The Group Chat: Offseason Operations (Part One)

The season has already begun, but there is still a ton to talk about in terms of what happened during the offseason. Because of that, our TSR crew got together to chat about some of the most interesting changes that we saw take place this offseason. Keep an eye out for Part Two which is coming soon...

What is your tweet-length review (280 characters or less) of the summer in regards to transfers and coaching changes?

Disclaimer: We stole the idea for this question from The Ringer, a sports and pop-culture website which we attempt to emulate every now and then. Go check them out.

Maura: Coaching and transfer rumors don’t disappoint. Can Stanford’s distance coach replicate or better Miltenberg’s teams? Can Colorado win NCAA's with Venters and McArthur? Can O’Neill lead NAU women to NCAA's? Can Lananna create a winning program at UVA? Questions to ponder tonight.

Ben: Institutions are dead, long live the player (and coach) empowerment and movement era.

Brian: As my good friend Colin Cowherd says, player mobility is good for the league (NCAA). This might be a hot take, but athlete and coaching switches make the year more interesting and I tend to pay more attention to those athletes and coaches after the switch.

Garrett: NBA Free Agency meets collegiate distance running.

Which is a bigger deal? Miltenberg to North Carolina or Lananna to Virginia?

Maura: Vin Lananna coming out of coaching retirement and accepting the Director position at UVA is a bigger deal. Lananna retired from college coaching in 2012 after coaching at C.W. Post, Dartmouth, Stanford, and Oregon. Within his 37 years of coaching, Lananna led 11 teams to NCAA Championship titles and coached countless All-Americans and NCAA individual champions. Virginia is getting a good one in Lananna and could possibly start seeing success as early as this fall. Neither the Virginia men nor women qualified for the NCAA XC Championships last fall, but with Lananna's background in distance running, he may be able to carry on his past winning traditions.

As for Miltenberg to UNC, it is still surprising to see him leave Stanford after producing dominant teams and individuals year in and year out. However, sometimes it is best to move on and lead a new team to success. It may take a few years for UNC to reap the benefits of Milt’s coaching, but it will surely happen.

Ben: In the short term, it definitely is Miltenberg to UNC because of the team he was leaving behind at Stanford. It is nearly unprecedented for a coach to leave a top 10 program like Stanford when they have a chance at competing for a national title the next season. Mick Byrne left Iona and they went on to finish 2nd at NCAA's with new coach Ricardo Santos who - in an interesting twist of fate - is now the new coach at Stanford. Leaving Iona for Wisconsin is one thing, but leaving Stanford for UNC is very different. It will be interesting to see if Coach Miltenberg can ever build a team at UNC that is as good as what he left at Stanford.

In the long-term, Lannana to UVA could change the distance running dynamics in the Southeast region. His experience speaks for itself, so there is a strong possibility that he could turn the Cavaliers into national contenders very soon.

Brian: Vin Lannana deciding to come out of retirement is a big deal, but Coach Milt leaving Stanford for UNC is a really big deal. For Lananna, my thoughts are that when you are a coach, you are always a coach. I think the love of the sport caught up to this distinguished veteran. Don’t be surprised to see UVA take a step up in the distance running scene. Lananna, an 11 time NCAA champion as a coach, should be able to turn this good UVA distance team into a great one.

As for Coach Milt, leaving Stanford and deciding to take the UNC job is significant. This is not a knock on UNC, but Stanford is Stanford and it seems like a potential downgrade based on their overall achievements. From what I’ve heard through the coaching world, Coach Milt took the job more from a quality of living standpoint. Let’s not forget that the cost of living is higher out in Palo Alto, so UNC’s offer must have been substantial enough to leave an NCAA caliber squad in favor of a rebuilding the Tar Heels.

Garrett: Vin Lananna is a great hire and I think he will only help UVA. The problem is that I just don't know what kind of role he will have in the actual development of the athletes. Both Jason Dunn (men) and Megan LaVoie (women) are still considered the head coaches for their respective distance programs, so I'm not sure what kind of role Lananna will have in terms of training.

