ATHENS — Harvey Humphries has barely slept in the last 48 hours and there’s only a whisper left in his voice. But he is one happy Bulldog.
Humphries is senior associate head coach for Georgia’s men’s and women’s swim teams. But this season, with coach Jack Bauerle mired in controversy, Humphries has been more like an interim head coach. And it has been going very well in the interim.
With Humphries at the helm, the Lady Bulldogs this past weekend secured their sixth national championship in Minneapolis. And it wasn’t close. Georgia rolled up 528 points in the three-day meet to out-distance Stanford (402.5) and Cal (386) by a few pool lengths.
“That was the game plan for the whole year, to try to do that,” said Humphries, who has been with the program 39 years including his time as a UGA swimmer. “The main thing was all the athletes had a fantastic experience. And it would have been a great experience regardless of what happened because they came together as a team so well this year. The kind of spirit and competitiveness they have, they would have left with a lot of great memories anyway. But there’s nothing wrong with bringing a nice trophy home!”
For that, Humphries deserves more than a little credit. He has kept Georgia’s ship afloat and heading in the right direction in a year it easily could have been swamped by scandal. Bauerle, one of the most decorated swim coaches in history, has been suspended for meets since Jan. 4 because of his involvement in an “academic eligibility matter.” A three-months-long investigation continues into that matter, which also resulted in the suspension of star swimmer Chase Kalisz. Kalisz since has had his eligibility restored.
But Humphries downplays his role in weathering the storm. He said Bauerle has been intimately involved in every aspect of preparation before meets. UGA simply has required Bauerle not travel for or be “on the deck” during meets.
“It’s not a huge burden because Jack’s still on deck during the week,” Humphries said. “We’re used to having Jack around preparing the team during the week and, when we go to meets, we’re used to not having him there. So everybody’s kind of got their jobs and the kids all know what they’re doing and everything works real well. It probably would’ve been more of a stress if this had been the first time Jack wasn’t around, but he hasn’t been on the deck for any the meets.”
The Lady Dogs wrapped up their wire-to-wire win late Saturday night in Minneapolis. They celebrated into the wee hours at a place called Jax Café. Humphries presided over what has become a UGA swimming tradition after nationals.
“They had a big room set up for us banquet style,” Humphries said. “Shannon Vreeland’s parents set it up. They had a microphone, so I spoke and all the coaches spoke and all the seniors spoke. It’s the last time all those people in that room are going to be together, for the most part. So everybody stands up and tells everybody what it meant to them to be a Bulldog. None of them makes it through without crying. It’s great.”
Humphries relayed this story as he stood in his Athens bedroom unpacking and repacking a suitcase. The men’s team is leaving for its NCAA Championships at the University of Texas on Monday afternoon. It was 6 degrees when Humphries boarded the team bus in Minneapolis Sunday morning and it will be 71 degrees when he steps off the plane in Austin later today.
“We feel like we have one of our best and most talented men’s teams we’ve ever taken to a meet,” Humphries said of the men’s chances. “We’ve been pretty consistently in the top 10. We’re also real excited because we have a lot of guys that have a chance to win an NCAA title. We have more individual male NCAA champions than any other school. This year we probably have a better chance to score more points in the relays than we ever have. We’re hoping for one of our best finishes ever.”
With Humphries at the helm, clearly everything is still possible.