Aug 28, 2013
By John Thomas
The faces of college athletics are always changing. Athletes graduate or transfer, coaches leave or retire, but one thing always remains, the team.
Auburn University has sponsored a swimming and diving program since 1932 and, in the meantime, has won 13 NCAA team titles combined in both the men's and women's divisions, 23 Southeastern Conference team titles and over 2,000 All-American honors.
It's hard for any athletic program to be successful for so many consecutive years, especially when key components seem to be on a never-ending revolving door in the college ranks. However, finding the right winning combination year in and year out to give the team the best chance to succeed has always been priority number one for current Auburn swimming head coach, Brett Hawke.
Hawke's number one concern when bringing in new faces to the Auburn swimming and diving team, whether it is signing new athletes to letters of intent or hiring new coaches to his staff, is that the theme of family and loyalty will always stay the same.
"You can see the people I'm surrounding myself with now and what I'm trying to do," Hawke said. "I tell my team, first and foremost, they are already winners at the highest level. Every coach on my staff has won at the highest level as a swimmer and they bleed orange and blue. For me, that's important in terms of loyalty and the family aspect that comes with it. This isn't just a job for us. We're passionate about being here and that's what we're trying to surround the athletes with. People who are loyal to the program and want to be here."
Much of that philosophy was learned under his mentors, former head coaches Richard Quick and David Marsh, when Hawke started at Auburn as assistant coach and even before when he was a Tiger swimmer himself.
Quick had two stints as Auburn's head coach (1978-82 and 2007-2009) and Marsh was the coach in between those years (1983-2006). Those coaches established the same family and school loyalty foundation that Hawke would carry on when he took on the head coaching role himself.
"I learned a great deal with Richard and David when I first started here," Hawke said. "I learned that family is really important. We always talked about the Auburn family and we preach that to our swimmers. It's something that Richard really believed in. My kids are always hanging around the pool deck. My wife is involved and we always have team dinners at our house, so I've really tried to keep that attitude going. I wanted to keep it true to what the team has been over the last 18 years."
Hawke has been building his own system since taking over full head coaching duties in 2009, but he continues to carry out the same attitude when it comes to the assistant coaches he has around him. Since taking over full head coaching duties in 2009, Hawke has kept the ball rolling for Auburn swimming winning three SEC titles on the men's side in the last four years and also a men's NCAA title in his first full-year as head coach.
According to Hawke, the success is seen in the athletes all the time, but the same success is built over time by a multitude of people that are involved with the program. Much of the help comes from the associate head/assistant coaches.
Recently, long-time assistant coach Richard Long took the head coaching position at James Madison University. Long had been a regular face on the deck since Hawke took over the head duties. A few months earlier, co-head coach Frank Bradley took a head coach position at Florida State, leaving only one assistant coach from the previous season in second-year Demarae Christianson, an alum of Auburn and one of the swimmers from Auburn's first NCAA women's title.
Enter former Olympic gold medalists and Auburn All-Americans John Hargis and Tyler McGill.
Hargis, a 12-time All-American while at Auburn and a member of Auburn's first NCAA Men's Championship team, was named the team's associate head coach back in June after five years as the head coach at Penn State. Those who know their Auburn swimming history know Hargis is one of the Tigers' most decorated swimmers and was a gold medalist in the 400 medley relay team for the U.S. at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
McGill was named assistant coach for Auburn in early August and is coming fresh off a similar track record to that of Hargis. A 2010 graduate of Auburn, McGill was a 15-time All-American and won a gold medal in the 400 medley relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"Every athlete on our team is trying to do what these guys have already done," Hawke said. "Win a national championship, become an NCAA champion and then, ultimately, represent your country at the highest level in the Olympics and take that all the way to a gold medal. They've been there and done that."
Both Hargis and McGill are entering their first full season back on The Plains as members of the coaching staff, joining Hawke and Christanson,, completing the four-person staff with all having Auburn ties. Not to mention the team still has the services of one of the best and most respected diving coaches in the nation, Jeff Shaffer, who is beginning his 15th season with Auburn this fall.
"This is a special place for a lot of people," Hargis said. "I don't think you're going to find a more passionate coaching staff that Brett has put together here. Obviously, we're very passionate about the university, the swim program because of the history and how involved we've been through it. We want to provide those same opportunities to these student-athletes. I think they feel that we try to exude a welcoming environment. Our jobs as coaches is to make sure these student-athletes get a degree, they stay safe and grow up into men and women. There's no better place than Auburn to develop the whole person, as an athlete and to accomplish those things."
You can hear it in the tone of each coach's voice. Auburn is home for each of these coaches and they hope that becomes the case for each of the athletes on the team. Everyone becomes part of the Auburn family from day one and that feeling never leaves even after graduation.
In this case, the Auburn swimming and diving team is a "family" and it will continue to grow with each new class. The hope of new memories are on the horizon, hoping they come in the form of conference and national titles because, obviously, those type of performances run in the family when you talk about this long-running history of Auburn swimming and diving.
"Our aim is to surround them with people they can relate to and people that will push them," Hawke said. "Everyone here has a vision and goal for these student-athletes and hopefully it all comes together for them at the end for that ultimate team success."
"That smile and that fist pump that you see at the end of a race, that's when you know you've succeeded," Hargis added.