As for Miltenberg, it's clear that he has been tasked with turning around a UNC program that was beginning to flatline. He brings top-notch recruiting and promising development to a team that should, in theory, be one of the better groups in the country. In the grand scheme of things, his hire is a bigger deal.

Over/under 2.5 years (including this season) until the UNC men qualify for the NCAA XC Championships with Miltenberg as their head coach?

Maura: I’m going to have to say over 2.5 years. Success does not happen overnight and Miltenberg has a lot of work to do with the men of UNC before they can qualify for the NCAA XC Championships. UNC hasn't even qualified an individual for the championships since 2015 and in the last three seasons, the men haven’t finished higher than 11th at the Southeast Regional Championships. Milt will need to do some serious recruiting this fall to get some high school studs to buy into the fact that the program is currently in the building phase.

Ben: I will go under. I think two years is a realistic timeline for UNC to qualify for Nationals. It gives Miltenberg two recruiting classes and a chance to refresh over half of the squad. Between new freshmen and transfers, I think it will give UNC enough talent to earn a spot at NCAA's even in a tough Southeast region.

Brian: I’m going to go with the under. Milt is too good of a coach and recruiter to not make NCAAs within two years. UNC already has great talent so I firmly believe that Milt can both attract top talent either through the transfer process or through high school recruiting.

Garrett: Give me the over. Milt is a great coach and even better recruiter. Even so, there is a lot of work to do. The regional and national qualifying stats that Maura gave show that this is not going to be a program that can turn it around in a year. It will take at least three years for the overall development of this squad to kick in.

Over/under 2.5 years (including this season) until the UNC women qualify for the NCAA XC Championships with Miltenberg as their head coach?

Maura: My thoughts differ for the women of UNC as compared to the men. I think it will be under 2.5 years until the women qualify for the NCAA XC Championships. The Tar Heels haven’t qualified for NCAA’s since 2014, but the current UNC roster is made up of seven underclassmen, four of which are freshman. UNC’s coach last year recruited some talented women, including Alex Morris and Lizzy Harding. Both of these athletes have the potential to turn things around for UNC within the next two years with Morgan Ilse at the front.

Ben: I agree with Maura and will again say that Miltenberg will have both his men and women’s team qualifying for NCAA's in the next two years (including this season). This is especially true for the women where it is more common for underclassmen to make instant impacts in their first two years. A good recruiting class or two could vault the Lady Tar Heels straight back into NCAA's.

Brian: I am also in agreement with Ben and Maura that Milt will qualify both his teams within two years. The reasoning is the same as the men, but I think the talent on the women’s side is higher.

Garrett: I'll take the under along with everyone else. I think there is a lot of great, underrated talent on this team. Coach Grove-McDonough showed that proper coaching can go a long way for this team in the one year she was there. The Tar Heel women have a lot of talent. By 2020, they should be in the national qualifying conversation with Morgan Ilse leading the way.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being awful, 10 being excellent), how good of a hire was Ricardo Santos to Stanford?

Maura: To be completely honest, I had never even heard of Richard Santos before Stanford announced his hire. Since I don’t know much about him, I’m going to say 5 out of 10. Santos had success at Iona before taking over the Boston Athletic Association professional team. At Iona, Santos led the 2008 men to 2nd place at NCAA's and coached Kate Avery to the 2014 NCAA individual title. Santos is inheriting two deep rosters at Stanford this fall, especially considering the men could give NAU a run for their money if all the pieces come together on the right day and at the right time. For me to reconsider my rating of Santos’ hire at Stanford, I will need to see how the Cardinal do at bigger meets.

Ben: I’m pretty lukewarm about the Ricardo Santos hire, so I’ll give it a 6. He was a very good coach for Iona, but I was surprised that Stanford didn’t go out and try to poach some bigger names from their rivals. Overall though, Santos is a solid name who has been in this exact position before, so he should be prepared to lead his brand new team to a podium finish.

