In the late summer and early fall, Bill Gautier can be found riding a lawn tractor or wielding a chain saw at the Moccasin Bend race course. The course may be covered in mud or dried to a crisp by the scorching sun or in some cases, trees may need to be removed from the route. Whatever the weather, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach of the cross country and track and field teams works to get the course in shape for its two home meets.
GoMocs.com sat down recently with Coach Gautier (pronounced go-TIER) to talk about his more than 20 years at UTC.
You have been at UTC longer than any other coach, AD and administrator. What changes have you have witnessed over that time?
“Progress. That’s the key word and it’s been a very positive progress throughout the years. The university has grown so much with the student population and the opportunities given students. It has enhanced the ability to recruit. I think the recruiting has led to a lot of progress in the administration here and has given the university the ability to expand the administration, the facilities and the opportunities for student-athletes academically and athletically.
“I’ve been here 23 years and have seen different abilities in leadership and it’s probably the continuity that’s been missed throughout the years. Our university is such that we get high quality people, but they are so high quality, they move on quickly. One person comes in and gets something started and then the next one comes in and it takes a while to get to it.”
UTC has 17 varsity sports and most people don’t realize that you are the head coach of six of those sports and it spans all three seasons. Talk about the challenges and advantages.
(men’s/women’s cross country; men’s/women’s indoor track and field; men’s/women’s outdoor track and field)
“The hardest part is the male/female. In terms of expending ourselves, we do, fortunately get to compete all year. Some teams are done in October and don’t get to start again until August. I’m happy. I’m a coach, I’m an athlete. I want to compete every day. I don’t look at it as anything but positive. I feel bad for other coaches who only have one season. I get excited and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
After coaching “year-round” how do you spend your summers?
“It takes a while to end the year. Recruiting is the fourth season. I have cross country then indoor track and outdoor track so I have recruiting as our fourth season. There’s never a break in the year, so the summer is when we really work on identifying and making sure we have all of our needs for the future recruits. It can get neglected during the year because we’re traveling, we’re competing. Recruiting is never over so in the summer we’re doing paperwork and preparing for the upcoming season.
“During the year, I try to keep up with everything, but we’re making reservations for hotels, busses and planning meals. People think we just show up at a meet and run. With such a small staff (head coach and one assistant coach), there’s a lot going on with not much down time.
“I do get to spend time with my student-athletes. They are quality individuals. Fortunately, we have a lot of very quality individuals.”
You were an athlete in college. Do you still compete?
“I ride the bike. I’m a cyclist now. I can’t run. I think it’s important for coaches, especially in a sport like mine, to stay in that somewhat of a physical fit zone so I know what they are going through. I’ve been so far removed from being a college athlete, I can easily forget what the pain is, but I do think it’s important at every age to stay fit, plus the health benefits. I still get up in the morning and think about what I’m going to do athletic that day. It helps me relate to the athletes. That kind of helps me stay with what they are going through and it helps me with recruiting.
“As far as competing, I compete. Just like tennis or golf, it’s a race anytime you have more than two people doing something. It becomes a challenge that does not go away with age.”
Your wife, Jan Gautier, is one of the top runners in Chattanooga. Do you still coach her?
“She is very genetically geared towards being a runner. I am her coach, but she is her own coach. However, everyone wants to be coached. Everyone likes that opportunity. As she’s gotten older, she knows what to do and what not to do.
“At 48, Olympic days are behind her. National-caliber races are behind her. Over the last three or four years she’s pretty much run how she feels and that’s how we coach. She’s still competitive. If she puts her head down and trains for a month or two, she can get to a pretty high level. Not only is that genetic, but also many years of training and being a pro. She a professional runner. Even though she’s retired from most of that in terms of the competition, when you become a professional you know what to do and how to do it. That’s what sets the professional apart from the amateur.”
Speaking of professional runners, a few of your student-athletes have been able to continue their career – most notably, Lanni Marchant (record holder for Canada women’s marathon). Is that something that is available for Chattanooga runners?
“Lanni has made a good living as a professional runner. She received a substantial amount of money for breaking the Canadian record and is on a stipend from a shoe company. The opportunities at Chattanooga can be achieved. A lot of people think you have to go to a big university to achieve those opportunities. Chattanooga is such that we have had a few athletes who have been capable of moving on. When I recruit athletes, that is not the reason I recruit them. We are the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I recruit people who want to get their degree first and foremost. The better runner they are, the more the opportunity is going to be there to meet the financial needs.
“There are limitations to what we have to offer student-athletes, so we’re not going to get the high-level athletes. We do give opportunities for those who need to develop. That’s my job, to find the Lanni’s who weren’t very good in high school. She just continued to work and overachieve. Teghan Henderson is a prime example here now. (cross country All-American; outdoor track region qualifier). Shannon Wommack, Kathleen Turchin, Chris Berry. We’ve had a lot of athletes who overachieved and that’s how we survived.
“I’d like to think it’s because I have been an athlete and I have surrounded myself with people who want to overachieve in the classroom and in the athletic world. I am very proud of the opportunities we have given most of our student-athletes. I train them for success in the business world. Most of our top student-athletes have graduated in three years and then received their Masters in their fifth year. That’s as much what I’m proud of as anything.”
What has been the biggest adjustment for you?
“Early on in my career I had more energy but I also had more money. The university was not quite as expensive and we were able to pretty much have a full track team. We had access to facilities, but throughout the years things have adjusted and we are no longer able to train indoors and some of the money is just not available now. I was able to recruit better athletes back then because I had more money. When we won the conference in track, I coached from seven in the morning until seven at night.
Gautier has coached nine All-Americans, 15 cross country national qualifiers and 11 outdoor track and field national qualifiers. The 1998 men’s cross country team claimed the school’s first NCAA Region title and is the only cross country team at UTC to qualify for the NCAA National Championships. The women’s 1998 team claimed the Southern Conference title and is the only track team at UTC to accomplish the feat. Chattanooga owns seven Southern Conference track and field records and 13 conference champion teams. Gautier has coached 31 cross country or track athletes of the year and 18 SoCon Freshmen of the Year. He was named the 1998 NCAA South Region men’s cross country Coach of the Year, is a 13-time Coach of the Year for the Southern Conference and has coached more than 200 SoCon champions. In 2013, Gautier was inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame.