April 2, 2012

CORAL GABLES, Fla.--He reached into the cabinet behind his desk and pulled out the object that best demonstrated his point: a tissue box.

“See?” he asked. “This is the evidence. You never know.”

Andrew Carter never knows what his rowing team will need from him, be it a coach who can talk them through their next race or a father figure who’s standing by to talk them through a rough patch in a relationship.

The tissues often come in handy.

Since arriving on campus in 2010, Carter has embraced many roles at once. He employs the values he learned from his family to make sure his team acts by the same high standards.

The University of Miami’s head rowing coach is a meticulous leader whose vision for the program has it destined for success. He takes great pride in the team’s attitude and outlook, and has worked to transform those qualities during his tenure.

“The sociology of our team is light-years ahead of what I found when I got here,” Carter said. “And where their heads are will help us tremendously.”

He came here from Clemson, a school that had experienced competitive success during his tenure, including an NCAA Championship in the Varsity 4+. Before that, he directed the men’s and women’s rowing programs at Bates College in Maine.

Entering his third season as the UM coach, Carter is thrilled to report that recruits have remarked how impressed they are with Miami’s eagerness to “move forward aggressively.”

And even though his team operates on a strict training and practice schedule, he hesitates to define a typical day on the job; instead, Carter references a piece that he wrote in 2006, when he was at Bates.

“4:30 to 4:40 a.m. Grabbed a bowl of cereal and turned on the TV to trusty old Channel 33, the Weather Channel,” he wrote. “As I munch on my Mini Wheats, I wait for the ‘Local on the 8s’ which will, of course, determine the conditions for our row."

So begins a day that often carries on for 16 hours or more. Every minute is occupied, because to Carter, no minute can be wasted.

Carter is Canadian, as is his wife, Kim, but he has spent the majority of his coaching career in the United States. He did spend two years coaching at the National Rowing Center in Ontario. Carter also took a one-year sabbatical from Bates to coach in New Zealand, and he seriously considered staying permanently.

Hints to his heritage peek through in different ways, from the Canadian flag pennant that hangs behind his desk, to the subtle accent that permeates his speech.

“He’s so Canadian,” said senior Maria Siemann, a four-year member of the rowing team. “Eh?”

Siemann is one of just two seniors on the roster of more than 35 rowers. The overwhelming number of freshmen and sophomores on the team reinforces why Carter’s leadership responsibilities extend beyond those of a typical coach.

“He coaches like a teacher,” Siemann said. “He’s laid back, puts the ball in our court, and doesn’t like to dictate. But he builds the foundation for us to push ourselves, which makes him more effective.”

It’s fitting that Carter approaches his job with equal emphasis on coaching, teaching and parenting. He has a 9-year-old son, Mason, and the lessons Carter has learned from raising him have translated directly to the team.

Mason, whom Carter described as “sports-crazy,” meets all of the Miami recruits. He attends meetings regularly. And he has a stack of handwritten business cards on his dad’s desk that read: Mason Carter, Assistant Rowing Coach.

He’s never thrown a tantrum in his life, but when he found out he wasn’t on the payroll, he was a little concerned to say the least.”

In a remarkably organized office that is decorated by little more than two large trophies and a seat from an antique racing boat, Carter keeps two frames on his desk.

One is a photo of him with Mason on the beach. The other is a note scribbled by what could only be a child’s hand.

“Our family was at Crandon Park, and I got a call from an athlete that I coached at Clemson. She wanted to join the national rowing team,” Carter explained. “I talked to her about goal setting and structure. My son was listening, and he asked my wife for paper while I was on the phone.”

What did he write?

Top 3 ACC.

Win ACC.

National Champions.

These days, as the spring season nears and the Hurricanes grow stronger, faster and more competitive with their conference rivals, Carter knows those goals will be within reach soon enough.

His confidence stems from his most fervent strategies, which are simple enough for even Mason to grasp. Carter relies on routine, focus and clarity.

So pedantic is Carter that he has studied his sleep cycles to learn how to wake up without an alarm clock. Two minutes before it would typically ring, he is awake. Every day.

His team practices in North Miami Beach most mornings, and Carter drives there alone, adamantly refusing to carpool because “it’s the only hour of alone time I get all day.”

Widely regarded as an expert in the technical and mechanical aspects of rowing, Carter’s knowledge has afforded him the opportunity to add an interesting title to his already full plate: consultant.

Equipment companies looking to refine their latest products, authors seeking clarification for the information in their rowing books and articles—yes, he confirms, people do write books about rowing—and major rowing conferences that search for the best in the business to hire as their speakers all turn to Carter for his skill.

But at the end of each day, when Andrew Carter has returned to bed with enough time to squeeze in four or five 90-minute sleep cycles, it’s Miami on his mind.

“We’re in a stage of development,” he said of the young squad. “To call it ‘rebuilding’ could belittle the effort we’re putting in. Rebuilding to me says ‘I resolve myself to sub-par performance.’”

Yet Carter said the team’s “long-term strategy is on—if not a little ahead—of schedule.”

For that, they have a coach, a teacher, and a self-proclaimed surrogate dad to thank. 

By Spencer Dandes