By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Phtotos courtesy of the University of Texas Athletic Department
Carol Capitani has joined the elite ranks of women head coaches, leading the University of Texas program. She had a slew of successes and national titles at Georgia with Jack Bauerle, and two stints coaching the U.S. National Team at World University Games. She also had a two-year tenure coaching internationally, in Singapore. The Cal alum talks about the exciting challenges she faces, and just how awesome the city of Austin is, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What’s it like after coaching your first year at Texas?
Carol: It’s a great program. It was a fantastic opportunity. In the back of my mind, I didn’t know when or if I would ever leave Georgia, because I love the staff and the people. I think I was just waiting for the right opportunity. I jumped from one great situation right to another.
2. To see so many of your swimmers say you have or have had such a big impact on their lives – what does that mean to you?
Carol: It’s humbling and it does catch me by surprise. But in education, you never know what it is that you are saying that is going to have the effect that it does. It’s one of the great surprises. I don’t do it for that reason, but it’s a boon to hear it down the road and nice to know you are making an impact. Listen, I get to coach at one of the best universities in the country and in the world to get these student-athletes ready for the rest of their lives; that’s humbling, and an honor – it’s a challenge I try to be my best for on a daily basis.
3. You earned a master’s in English – how did that fit into your career goals?
Carol: You think that was money well spent (laughs). I was passionate about reading. I love short stories. I always imagined that I would be an English professor and write stories. So I went to graduate school in English at Villanova, and that worked out because they paid for my degree. I was coaching at the same time and fell in love with coaching. You can always be more educated, and when the opportunity exists where you are in a college setting, it’s a great chance for personal development.
4. At Georgia, you must have learned something about “staying at the top is harder than getting to the top,” right?
Carol: I think it is – and it is an art to stay at the top. There is no easy day. I think it’s really valuable to learn how to achieve that consistency of success. It’s the journey that’s most important, not where you end up. But the consistency of our staff and how we wanted to stay in one of the top spots. It was invaluable what I learned.
5. To see so many of your swimmers have such success in the working world – how much does that mean to you?
Carol: I am really thrilled to see that. It’s a special thing. It’s not unusual in swimming, but when people take what they learn in sports they can transfer it to any area of sports. Swimming is not an end to itself; my husband says he always wants to hire swimmers because they can do just about anything.
6. In so many fields, even swimming, right?
Carol: I am surprised how many ended up in coaching. There are a lot of them that felt that coaching would be a great profession. It’s very neat.
7. You had fun at Georgia, didn’t you?
Carol: Athens was just perfect, an unbelievable place to raise my girl. It’s a small town, but a great academic community, and very eclectic. It’s also a great sports town.
8. How about moving to a city as well regarded as Austin?
Carol: People said that Austin is like a bigger Athens. I am so fortunate to move from one great city to another. There is a little more to do in Austin, and that’s not being said in an “Austin is better” kind of way. It’s a nice transition, and we are really happy here.
9. That worked out well for your whole family, didn’t it?
Carol: I know, and it’s also great for my husband because this town has emerged as one of the top technology centers in the country. He was able to transfer his career to here. And it’s an easy commute for him with the Austin airport.
10. Pretty cool the way you and your husband complement each other’s careers?
Carol: It’s one of the things that was most attractive about coming here, and I am so lucky to have a husband who supports what I am doing. He has a great job, and we could have made a decision to follow his career, but we have worked together which has helped my career. We are raising our kids in an amazing college town, and we’re really proud to have that luxury as part of what I do for a living.
11. What about your two-year hiatus to Singapore – that really shaped the way you see yourself, and see the world, didn’t it?
Carol: You hit the nail on the head. It was the scariest thing I have ever done, to leave a great situation. I told Jack I would come back in two years, but I knew there was a chance that would not happen. But it all worked out. I worked with the Singapore National Team. I put myself in some uncomfortable situations as far as stepping out of my comfort zone and going to Southeast Asia, but that allowed me to grow up and learn more than I could imagine, living in a different country – it gave me lessons I use every day.
12. You have new lessons to learn at UT in the “new Big 12,” right?
Carol: There are a lot of different challenges. I am happy to have West Virginia and TCU, though we certainly miss Texas A&M and Missouri. But the challenge is still swimming fast.
13. How did coaching U.S. National Teams at World University Games help your development?
Carol: I have actually been to Turkey and China, and I just filled out the paperwork for my third. The best part of those trips, along with working with such great swimmers, is the bonds you make with the other coaches. My first WUGs trip I got to know Demarae Christianson and Hayley Peirsol – swimmers from Auburn at the time – so that was really great. You also learn a lot from coaches and swimmers from other schools.
14. Taking that competitiveness from the Georgia-Auburn rivalry to the Big 12 is exciting, isn’t it?
Carol: I would love to have that in the Big 12, where we improve enough to have that kind of rivalry with A&M even though they are in the SEC now. Competing with Auburn – where we were 1st and 2nd for something like eight years – was great. I would love to start that here. That healthy rivalry brings out the best in each team.
15. You take the responsibility of recruiting very seriously, don’t you?
Carol: I hope everyone takes that seriously, because it’s important. The goal is not just to get that great swimmer, but to get that great person who is a great fit. One of the hard things in recruiting is not just filling needs, but finding people who fit in your team and know what your program is about. Those four years are hard, so you want to have that honest, trusting relationship with the kids, otherwise it won’t turn out how you want it to.
16. How do you rate the move to Austin so far?
Carol: Fantastic! It’s really great. I feel a little bit like I am just catching my breath. I was hired a year ago last week. It’s been a whirlwind, finding a house and getting my kids in school the first year, coaching the team that first year; anyone who has gone through it knows what it is like, building new relationships. It’s an exciting time, but a taxing time. Now I hope there is some time for reflection to figure out what we did well and what we can do better. But it’s a great opportunity and it has turned out better than I expected.
17. You really knew what you were doing as a teen when you signed to swim and get your education at Cal, didn’t you?
Carol: I wish I could say that! But it was a situation where Cal was a great fit for me, and I knew it. That’s what I hope to give back to the kids who come to Texas now, that they’ll be a great fit and blossom here. I had a great four years there, and I still have best friends that I made there. I grew up so much in college and I learned so much. It’s not why I ended up being a coach, but now looking back, I realize I ended up where I am supposed to be, and hopefully I can give that experience to our team.
18. Having competed for Cal and seeing all that goes with it, has that made you a better coach?
Carol: I hope so. I mean, I don’t think you necessarily have to have been a swimmer to be a great coach. But having that understanding of what it takes to be competitive at the highest level helps. That experience helps because you know how to treat people and deal with situations, so you lean on that.
19. Are your daughters swimming?
Carol: Not yet! They spend a lot of time around the pool no matter what. I want them to find their own path. If they end up wanting to swim, they will. The oldest is into gymnastics and diving. The younger one is also into diving. They like being around the water, and they have such great people around them on the team, so that’s pretty special.
20. It’s a horribly open-ended question to ask someone with a graduate degree in English, but what is one thing that swimming has done for you?
Carol: I think it’s allowed me to meet some of the best people on the planet. We all become our best selves through the help of other people. My best friends are in swimming. We bring out the best in each other.