Gary Taylor‘s coaching tenure at Auburn so far, in all aspects, has had to happen at high-speed.
He connected with the program just eight days before he was hired, and has made good on his promise to hire support staff within 10-14 days of his start with the program. Being the extremely busy, always-on-the-go man he now is, SwimSwam caught up with Coach Taylor as he drove back to Raleigh for NC State sprint coach Bobby Guntoro’s wedding.
Taylor arrived at Auburn last Wednesday, and his time so far has been focused on hiring assistant coaches (he now has three in Duncan Sherrard, Michael Joyce, and Gideon Louw), and establishing the importance of the “Auburn Family.”
“My hair’s been on fire and I don’t know if my feet have hit the ground yet,” Taylor told SwimSwam. “I’ve been hard at work with the coaching hires and constantly on the phone for that. I’ve been in touch with the team; I’ve been on deck coaching for about a week. Getting in touch with the incoming freshman, getting in touch with the 2019 prospects, connecting with alums to the best of my ability. And then certainly trying to really understand Auburn and the area because that’s really important to me as well.”
Taylor is burning the candle on both ends, putting in upwards of 20-hour days as he juggles recruiting, coaching, and establishing his own coaching style.
“It’s been starting the day at 5 or 6 in the morning, then the nights going til 1 or 1:30 in the morning, and then getting up the next day to hit the ground running. I don’t think it’s started to settle down, but I think the picture is starting to become clearer so that’s been exciting as well,” Taylor said. “I had some people in mind [for assistant coaches] but I was also really aggressive in picking the phone up and finding people that want to be a part of this. I don’t want to say that that’s been easy, but I’ve had a lot of really outstanding people reach out and connect relatively quick both at the college and club levels.”
“Really, it was humbling and flattering, to be honest. I heard from some people that I didn’t necessarily expect to hear from. Obviously knowing a lot of outstanding people who wanted to be here with me and be a part of the Auburn family was really helpful, but then at the same time it’s been really difficult from the standpoint of having to tell people that I respect and think highly of that I’m looking in a different direction.”
Duncan Sherrard, Taylor’s first hire, comes to Auburn after three years assisting at North Carolina, during which he also served as an assistant on the US team for the 2017 World University Games. Michael Joyce, his second hire, spent two years as a volunteer coach at NC State, then served as the sprint and middle-distance coach at Princeton before coaching the sprinters at Arizona State for the 2017-18 season. Gideon Louw, Taylor’s most recent hire, is an Auburn alum who coached the sprint group at the University of Minnesota for the past four seasons.
“They have a great background and they understand the X’s and O’s. Really and truly, they’re all SEC people who know what the SEC is about, and they know what Auburn’s about. I even have that with the other two hires, but certainly with Gideon. You’ve got a young guy who’s passionate about the sport, and in his short time at Minnesota, he’s done some great thing,” Taylor said. “With that program he’s worked with and really helped develop some really elite swimmers – not only at the college level but at the world level as well. He’s worked side-by-side with Terry Ganley, who’s been there forever and knows her X’s and O’s, and understands how to develop people. He’s had the opportunity to work with one of the classiest and certainly most professional coaches in all of college swimming.”
With Taylor’s appointment as head coach, one obvious question arises: how will he, a seasoned distance expert (he coached Anton Ipsen to the 2018 NCAA title in the 1650), fair with Auburn’s legacy as a sprint factory? He has made a concerted effort to hire assistants with a proven track record in sprinting, as Brett Hawke had in Sergio Lopez, but Taylor also stressed the importance of having a well-rounded team.
“It was really it was important for me to get people in here with some sprint background and sprint success, and I very much think I’ve done that,” Taylor said. “When you’re talking about Auburn and sprint, that’s kind of the mindset a lot of people have – but if you look at Auburn at its height, its heyday, there weren’t just elite-level sprinters. That was part of it,” Taylor said “But they were really well-rounded teams that were formed well. In sprint and relays certainly, but in middle-distance, endurance – they were a great diving program. They were a complete team that could not only perform at the SEC level, but at the NCAA level as well.”