Brian: Santos wouldn’t have been my first option to replace Milt at Stanford, but in the 11th hour and needing a head coach going into the season with a stud team, this hire looks great so - considering the circumstances - I'll give it an 8. Stanford was able to hire one of the most consistent coaches in the country who has coached countless All-Americans. I see this as a win based off the timing.

Garrett: Everything Ben said I am in agreement with. I'm surprised they couldn't get a bigger name, but Santos is still very solid and has a proven record of success. I'll also give this hire a 6 out of 10.

Outside of Miltenberg leaving for UNC, which coaching change surprised you the most?

Maura: Jill Miller leaving Wisconsin for Northwestern surprised me the most this summer. In 2018, Miller was announced as the Head Women’s Cross Country coach for Wisconsin, but only one year later, she leaves for an undeveloped Northwestern team. The Badgers have qualified countless individuals and teams to championship meets since Miller arrived in Madison. Sarah Disanza and Alicia Monson are two great examples of athletes Miller coached to success during the cross country season. Monson, the 4th place finisher from last fall, and the team, 10th place finishers from last fall, are still primed for success in 2019, but just without Miller.

Northwestern should expect success on the individual level this fall before team success. Aubrey Roberts is an accomplished runner and an All-American from past seasons. There is no reason as to why she shouldn’t be able to replicate her performances this fall with Miller’s coaching. As for the team, Northwestern struggles a bit with getting top recruits due to their unique approach/emphasis on academics. Still, down the road, the Wildcats may have their chance to prove themselves on the national level with Miller leading the way.

Ben: The J.J. Clark hire for Stanford caught me off guard. The former UCONN and Tennessee coach is one of the best middle-distance coaches in the country which is awesome for Stanford. The problem is that Stanford has traditionally not had a ton of middle-distance talent. Their distance crew is mostly 5k and 10k runners. Perhaps Clark will shift their recruiting focus, but it is an interesting hire for a school that prides itself for its cross country teams.

Garrett: I was super surprised to see both J.J. Clark going to Stanford and Jill Miller going to Northwestern. Clark didn't really fit the mold of who we thought Stanford's next coach was going to be and Miller was leaving behind a very good Wisconsin squad to oversee a women's-only program. Both of these hires were surprising, but don't confuse surprising with bad. They will both contribute positively to their new programs in one way or another.

Who was the most underrated coaching hire of the summer?

Maura: Cody Halsey to Miami (Florida) is an underrated coaching hire. Halsey arrived in Miami after a coaching stint at Oklahoma State, Saint Louis University, and North Dakota State. With the Cowboys/Cowgirls, Halsey coached Sinclaire Johnson, Jenny Martinez, and Molly Sughroue to All-American honors at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships. On the grass, Isai Rodriguez was 4th at the 2018 NCAA XC Championship. So from there, it is plain to see that Halsey has success with coaching distance athletes.

Miami is not known for their cross country or distance programs, but with Halsey at the helm, things may change for the Hurricanes. Jessica Mitchell and Ryley Howard will be leading the women’s distance team this fall as they compete with deep ACC and regional fields. Miami could see immediate improvement this fall compared to last season, but it all depends on how fast the men and women buy into Halsey’s coaching philosophy.

Ben: Mackenzie Wartenberger heading to Wisconsin to replace Jill Miller is a very good hire for the Badgers. With her proven experience at Utah, Wartenberger should step up and help Wisconsin continue to grow. She coached the Utah women to NCAA's in 2015 and 2016 while also developing stars like Grayson Murphy, Sarah Feeny, and Poppy Tank. Creating a culture that creates national caliber teams and individuals is the best sign of future success

Garrett: How about Bobby Lockhart to Cal? The former Oklahoma State and UNC assistant has a ton of experience and has consistently been a part of successful programs throughout his running career. He was an All-American distance runner during his time at Wisconsin and introduces a fresh start for the University of California. The timing couldn't have been better. The team has stagnated a bit in an increasingly competitive PAC-12 conference and West region. I think this will work out well for the Golden Bears.