By David Rieder.
Ask Eddie Reese and Jack Bauerle about their experiences as assistant coaches for the U.S. team at this summer’s FINA World Championships, and both will admit: they had no intentions of making the trip.
“Didn’t really want to do it,” Reese said. Well then, why did he agree to go? “They wanted me to do it.”
“I had no real designs on going,” Bauerle said. “Day two of Trials we had a few kids already qualified, and then all the sudden, you have a huge responsibility to them, and if it helps them be a better athlete if you’re there, then you go.”
Seven of Bauerle’s University of Georgia-trained athletes ended up qualifying for Worlds, so he had to decide if he would accept the invitation to join the American coaching staff. Looking for some opinions on what to do, he sought out Cal men’s coach Dave Durden.
“I went up to Dave Durden, and I pay no attention to who’s head coach and who’s not,” Bauerle said. “I just said, ‘Hey Dave, if you get picked for this—which I’m sure you will—are you going?’ He goes, ‘I probably will.’”
Some five months earlier, Durden had been named head coach for the U.S. men in Budapest. Yup, he was definitely going.
The meet was the second straight World Champs in which Durden had led the American staff, but during his debut global meet at the helm—2015 in Kazan—not all went so smoothly. The American men won only two gold medals all week, Ryan Lochte in the 200 IM and the men’s 400 medley relay.
Going into the 2017 meet, Durden felt much more prepared, and he explained the difference as he met with media members on the last day of U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“In 2015, we had a terrible head coach for the men,” he joked. “Screwed up every relay. He’s going to get that right in 2017 and rely on the staff to make the right decisions with that.”
This time around, relays were a priority as soon as the team arrived in Opatija, Croatia, for training camp.
“As a men’s staff—Jack, Eddie, myself and Gregg (Troy)—we went to dinner early in Croatia just to specifically talk through our three men’s relays as well as our mixed relays,” Durden said. “It was a pretty long dinner just to get through all that information, but it was well, well beforehand.”
About one month later, as Durden reflected on the Budapest experience, he explained that he and everyone else on the U.S. coaching staff felt a responsibility to ensure that the American team has a successful experience.
Sure, Durden hopes that his Cal teams swim well at the end of the season, and so do Reese (Texas), Bauerle (Georgia) and U.S. women’s head coach Greg Meehan (Stanford) with their teams. But representing the United States ups the ante, particularly with the country’s tradition of success at major meets.
“Anytime you’re on a USA staff, regardless of the position—head coach, assistant coach—there’s a level of responsibility that you have to the entirety of the team for that team to be successful,” Durden said. We want to do this and do this really well because we understand what it means to USA Swimming, to our country, to those athletes that are there at that meet.”
It’s old news by now that for the U.S. team in Budapest, things went well. American swimmers won 38 medals, tied for the most all-time at a FINA showcase event, and 18 of those medals were gold. Outside of the competition pool, swimmers ranging from 15-year-old Regan Smith to 32-year-old Matt Grevers raved about the team’s outstanding chemistry.
The swimmers enjoyed themselves, and apparently, so did the coaches. “We had a ball,” Reese said.
Each member of the coaching staff was supposed to have their own hotel room in both Opatija and in Budapest. Sounds reasonable, but two of the coaches decided on an alternative plan of action.
“Eddie and I, we truly like spending time with each other,” Bauerle said. “Eddie and I stayed together. It was great.”
Several nights during the meet, Bauerle insisted on going out in Budapest to have dinner, even if it was less than 12 hours until the start of the next morning’s prelim sessions. Reese went with him, and so did Ray Looze, the Indiana head coach who was an assistant on the American women’s coaching staff.
One such evening, the trio was at a restaurant when they realized that a man at the next table over looked awfully familiar.
“Eddie goes, ‘I know that guy. Is he with water polo?’” Looze recalled. “And Jack looks at him, I look at him, and I’m like, ‘I know that guy, too.’ And Jack goes, ‘That’s Mark Spitz.’”
Immediately, the coaches got Spitz’s attention, and all the sudden, dinner for three became dinner for four and eventually five when Spitz’s wife joined the crew.
“Mark starts talking about how he didn’t have underwater kicks,” Looze said. “He goes, ‘Eddie, would I have been good at those?’ And Eddie goes, ‘You would have been really good at those.’”
Looze had been on the Olympic team staff one year earlier, and while at training camps and the Games, he and Bob Bowman had started a tradition of daily walks. Other coaches had joined in from time to time, but Looze and Bowman had gone every single day through the end of the swimming competition in Rio.
For Budapest, Looze quickly found a new partner for his walks: Troy.
“Gregg goes, ‘I hear you take people out and you walk in the morning.’” Looze remembered. “And he goes, ‘I need to get in shape. I told myself I would walk with you. Can I do this?’”
So every day during the training camp in Croatia and the meet in Budapest, Looze and Troy walked. Worlds was by all means a work trip for these coaches, but clearly, that didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves.
Half of the U.S. team coaching staff in Budapest—Looze, Durden, Bauerle and Meehan—returned from the Olympic team the year before, while Troy and Reese had both been frequent members of previous staffs. That left just two coaches making their senior U.S. team debuts, Arthur Albiero and Cory Chitwood.
“In Rio, I thought we had great staff chemistry,” Looze said. “The whole group picked right up where we left off, and the new people came in, like Cory and Arthur, they just fit right in.”
And could it be that the coaching staff’s affection for each other and positive working relationships actually contributed to the swimmers’ stellar results in the pool? More than one staff member thought so.
“A lot of that stuff is, in quotes, mystical,” Reese said. “It’s all nuances and how you treat people and when you laugh. But the coaching staff, we laughed all the time. We had a ball. Between Greg (Meehan) and Dave, neither one of them ever thought they were that funny. I think that kept then relaxed and us relaxed and the kids relaxed.”
Reese and Bauerle have been stalwarts on American coaching staffs for years (both served as head coach for an Olympic staff at least once) but each admitted that the trip to Budapest, one that neither had really planned on making, was special—and not just because of the medal count.
“The Olympics are the Olympics,” Bauerle said, “but other than that, it was the best trip I’ve ever been on.”