Photograph by Skip Rowland '83
The William & Mary Alumni Association’s 2014 Coach of the Year, Cliff Gauthier, began his athletic career as a swimmer with a bad sense of direction. In a tryout race, Gauthier reached a pool wall and thought he had the lead. When he looked up, he saw the other swimmers in the distance and realized he had taken a turn into the wrong wall.
Gauthier eventually found his niche as a collegiate gymnast and later as a coach. Now entering his 42nd season of coaching gymnastics at the College, Gauthier has amassed over 800 wins and 15 regional and national coach of the year awards.
Gauthier discovered his affinity for coaching very young — by age 12, he was already helping to coach swimming on the weekends at a nearby pool. “Teaching kids to swim enabled me to see the excitement of learning as well as the excitement of teaching, and it became the catalyst for my career in the field of education,” Gauthier said. He went on to compete in college gymnastics at the University of Denver, where he was a top eight NCAA Division I finalist in various events during each of his final three years of collegiate competition. Gauthier received the university’s outstanding scholar-athlete award during his senior year.
Gauthier began his post-college career as a math teacher, but became more interested in pursuing coaching. He liked the idea of being able to develop an entire person physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually. His journey to coach in Williamsburg started near Denver. “I drove across the country along with my wife, Linda, a 4-year-old daughter, Julie, a 2-year-old daughter, Jeri, and an Irish setter named Bitsy in a 1965 Ford station wagon with a canoe and kayak on top, pulling a fully loaded U-Haul trailer with all of our possessions.”
The move was worth it. In his 41 seasons, Gauthier’s gymnasts have combined to earn 197 USA Gymnastics Collegiate All-America awards, more than any other university since the inception of the awards in 1990. Additionally, W&M claimed the College Gymnastics Association’s National Academic Team Title five times and placed second on six occasions.
The 2014 season was one of the most successful of Gauthier’s career, as the team won the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference title and qualified as a team for the NCAA Championships, finishing the season ranked No. 12 nationally. Individually, senior Landon Funiciello became a three-time NCAA All-American on rings and was honored as the USA Gymnastics Senior Gymnast of the Year and the ECAC Senior Gymnast of the Year.
Gauthier said that his success is due to the fact that his values and those of William & Mary match up well. Not only does Gauthier teach the philosophy of a balanced life, he lives it himself. He is very much a family man, enjoying the beauty of nature and having fun fishing with his family.
“As a coach, my perspective on athletics has matured beyond being competitive and winning,” Gauthier said. “True coaching is much more than wins and losses.”
“Cliff genuinely cares about all of his gymnasts,” said Michael Deitz ’15. “Not just as students or just as athletes, but as well-rounded people. He is passionate about having every athlete he encounters — whether on our team or a different one — succeed in every aspect of life.”
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” said Peter Ten Eyck ’15. “He’s happy to sit down and shoot the breeze with athletes about anything, while casually giving life advice along the way. Cliff is, in a word, comprehensive. He understands that there is a life beyond gymnastics and encourages us to develop in all areas while using gymnastics as a vehicle to teach us some of the qualities and lessons that will help us throughout life.”
“I shall forever be in debt to my gymnasts at William & Mary and the College itself,” said Gauthier. “They have provided such a fertile ground for me in the development of my philosophy of sport, coaching and education in general.”