Updated: Dec 17, 2018
The last 10 to 14 days have been rather interesting. Conference championships have concluded. Fast times were run at Swarthmore. Regional Championship entries were made and surprising scratches followed suit. However, what may have slipped under the radar was the announcement of two head coaches stepping down.
After 39 years, Eastern Kentucky head coach Rick Erdmann retired from his position after countless conference titles, achievements, and recognitions. At the other end of the country, we saw coach Greg Metcalf and the University of Washington part ways after 16 strong years of service from Metcalf.
The news of Erdmann, although sad, isn't surprising when you consider what he's accomplished and how much time he has invested into the EKU program. Since joining the Colonels back in 1979, Erdmann has accumulated 73 Ohio Valley Conference titles between cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. In recent years, Erdmann was able to bring EKU to national relevance in terms of distance running with a five year span of consecutive championship appearances (2011 to 2015). In a Southeast region that is expanding its depth of talent year in and year out, the Colonels have found a way to stay competitive.
It's important to note that Erdmann oversaw both the cross country and track programs at EKU. Will athletic director Steve Lochmueller opt to fill both positions with the same individual? Or will he decide to specialize by making one assistant coach the head of cross country and another assistant the head of track and field? It's a very common structure, but not always a given.
Nonetheless, from a distance perspective, assistant coach Tito Medrano would be an excellent fit for the head cross country coaching position. The former Syracuse All-American has only been with the Colonels for two years, but he has had tremendous success during that time. Since joining EKU in 2016, Medrano has overseen and developed the training for steeplechasers, an event that the Colonels have dominated over the past few years. In fact, Medrano has trained some of the best steeplechasers in the nation. Both Jakob Abrahamsen and Jamaine Coleman dipped under the 8:40 barrier and earned All-American honors during their time with Medrano.
Let's not forget that Medrano was with IUPUI prior to coming to Eastern Kentucky. It was there that he helped the program develop their first Summit League champion in both the 5000 and 10,000 meters (Joseph Murphy). Murphy would later secure a personal best of 8:44 in 2017 and qualify for the National Championships.
With Medrano's personal accolades, experience, and proof of developing talent, he has all of the qualifications needed for the ideal candidate. He may have only been with the team for a short period of time, but he has clearly been a game-changer since entering the program.
Regardless of what happens with the coaching situation, there is one aspect of the program that some people may not have considered. Coach Erdmann was no stranger to foreign recruits on his team. In fact, a heavy portion of his national championship qualifying teams have been heavily influenced by Kenyans and Europeans. This past cross country season, 11 of the 15 athletes on the roster were born outside of the United States. Of the four Americans, one was a transfer from Shippensburg University (in Pennsylvania).
Foreign recruits like Erik Rotich, Samuel Abascal, Jakob Abrahamsen, Jamaine Coleman, and Ole Hesseljberg are a few of the names who have been national contenders for EKU over the past few years. Will the new coach continue to recruit talent overseas? Or will he/she choose to find new talent within the States? The obvious answer may be to keep recruiting in Europe and Kenya, but some coaches aren't always willing to try that route.
As we close out our conversation on coach Erdmann and Eastern Kentucky, we have to turn our attention to the situation developing at the University of Washington. The announcement that coach Greg Metcalf would be departing from the Husky program was a surprising one. The only information we have is that the university and Metcalf agreed to a "mutual separation".
It would be irresponsible to throw around rumors or make unsupported assertions as to why Metcalf left. However, I think it's fair to say that based on the wording of the press release, there is at least some significant reason for Metcalf resigning.
Did Metcalf have a strong career with the Huskies? Will he be considered a success? You'll most likely get very different answers to that question depending on who you ask.
In his 16 seasons of cross country (since 2002), Metcalf made it to the National Championships eight times. His best finish was back in 2015 where the Huskies finished 8th overall. Some have argued that the overwhelming depth of talent from the PAC 12 and West region (for cross country) makes it incredibly difficult to qualify for Nationals. Others are quick to point out that Washington consistently recruits some of the best young talent in the nation and are expected to qualify, not just get by.
Whatever your feelings, you can't undermine the handful of star talents that have been developed by this UW program. Guys like Ryan Brown, Austin Abbott, Izaic Yorks, and now Colby Gilbert have all posted some incredible times and performances during the Metcalf era. In fact, if Edward Cheserek wasn't around during the winter of 2016, Washington would have owned the national title in the DMR. Who knows? Maybe that changes the conversation we're having now...
Nonetheless, Metcalf is gone and the search for his national replacement is now under way. I emphasize "national" because it most likely indicates that Washington AD Jennifer Cohen is willing to look outside of the program to fill the position.
As we look at the potential candidates, you have to acknowledge assistant coach Jason Drake. Drake has been the mastermind behind Washington's impressive recruiting as well as the multiple track meets held at the Dempsey indoor track since 2009. Not only does he have a coaching background at Colorado and Washington State, but he also has a wide array of NCAA Championship appearances with those programs. In terms of background, experience, and achievements, Drake looks like the easy choice to replace Metcalf. After all, he is the Huskies interim head coach for the rest of the season.
While Drake may seem like the clear choice for UW's next head coach, I can't help but think of an accomplished coach just down the road. That coach is Danny Mackey of the professional training group Brooks Beasts. Now before you laugh and dismiss the idea, hear me out.
Mackey and the Brooks Beasts constantly race and train at the Dempsey. In fact, one of Mackey's athletes (Izaic Yorks) trained under Metcalf before going pro. With a training group based in Seattle, Mackey would be an individual from outside of the program who is still familiar with the university and it's inner workings. At the same time, Mackey has always expressed an interest of coaching at the collegiate level. Just read his interview with The Morning Shakeout's Mario Fraioli and you'll see what I mean.
Of course, coaching professionals and a collegiate program would be incredibly tough. Would Mackey give up coaching the Brooks Beasts for a position at Washington? I doubt it, but the storyline would be interesting...
With so many moving parts, it's easy to forget about Metcalf in the big picture. What will happen to him? Will he pursue a coaching position this summer? Or will he take some time off? Where could he go?
Metcalf's background doesn't extend much further than the state of Washington. He's from Ephrata, Washington and even went to the University of Washington for his undergrad (where he was an All-American). Seeing him go elsewhere would be odd, but he only has so many options. Would he really venture out to look at the EKU opening? What about the position at Texas? That seems a bit more realistic, but still a stretch.
Whatever happens, it's fair to say that both Erdmann and Metcalf had substantial roles in their respective programs. Stay tuned, the coaching drama is just beginning...