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Post Georgia’s coach-in-exile

Thursday March 20, 2014

Let’s start with a hypothetical:

Mark Richt and a prominent starter on the football team are suddenly suspended during the middle of the season “pending an academic eligibility review.” A few weeks later the student-athlete is allowed to return to competition, but Richt remains suspended. Well…sort of suspended. He is allowed to run practices, travel with the team, attend games, but he can’t coach the team from the sideline during a game.

This continues for one month. Two months. The football player in question has been competing for the past several weeks since being reinstated, but Richt’s suspension-lite continues. Georgia has a great season regardless, and the SEC Championship comes around. Georgia wins with Richt in the press box and not on the sideline. Assistant coaches represent the triumphant team in interviews. Georgia starts preparation for the BCS, and the coaching situation is no less clear.

The lingering suspension raises some eyebrows, so naturally athletics director Greg McGarity is asked about it several times. McGarity does little to resolve the questions and speaks in vague generalities. “I don’t know what the end date’s going to be on that…hopefully that will all come to an end very soon,” he says one month into the suspension. We never get an answer whether the suspension is the result of internal, SEC, or NCAA action.

Contrary to McGarity’s hopes, the matter doesn’t end very soon or at all. The media can’t file FOIA requests until whatever investigation is going on is deemed complete. There is no hint of NCAA interest or inquiry. It looks increasingly likely that the season will end without resolution or illumination.

It sounds implausible because the outcry from football fans would be deafening after one week, let alone after two months. Neither Richt nor McGarity would be able to walk across the parking lot without facing the media. But what I laid out above is exactly what’s gone on with legendary Georgia swim coach Jack Bauerle. Anyone vaguely familiar with Georgia athletics knows the name. Bauerle has been involved with Georgia swimming since 1979. He’s won multiple national and SEC titles, coached the US women’s national team at the 2008 Olympics, and has produced scores of All-Americans and Olympians.

Bauerle and men’s swimmer Chase Kalisz were withheld from the January 4th meet with N.C. State. Kalisz was reinstated later in January, but Bauerle remained barred from meets. That’s the way things have stayed in the two months since, and despite McGarity’s statement in early February that “hopefully that will all come to an end very soon,” it hasn’t. Georgia hosted the SEC Championships in late February with Bauerle watching from the stands and assistant coaches handling the press.

The media haven’t got very far in trying to find answers. As the Banner-Herald explains, an open records request is pointless because “under state law, documents cannot be released until 10 days after the investigation of a state employee concludes.” Coaches and team members have embraced an Omerta-like silence about the suspension, and McGarity has been reticent. The suspension will apparently continue through the end of the season: the women’s NCAA Championships take place this weekend, and Bauerle won’t make the trip. As Mark Richt said on Tuesday, “At Georgia, we’ve never tried to hide things. If somebody makes a mistake, we clean it up. We don’t hide it.” I would hope that McGarity is following the same principle here.

I don’t have it in for Bauerle – his legacy at Georgia has been magnificent, and he’s been enough of a household name and likable personality to have been included on the spring circuit right alongside the football coach. I really hope this is much more smoke than fire. I am a bit concerned though the longer this drags out. Regardless of the sport and the personalities involved, it’s tough to recall a more bizarre story coming out of the Butts-Mehre building. We don’t even know the details behind the story yet, but the stone wall of information and comment has been as remarkable as the bewildering quasi-suspension itself.

We’re left in the same place we were two months ago: a nearly three-month investigation that leaves a head coach suspended indefinitely. Academics are involved. That’s not an encouraging combination.

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