Paul Yetter is one of the most congenial guys around any pool deck, a man whose enthusiasm for swimming bubbles over. It was that quality that endeared him to the athletes in his star-studded elite training group at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where he spent eight years before departing in July to accept an assistant coaching position at Auburn University.
So it seemed odd when Yetter, 33, fell silent during a recent phone call from the Auburn campus, hesitating after being asked about the teenage swimmers he had guided for years, some of whom have recently emerged as national stars.
“I don’t feel like I can answer that question,” said Yetter, uncomfortably, “because I would be indirectly talking about an athlete.”
When Yetter accepted the position under coach Brett Hawke at Auburn in May, he knew he would be leaving behind the youngsters he had brought from incredible potential to incredible results. Many in his training group had left or uprooted their families to train at NBAC under Yetter, who guided Katie Hoff to the Olympics at age 15.
Yetter had no idea, however, just how abrupt his departure would have to be.
But after tucking his head into an NCAA rule book for a few hours, and sitting through several numbing conversations with the university’s compliance director, Yetter has gotten the picture. Friendly contact with any high school athletes, regardless of Yetter’s previous connection to them, could raise the specter of recruiting violations. Which means that as Felicia Lee, 17, tears up the U.S. junior national championships this week in Federal Way, Wash., Yetter must stifle his urge to call her before and after every race.
“There are some athletes that, within the rules, I can’t call on the phone right now,” Yetter said.
The rules are dizzying. A coach can call an incoming senior three times in July and once a week beginning in August, which means Yetter would be limited to one phone call to Lee this week whether he were saying hello or making a sales pitch. Though Yetter declined to discuss whether he was pursuing any of his old athletes, it doesn’t take an expert in stroke mechanics to see the collegiate potential spouting from those in his former group.
The July U.S. championships in Indianapolis, Ind., featured a host of NBAC’s rising swimmers, including Camryne Morris, 14; Andrea Staub, 17; Lauren Hine, 15; Natalie Beale, 15; Willa Wang, 14; Kelly Offutt, 16 and Andrew Cosgarea, 16.
And there was also Elizabeth Pelton, 15, who went on to finish sixth in the 200 backstroke at the recent world champs in Rome. Lee, meantime, won the 200 fly Monday and 100 fly Wednesday night at the U.S. Junior Championships.
Yetter would love to call them all. But he doesn’t.
“I have to be pretty careful with phone calls, that sort of thing,” Yetter said. “But I think it’s a good thing. It allows me to have kind of clean break. Though I’m still invested in what they’re doing, interested in what they’re doing and cheering for their success, at the same time they need to move on just like I do.”
And, so, on Yetter has moved. His tenure with the NBAC ended the day after the conclusion of the U.S. championships July 11. As most NBAC athletes returned to Baltimore, and Pelton traveled with Team USA to Rome to prepare for the world championships, Yetter and his girlfriend, a doctor of physiotherapy, went to Alabama.
They made an offer on a house with a fenced-in backyard near Auburn’s campus and attended barbecues with other swimming staff members and their significant others. Yetter signed up for — and passed — the NCAA’s recruiting test for coaches, settled into an office and began preparing for an intense season at one of the nation’s best collegiate programs.
When Pelton made the 200 back final in Rome, or Lee claimed the 200 fly title Monday night, Yetter found himself interested — and proud — but much too busy to feel left out.
“I dove right in as soon as I got to Auburn,” Yetter said. “I didn’t have any pangs, ‘I wish I was there,’ because I was busy basically starting my own life.”
Hawke has gained fame for developing a sprint program that includes some of the world’s fastest men, including Brazil’s Cesar Cielo and France’s Fred Bousquet. Yetter, more of a distance specialist, expects to handle mostly female distance athletes.
The whole thing happened very quickly. Hawke called Yetter in early May, out of the blue, just before the Charlotte Ultraswim, a meet in which a number of Yetter’s NBAC athletes competed. At the time, Auburn’s head coach Richard Quick was gravely ill from brain cancer that would take his life in June. The call caught Yetter completely by surprise, he said, but he agreed to have lunch with Hawke in Charlotte.
“With the group I’d been working with at NBAC … there were not a lot of opportunities that were going to trump that situation,” Yetter said. But “I was intrigued. My first answer to Brett was, ‘Let me think about it.’”
Yetter flew to Auburn a day after the meet. Yetter had grown up in Baltimore and attended Loyola High. As a youth he trained at NBAC, swimming alongside Olympians Anita Nall and Whitney Metzler. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he returned to the region and joined the club’s coaching staff. NBAC, truly, was his home.
Yet Auburn felt right.
The campus, the coaching staff, the environment, all of it swept Yetter off of his feet.
“Every time I talked to a different person, I was like, ‘This is where I’ve got to be,’” Yetter said. “It was a no-brainer. I thought, ‘This is perfect.’”
Once he made the decision, Yetter said, he got plenty of support from the NBAC. His athletes threw him a party and put together a moving, and hilarious, 40-minute DVD of personal interviews. Even chief executive Bob Bowman, who coaches Michael Phelps and the club’s other elite stars, did not attempt to dissuade Yetter.
“Bob was extremely supportive,” Yetter said. “I think Bob understands that Auburn is an unbelievable place.
“If there was ever a place to say yes to, it was Auburn.”
Tags: Michael Phelps