Cross country teams look for new coach

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 at 10:38 PM
Cross country teams look for new coach by Mike Lantinen
The Edinboro women’s cross country squad won the 2015 PSAC Championship this past fall. The team will be looking for a new coach this spring and summer.

In April of 2013, Edinboro University and its sports department embarked on the tall task of replacing 44-year head cross country coach Doug Watts. And in early 2016, they started that process again.

Rick Hammer, the second head coach in program history, hired in August of 2013 as a result of that initial search, will not be returning to the Fighting Scots this fall, his contract not being renewed. The search for his replacement, and the program’s second coach in 3 years, is already underway, with the number of applicants over 100. A search committee consisting of seven individuals, two of which are student-athletes, has been formed to work through the process. Interviews have not yet begun.

“Right now, we’re just reviewing applications [and] we’re trying to do this as quickly as possible,” said member of the search committee and Edinboro cross country alumni, Dr. Roy Shinn. “There was a delay in getting the applications to us.”

He continued, stating the “ideal goal” would be to have finalists meet team members, outside the appointed committee members, so “they get to have a back and forth with them.”

“But because we were delayed, we’re turning the wheel as fast as we can to try and make that happen. We want to have the person in place here in June.”

When asked about Hammer’s evaluation process, Edinboro’s athletic director, Bruce Baumgartner, did not provide specifics, but explained, “When you evaluate anybody in any field, whether it’s coaching or not, there is set expectations and so forth, but it is very difficult. It is difficult to weigh and assess all the different factors and all the different information.”

He would continue, “At this point, we felt that the best for our student athletes and program in the long run was just to not renew.”

The Old Edinboro Way

In a publicly available presentation on the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) website, titled “Training Today’s Cross Country Athlete,” Hammer describes taking over the program. In the presentation, he writes of the Edinboro cross country program’s success — six men’s national championships, four within the NCAA’s division two, and the women’s second place finish at the national meet in 2004 — while briefly describing the program and its key workouts.

As it progresses, Hammer, who previously coached at Lewis University, talks of his faults with the prior program, including the women being “improperly trained,” the emphasizing of “the wrong things,” an unstructured plan leading to “unpredictable race performances” and a season of “drinking” where indoor and outdoor track normally would be placed.

When asked for comment on the 2015 presentation, Baumgartner would say he was aware of it, but did not “read it slide for slide.”

When asked for further comment, he stated, “I think you kind of defining it [the presentation] as interesting is very accurate. I would probably use the same word, it was a very interesting way to go about it.”

Shinn would not comment on the presentation. And when contacted via text and email, Hammer would not respond.

It is unaware at this time if the presentation content was part of the coaching evaluation process.

The Spectator would speak to several program alumni, both of past and modern teams, regarding the criticism and Hammer’s time with the program.

Alumnus Walt McLaughlin, high school cross country and track coach, would ask, “What was the point of the presentation? To discuss how to build a winning program? Might have missed the mark on that one.”

“Over time your program will be your program…He (Hammer) didn’t have an ideal situation to come in to. I get that,” said Edinboro 1982 national cross country champion, Greg Beardsley, when asked about changes to the “Old Edinboro Way.”

“They’re always going to question, ‘well that’s not the way Coach Watts did it.’ Okay, got it. That’s okay,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be the way coach Watts did it. But [you have to establish] here’s why we’re doing what we’re doing and if you can convince people and motivate people and inspire people to buy into that, eventually that program will be yours.”

McLaughlin would expand on Beardsley’s thoughts, stating, “The truth is that you don’t replace or even replicate people like Doug Watts. You just try to find someone who will do their best with what they have every day.”

Beardsley would also talk about the notion of a “drinking” season, stating, “Watts’ whole idea was, keep it in perspective. Whatever you’re doing, understand if it’s taking away from your performance and infringing on the success of the team [and if it is] maybe you ought not be doing that.”

Current women’s steeplechase record holder, Kelly Latimer (Richards), agreed with Beardsley on the topic, explaining, “Drinking was not promoted while I was at Edinboro. In my opinion, neither the guys or girls team drank much while I was in school. Our girls team had a 3.5 to 3.8 team grade point average… we ran and studied.”

And Edinboro six-time All-American Aaron Rowe would say, “Specifically, what stands out most to me was how he inferred that drinking was a season for us and that we devalued track.”

“I am not sure how you can look at the overall success of Boro runners in track for 44 years and come to either one of those conclusions,” he said.

On the topic of the women’s squad being “improperly trained,” Latimer disagreed. She especially took issue with the notion of women being trained for the “10K” in cross country “despite the women running 5-6K” and “training the men and women the same.”

“I was not trained the same as the men and never was I trained to run a 10k. I was a steeplechaser and didn’t respond well to high mileage. The freedom of Watts’ training allowed me to adjust my training to meet my needs as a student and athlete…I didn’t always get along with coach Watts, but he gave me the tools and ability to adapt a training program that worked for me.”

Latimer was part of the second place national championship finish for the women.

Alumni would also mention what was not presented in San Antonio that year, specifically the team’s traditionally impressive academic performance.

“He also failed to mention the key premise of what it meant to be an Edinboro runner: to be the best that you can be in everything that you do in life, not just running,” said Rowe.

Edinboro’s 5K record holder and member of the 1986 and 1987 national championship teams, Mike Platt, expressed his remorse for Hammer, stating, “I hate to see anyone have a bad spell or a bad time at anything.”

He continued, “You learn, you mature, you learn from your mistakes. You eliminate things that didn’t work. You try to build up things that did work. Hopefully that works for him. Additionally the program…is still a substantial program.”

During his time at Edinboro, Hammer would lead the women’s cross country team to their first Atlantic Region championship since 2007, while backing that up with another a year later (2013 and 2014). They would also capture their first conference crown since 2006 (winning in both 2014 and 2015). He was named the USTFCCCA Atlantic Region Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year. He would also lead the men’s cross country team to a ninth place finish at the NCAA Division II National Championships in 2013.

One of those modern athletes who contributed to that success was Matt Link, an All-American in cross country in 2014. Link ran under both Watts and Hammer.

“I would never say I was an All-American because of the three years I put in with Watts. I absolutely wholeheartedly feel that I got a lot of good base development and I turned into the runner that I was with Watts. Hammer took my training to the next level I needed to reach,” he said.

But he did criticize the coaching transition over the past few years and specifically what transpired over this past cross country season.

“There was really poor communication between the coaching staff and the athletes. There was increased tension among the coaching staff and the athletic department. It absolutely needs to be acknowledged that more could have been done on all sides. I don’t think coach Hammer or the team deserves all the blame,” said Link.

When asked about the upcoming coaching transition, Rowe would provide advice for those current runners about to undergo the switch.

“The best option [for the athletes] would be to choose to remain focused on the upcoming season and move forward and train with confidence and pursue all the offseason avenues that will help them grow and progress as an athlete,” he said.

“Find a way to make the adversity of this situation a learning and growing experience.”

When asked about the idea of an alumni taking over the program, possibly maintaining that “Old Edinboro Way,” Shinn referenced feedback from current athletes.

“The thing they (Edinboro’s cross country team) just kept telling me was, get somebody who fits in here and who has the attributes to do this job well and the passion to do it well.”

And Platt talked about his current feelings for the program. “I care about this team immensely and as years have gone by I got closer to Doug Watts and a lot of the guys in the program.”

“I want coach [Watts] to be happy, he deserves that...There’s no reason why this can’t be a very happy ending story for everybody.”

Mike Lantinen is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.

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