“I want great students and obviously talented athletes in the pool, who are hardworking, and the winning character piece to me is all the great adjectives you’d want in outstanding people. I want to make this clear: that’s not what I’m selling, that’s my vision, that’s what I’m sharing with people.”
Granted, in building up a well-rounded team, Taylor is tasked with nabbing commitments from athletes who are yet to see much tangible evidence that Taylor’s style as a head coach is effective.
“I’m in a really strange dynamic. I’m leaving NC State where by this point they’re wrapping recruiting up, and now all of the sudden, I’m thrust into a position where until last weekend we had zero commitments,” he explained. “I’ve been on the phone trying to share my vision and my excitement; ultimately I’m at Auburn because I feel like I’ve got the support from the department to win championships. I don’t make light of that, and that’s what Auburn’s about, and me trying to hide from that it not doing it justice. It’s about a championship process, so again, it’s about putting the right staff around me to force me to get better and make sure our athletes get taken care of. Now it’s about adding outstanding student-athletes with plenty of character. I want great students and obviously talented athletes in the pool, who are hardworking, and the winning character piece to me is all the great adjectives you’d want in outstanding people. I want to make this clear: that’s not what I’m selling, that’s my vision, that’s what I’m sharing with people.”
Part of that vision is refocusing on recruiting domestically. Auburn has produced a number of international stars including Cesar Cielo and Bruno Fratus (as a pro), and Taylor is cognizant of that legacy, but he wants to have an increased US presence.
“The one thing I’d want people to know about Auburn is that this staff will work extremely hard to make connections at the USA club level. We want to recruit American, and certainly continue our presence at the international level,” he said. “Recruiting the best and the brightest in the United States, not only in the Southeast, but all over the country – I want people across the country in club swimming to know that that’s a priority for us, and that’s something we want to grow and get better at immediately. Auburn has always been big internationally, and we want that to continue, but those are the athletes that compliment a great American swimming base.”
More imminently, Taylor made sure to engage commits from the high school graduating class of 2018, who committed to a program that looked substantially different from what it will on their first day of college.
“I’ve already been in touch with all of the incoming class. I’m excited about them, and I think they want to be at Auburn for the same reasons I do. Obviously, the connection with this staff is not what it was with the prior staff, but with that being said, I’ve got people around me who I think are outgoing and personal and have shared their vision, so to be able to connect with them was really important,” Taylor said. “Now it’s just continuing to grow that relationship over the course of the summer. I always say, is the school you choose a university you’d be happy at for the next four or five years without the sport? And hopefully, they chose Auburn for those reasons as well.”
There is a good chance that many of those incoming swimmers already had an idea of what Taylor is all about: if you follow swimming on social media, you’d know that NC State coaches make an obvious, intentional effort to engage with their swimmers, fans, and prospects online. Taylor has never been shy about sharing successes, life advice, or intense workouts online, and is carrying this same practice into his new role.
“My philosophy is that in this day-and-age, that’s really important. That’s how the student-athletes and prospects communicate these days. If you don’t have a social media presence, you’re really hurting your program.”
In his introductory press conference, Taylor stated that his goal is not to be “the best David Marsh Gary Taylor can be,” but rather, to establish his own signature style. He has already started to lay that groundwork in his early days at Auburn.
“First and foremost, people have been cued into the motto: I strive to be “enthused to learn, eager to work, and have a desire to win,” and I want to do that within the family concept,” he said. “My want to grow in the sport as a coach – to better understand training, and technique, and the competitive piece – getting to know your athletes on a personal level, I think that’s extremely important. I want people around me that want for themselves and their careers, whether it be coaches or swimmers.”
Taylor continued: “I’ve said to them all along, that if they give me 110 percent, I’ll come back at them with 220 percent. I never want to feel like I’m being out-worked or somebody’s out there doing something at a higher level than I am. That’s my commitment level to them, and then finally, I have a desire as a coach to be the most elite coach I can be and I want to be surrounded by people who feel the same way whether that be the coaches or the athletes. Beyond that, my #1 message is: I’m responsible as a head coach to take care of the Auburn Swimming & Diving family. That’s the staff, that’s their spouses, that’s their children; then the parents that have allowed us to work with their athletes I owe it to those families to take care of their kids here on campus.”