Q&A: Hargis reflects on first year back at Auburn

May 27, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. - Over the next six weeks, AuburnTigers.com will sit down with each member of Auburn’s swimming and diving coaching staff to recap the 2013-14 season as well as give a look back at SEC Championships and NCAA Championships over the last 20 years. First up, associate head coach and 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist John Hargis.

Q: What has been like to return to Auburn after several years away?

A: “It’s been good. Auburn has changed dramatically, obviously, from an infrastructure standpoint. Ultimately, it’s the same Auburn. It’s the same feeling you have here as an athlete. The city is the same in terms of support for the university; it’s just good to be back. It’s good to be home, Auburn has been home to me really since 1993.”

Q: Take us back to your freshman year at Auburn, where you won an SEC individual title and helped win the first team championship?

A: “When I first got to Auburn in the fall of 1993, we lived in Auburn Hall Apartments. There was no South Donahue, it was Sewell Hall at the time. We were still training in the old pool, the new center had not been completed so we trained in the eight-lane pool. I just remember those first few practices, just being very wide-eyed. I was a country boy from central Arkansas that had never done doubles (practices). But, really what I remember from my freshman year was the senior class.

The Dean Hutchinson’s, Yoav Bruck’s and Greg Schmid’s of the world that were not only instrumental to me as an athlete, but to me as a person today. … What they taught us as a freshman class, what they made us believe immediately as freshmen really paved the way for what Auburn swimming is today. I remember sitting in a meeting with basically the entire senior class. They set each freshman down on an individual basis and asked us for our goals for the year. To be honest, that was the first time in my life as an athlete I ever had a coach or a teammate demand that I give them goals. … These guys looked us point-blank and asked us our goals. I wanted to be able to help the team win SECs and they stopped me cold saying ‘that’s not good enough’.

I was dumbfounded, but they instilled in us that we were going to win the SEC Championship, it was what I was going to do to help the team win the conference championship.”

Q: What was it like swimming in the James E. Martin Aquatic Center for the very first time and winning Auburn’s first SEC Championship back in 1994?

A: It was unbelievable, especially hosting the SEC Championships that first year. The band would come in, Aubie would come in and Georgia came in for the first dual meet and we pounded them, because the year before they pounded us at their place. Coach (David) Marsh didn’t let us forget that. That was first my college dual meet so it was an unbelievable feeling.

But for the SEC Championships that year, it was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life because I wanted to perform for that senior for what they had done for me from a personal standpoint. We wanted to win for them and for Auburn. To be a part of relays that won SEC titles and to be the only one to win an individual title that year was just phenomenal. It was for those guys and for the university.

Q: In 1997, you became the team captain and senior leader on Auburn’s first NCAA title team, what was that like?

Well going back we should have won it 1996. Looking back on that team we had guys like Kurt Jachimowski, who was a senior. In 1996 in Austin, Texas, when we should have won was an Olympic year. We had so many guys, some of our best guys, focused on Olympic Trials and by that time we got to the NCAA Championships we were just emotionally spent. We didn’t perform as a team in 1996 like we should have and we lost the meet.

Going into 1997, we were bitter and we had a bad taste in our mouth. Like 1994, we knew we were going to win, no one was going to stand in our way. It was just a phenomenal year. From the first dual meet on, we knew it was ours to lose.

Q: The season as a coach doesn’t end after the NCAA meet, give the readers a glimpse of what it is like to coach and train in the offseason?

A: "From a coaching standpoint, we are here for the student-athletes. We want our athletes competing at the highest level. We want our kids to represent to their home countries whether it is the United States, Brazil, Great Britain, no matter where they are from. We want to do everything in our power to get them reach the highest levels of our sport. In the summer, that happens in a 50-meter pool.

This summer, we’ve got Nationals for the American kids where they can go on to compete at Pan Pac Championships, World University Games and World Championships along with a host of other opportunities. We want our athletes to make the roster for Great Britain in the Commonwealth Games, or have our guys make the Pan Pac roster for Brazil. That is what were are here for, to help them.

Our first goal is to get our student-athletes through Auburn with a degree. Next, we want them to compete at the highest level and win NCAA Championships. Our philosophy is that if we have athletes that compete at the highest level, then winning NCAA titles will take care of itself." 

Q: After being back at Auburn for a year, what does the 2014-15 team look like?

A: “I think on both sides we’re young. On the men’s side, especially, it’s going to be our sophomore class that has to step up. They were tremendous for us this year and in terms of our incoming freshman class, they are going to have to step up because we have big shoes to fill in terms of how important they can be.

I’d say the same thing for the women. The sophomore class did really well, but on both sides the senior class was very instrumental in how our performances went. They are big losses, but we’ve got young people who are eager to step into those roles, whether it’s scoring points or jumping into a leadership role. You never replace the people who leave the program.

We just try to replace the points and the leadership that they brought to the team. You can’t replace the characters and personalities, because they can’t be replaced. But, I think we do have the talent and the youth to replace the points.”

For the latest updates on Auburn Swimming and Diving, follow the Tigers on Twitter, @AuburnSwimming or like Auburn Swimming and Diving on Facebook.