Everything keeps coming up coaches.
Of course it started with Coach Richt’s firing. Actually I guess it started with Steve Spurrier’s resignation at South Carolina.
The realization that the Gamecocks were going after Kirby Smart led to a month of sleepless nights for Greg McGarity which brought him around to the fact that if he was going to sleep again he had to fire Coach Richt and bring Smart home to Georgia.
I liked Coach Richt from the beginning. I met him the spring that he was hired. He had yet to coach his first game.
In my capacity as Coach Billy Henderson’s personal photographer I was shooting pictures at the Athens Sports Hall of Fame ceremony.
Coach Richt was the featured speaker and as soon as I entered the Classic Center people started coming up to me and asking if I’d take their picture with the new Bulldog coach. I stalled, telling them that I would try. Having taken pictures around Athens for over 25 years I knew that some local celebrities are cool grippin and grinnin with strangers and some aren’t. I went in search of Coach Richt and found him sitting at a front table with Barbara Dooley (Vince was MCing the event).
I said hey to Mrs. Dooley reminding her that I was Phil’s brother which brought a great smile to her face and led to a good picture of her and Coach Richt.
I then told Coach Richt that I’d had several requests for photos with him and asked how he wanted me to deal with them. He said that he would be glad to pose with anybody who wanted him to and he did. I took pictures before during and after the event of everyone who requested it. Coach Richt was the same with them all. He shook hands, said that he was glad to meet them, and then stood for a picture. I know that he left the Classic Center seeing spots that night from being hit with my flash so many times.
That was the only time that I ever talked to Mark Richt but for the 15 years since, I’ve been glad that he’s been the Bulldogs’ coach.
Now that he’s gone to Miami and Coach Smart is here I’ve moved on too. Anybody else but Kirby coming here and I’d be having sleepless nights, but I believe that Smart will be able to unite Georgia’s fans and build on and improve on what Coach Richt has done at Georgia.
That said, I went to the Butts-Mehre Building last week for the first time since the Monday before the Tech game.
The first change that I saw was not good for me. Most of the already limited public parking was now marked by signs: reserved for football coach one, reserved for football coach two, all the way up to ten and one marked reserved for head football coach (frankly this one didn’t look big enough for a helicopter). I went by the building three times in four days. No open parking space. I was beginning to question my legendary status as one of the world’s all time luckiest people when it comes to finding a parking space. Maybe if I parked in the head coach’s space I would get to meet Coach Smart. I put my camera in my trunk just in case.
My fourth attempt came on Friday. I had to get in. My nieces were coming up from Savannah and Tampa for the weekend and I had to get gymnastics posters for them. If I had to park in one of the decks and walk several blocks on my painful, still not recovered from surgery knee, I’d just have to do it.
But my parking place magic returned. I found an open space out on the street by the Vince Dooley statue. A sign said parking for Vince Dooley statue only, but I had to think that the sign was outdated.
I parked and went in, loaded up on the new gymnastics, swimming, basketball, and several other posters (I love free stuff) and walked over to a window overlooking the practice fields. I was disappointed that the new indoor practice facility had barely broken ground, but reminded myself that I need to be patient with construction of buildings and headed out.
Near the front door I spotted two of my favorite Bulldogs, Coach Jack Bauerle and Steven Colquitt.
I first met Steve when I started covering high school sports for “The Athens Observer.” This, of course takes me back again to Coach Henderson. About a month into my first season covering Clarke Central football I asked Coach Henderson how many yards his starting tailback had. Billy didn’t bat an eye, he told me that he didn’t keep track of those things but for me to call Steve Colquitt who was the official statistician for the Gladiators.
Steve was also the prep editor for the “Athens Banner Herald.” I was teaching myself how to be a sports writer, but I knew coming in that I shouldn’t call someone at the ABH asking for help on a story for The Observer. But I was intrigued, so I called Steve and when I told him that Coach Henderson had told me that he was the Gladiators’ official statistician he chuckled and gave me the tailback’s yardage.
Although I never again called Steve Colquitt for a story while I was at the Observer, I thought of that episode often as I found myself doing things for Coach Henderson over the years (including being his personal photographer). Steve has helped me out several times since he’s been working at the Butts Mehre building where his duties include working with the swim teams and Coach Bauerle.
I don’t remember when I first met Jack Bauerle but it seems that ever since I’ve been doing local sports, he and his top assistant Harvey Humphries have been there to help and encourage me. He provided me with one of my most important stories ever.
I had started “The Athens Sports Scene” and had no idea of how to sell advertising but I set goals. One of my goals for the paper was to have an ad from a bank in the third issue.
I went into the Trust Company Bank and showed the lady in charge of advertising my first two issues of the paper. She glanced through them and then asked what I was doing in Oconee County.
I told her that our coverage was going to expand as our advertising base expanded and that the reason that I wanted a bank in the third issue was that we were going to have a front page story from Oconee County.
She ended up buying a half page ad and I needed to find a front page story from Oconee County. I wasn’t ready to start covering the high school and I didn’t know where else to go. Then I called Coach Bauerle and asked him if there was anything going on with any swimmers from Oconee County. I hit the jackpot. He told me that an Oconee County High School senior had just been named number one in the country in the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke and it had not even been mentioned in the ABH. I went the Bulldog Swim Club’s practice the next day and did a front page story about Matt Buck in our next issue. Now I could say that Oconee County was part of “The Scene” and Trust Company Bank became one of our major advertisers.
Swim meets are a little long and confusing for somebody with my short attention span but with the Lady Bulldog Swim Team going for their 100th consecutive home win at the Gabrielsen Natatorium Saturday morning, I found myself in the stands.
After the meet I hung around to shake Coach Bauerle’s hand and congratulate him on the milestone victory. His accomplishments have already earned him a place among the legends of Bulldog coaches and he’s not through yet.
I believe without a doubt that Coach Jack Bauerle is the best thing that the University of Georgia has going for it. Let’s hope that ten years from now we’ll be saying the same thing about Kirby Smart.