By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Tyler McGill discovered something he never expected when he stepped into a volunteer coaching position while training for the 2012 Olympics.
Despite never envisioning a career in coaching, McGill, who has been an assistant with his alma mater Auburn men’s swimming and diving team for the past three years, believes his evolution from athlete to coach was easier because of where he is and what it means to him.
In retrospect, the relationship between the two also made him a better swimmer.
“Recruiting and coaching at a place as special to me as Auburn drives my passion to be successful for me and for the swim program,” he said. “I’d be devoted to coaching no matter where I am, but my personal connection to the University and the swim team has made the transfer even easier.”
Being dad to 2-year-old “light of his life” Amelia and husband to wife, Julianne, have also made the transition from athlete to coach nearly seamless.
In many ways, he said the year or so leading up to making the 2012 London Olympic team helped prepare him for his life after swimming.
“There’s a certain level of talent as well as discipline you develop as an athlete,” he said. “I was able to take that from my swimming career and commit it to the process of coaching. Recognizing the true value of life outside of the water also gave me a perspective that made me more in tune with myself as well as with others.”
At the Olympics, McGill finished sixth behind teammate and gold medalist Michael Phelps in the 100 butterfly but didn’t leave empty-handed.
As a member of the United States’ 400 medley relay team, he won a gold medal to add to his collection of World Championships (two gold, one bronze) and Pan Pacific Championships (one silver) medals.
Following the Olympics, McGill continued to train, and went into 2013 Phillips 66 National Championships (where the 2014 World Championship team was selected) swimming as well as ever. Just a couple weeks prior to the meet, he tweaked his shoulder and wasn’t able to swim at the level he expected.
While his plan was to continue to volunteer coach and train through 2016 with a second Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as the culmination of his career, that all changed one morning when the circumstances of being a top U.S. swimmer got in the way.
“I was still in the (drug) testing pool in 2013, and they came by one morning at 6 a.m. for a random test, and my wife looked at me and said they’re not waking me up with a small baby anymore,” he said. “That was the beginning of the end.
“Fortunately, the opportunity to move into a full-time coaching role at Auburn was there, and I officially retired in January (2014). It just seemed like the right best time. I was never someone who wanted or needed to be in the spotlight, and I swam behind some of the greatest swimmers ever in my event. So when it was time to leave, I didn’t make a big deal about it.”
Giving himself fully to coaching provided the unexpected spark McGill said he needed to realize how much he enjoyed teaching and seeing his athletes evolve and advance in the sport.
Once he figured out his own coaching philosophy and synched it up with head coach (and fellow Tiger alum) Brett Hawk (which took a couple of years) and the rest of the coaching team, McGill said the Auburn coaches have been moving forward well together.
He said he’s thoroughly enjoyed being able to pass along his own competitive experiences and what he learned as a world-class swimmer – in and out of the water – to his pupils.
“I was actually kind of reluctant to get into swimming early on; Brett must have asked me more than a handful of times if I was interested, but I didn’t have that passion at the time,” he said.
“It wasn’t until I really looked at coaching as instructing, teaching, that it occurred to me that I had a lot of personal and competitive knowledge to pass along – as well as technique and other intangibles. It wasn’t long after that when I realized I might enjoy it.”
Having attained his Olympic dream and being well established in his personal and professional life, McGill, a multiple All-American and NCAA Champion at Auburn, said he has had no urge to return to competitive swimming since he left.
His focus is now directed toward helping others reach their own swim dreams – whatever they may be.
“I don’t think anything in my swimming career is unfinished, and it’s been my experience and understanding that a lot of athletes come back when they feel they didn’t accomplish something the first time,” he said. “Being a professional athlete was the best job anyone can have, but I’ve learned there’s a lot more than I can do in the sport than try to make a comeback.
“I am at such peace in my career and in my personal life now. Swimming has taught and given me so many things that I’m excited to now be the one teaching others that value. This is what I’m called to do, and I can’t think of anything that I have the same passion for.”