Georgia's longtime swim coach really wanted to be.

Back on deck.

''This sport envelopes you,'' he said. ''You live and breathe what the kids do. Yeah, you're coaching them, but they also become really important to you day to day. You worry about them like your own kids.''

Bauerle is one of the nation's most prominent swim coaches, leading the U.S. women's team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He has coached the Georgia women since 1979 and the men's program since 1983, guiding the Lady Bulldogs to six national championships.

There's a big blemish on that impeccable resume, however.

In early 2014, the school began an investigation into whether he broke NCAA rules by making special arrangements for star swimmer Chase Kalisz to take an independent study class to maintain his eligibility. For the better part of a year, Bauerle was barred from his coaching job.

Finally last December, the NCAA ruled that Bauerle ''did not promote an atmosphere for compliance,'' issued a public reprimand and censure, and put restrictions on recruiting.

It was a tough decision for Bauerle to accept, but at least he got to resume his job.

''No matter how secure you think you are or how well you think you're doing, you're only a step away from a whole different scenario,'' Bauerle said ruefully.

Since returning as Georgia's coach, Bauerle seems to have picked up right where he left off. His women's team was runner-up to Missy Franklin's Cal Bears at the NCAA championships. Over the next year, he'll be getting ready for the biggest meet of all - the 2016 Rio Olympics.

''I know it's been tough with everything he went through,'' said Allison Schmitt, who won five medals at the 2012 London Games and swam for Bauerle during her college career. ''I'm glad it's resolved now and he's back on deck coaching. It's something he loves and something he's great at.''

Bauerle's troubles caught many people off guard, considering how well his athletes have traditionally done in the classroom. He is quick to recite some of the most impressive achievements, such as having more post-graduate scholarship winners than any other school and consistently having one of the top GPAs.

Clearly, he's still bothered by the way the NCAA investigation was handled, though reticent to go into too much detail.

''It was pretty upsetting,'' Bauerle said in a recent interview. ''It got pretty offensive in some ways, being questioned about things when people know what I've stood for my entire life.''

But he concedes there are things he should have done differently. Specifically, he shouldn't have called a professor directly to discuss Kalisz's status, since the NCAA considers that an extra benefit not afforded other students.

''If I could go back in time ... maybe I would have encouraged him to do it on his own,'' Bauerle said. ''But that's really difficult for me. I'm not being flippant, but many of my very best friends are professors. I speak with some of them every day. It's natural stuff. The biggest thing you have to realize, at no time was I trying to get something without doing the work. We were going to hold our student's feet to the fire.''

Bauerle gets a gleam in his eye when he talks about what his athletes have done in the classroom since he returned. Maddie Locus was picked as the Southeastern Conference's female scholar-athlete of the year. Another Georgia swimmer, Nicolas Fink, was a finalist for the award. The women's team finished with a 3.5 overall grade-point average, while the men's squad was not far back at 3.2.

''Yeah, there was a little bug in me to make sure we were at our very best academically this year,'' the coach said. ''I was pushing them hard.''

Kalisz will be taking a year off from school to prepare for the Olympics but will return to Georgia to complete his degree in sports management as soon as he's finished in Rio.

He knows Bauerle will insist on it.

''Jack has been one of the most influential people in my life,'' Kalisz said. ''Swimming is one of my priorities, but finishing my degree is right there with it. I can't wait to go back to Georgia.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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