The Group Chat: Stanford Candidates

Graphic by John Cusick

A few members of the TSR crew had been chatting about who we thought was going to win the heading coaching position at we figured, why not make it an article? Below, we did a (very short) draft with each writer picking two potential candidates who they think could end up winning the job.

Please note that TSR has no insider information in regards to who is being interviewed for the Stanford job, nor do we know who is interested in the Stanford job. This article is 100% speculative and is not meant to suggest that a certain coach is being considered for the position.

Round One Selections

Sam: Mike Smith, Northern Arizona

Smith seems almost too easy of a choice...right? He helped extend the cross country dynasty at Northern Arizona during an era that was also headlined by a very talented BYU team. Not only that, but the Lumberjacks look poised to potentially win it all again this fall despite graduating their top three scorers. He wouldn't have to travel far from Flagstaff to get to Stanford...

Maura: Joe Franklin, New Mexico

Franklin has spent the last 12 seasons at New Mexico transforming the women’s program into a distance powerhouse. Each and every season, his team shows up to the NCAA Championships and they never disappoint. He has coached countless All-Americans and national champions such as Ednah Kurgat, Weini Kelati, Charlotte Prouse, and Josh Kerr. Franklin left Butler for New Mexico after 13 year stint there, so if he sticks with that pattern, it may be time for him to move on.

Recently, the men’s program at New Mexico lost (some) funding and the roster numbers were cut. Franklin has shown that he can be majorly successful with the women, but the men's roster at Stanford would certainly give him the chance to be successful with more than just one half of a program.

Stanford typically doesn’t recruit international athletes, but I don’t see that stopping Franklin from committing to the Cardinal and bringing his coaching philosophy/recruiting with him.

Sean: Dave Smith, Oklahoma State

Smith is currently the Director of Track and Field and Cross Country at Oklahoma State and is responsible for turning the program into a powerhouse. The Cowgirls just had one of their best seasons in recent memory with the 1500 national title of Sinclaire Johnson, as well as the success of Celis and Sughroue in the same event. Isai Rodriguez showed that the men could also compete at an elite level with his 4th place finish at the NCAA XC Championships last fall.

Beyond this year’s success, Smith has led the Oklahoma State squad to 136 individual BIG 12 titles and seven individual NCAA titles. Smith’s weakness is that the OKST teams have occasionally been inconsistent, but that’s true of most programs.

Plus, there’s no way someone turns down Palo Alto over the “metropolis” that is Stillwater, Oklahoma...right?

Garrett: Ryan Vanhoy, Ole Miss

Unlike the names mentioned above, Vanhoy isn’t the Director for his respective program. Vanhoy first came to Ole Miss after acting as an assistant coach for the UNC Tarheels. Since he arrived in Mississippi, he has completely revamped what used to be a very average program.

The Rebels were once a decent SEC team, but they are now one of the most exciting groups in the NCAA. His ability to recruit some of the best talents in the country, both via high school signings and transfers, has made Ole Miss a modern-day powerhouse. Some schools sell themselves (Stanford, Oregon, Georgetown, etc), but Vanhoy has proven that his training yields incredible results, specifically with youngsters. Some Directors may be comfortable already having a team of their own, but Vanhoy is an assistant coach who is worthy of a promotion if he wants it.

Ben: Chris Bucknam, Arkansas

While Bucknam does have the title of Director at Arkansas, but he only coaches the men. If he wants to have control of both the men and women, then I think he has to be on this list as someone Stanford should go after. Whether he is ready to leave the Razorbacks is another question entirely, but if he does decide that he is ready for a new challenge, then I think Stanford would be lucky to hire him.

Following in the footsteps of John McDonnell is not easy, but he continued Arkansas’ dominance within their conference and region. Bucknam has shown the ability to recruit internationally by picking up recent international standouts such as Alex George, Jack Bruce, and Cameron Griffith, as well as picking out talented transfers such as Gilbert Boit. The team had a down year this past season, but the Razorbacks did finish 5th at NCAA's in cross country just two years ago.

Michael: Matt Sparks, Notre Dame

Both the Notre Dame men’s and women’s teams have become national-level distance powerhouses over the past few years. During Coach Sparks’ five years with Notre Dame he has developed some of the top distance running women in the NCAA such as Anna Rohrer and Molly Seidel. Notre Dame has a very solid mix of middle and long distance athletes, making for a very well-rounded program just like Stanford. There is no doubt that Stanford is looking for an experienced coach who is ready to come contend for national titles, and Matt Sparks has shown that he fits that role. It would be a big change, but I am sure Coach Sparks would be a great fit for the job.

Round One Reactions

Garrett: I’m not sure I see either of the Notre Dame coaches (Sparks or Carlson) moving out west. They both seem extremely committed to Notre Dame. That said, they both have done an extremely good job of building up an academically prestigious program and have recently been able to recruit at a similar level as Stanford. On paper, Sparks would be a very good fit.

Michael: I agree that it seems unlikely that either Notre Dame coach would leave as they have built a very strong program that is only getting better, but nobody thought the Powells would leave Oregon either!

Sean: There’s obviously a bunch of good names here, but I struggle to see Mike Smith or Joe Franklin taking the position. The point about Franklin’s funding at New Mexico is huge in increasing his chances, but I’m not sold that Stanford would go that direction for some reason. In both cases, I think the overall weakness of each program makes them less likely candidates than some others in the possible pool. If they oversaw more success beyond distance runners, I’d give them greater chances.

Garrett: Yeah the lack of funding at New Mexico makes Joe Franklin a slightly more interesting name...

Ben: I really like the Vanhoy suggestion. He has built an incredible program at Ole Miss, but I wonder how much better his teams would be if he had a little more money and control over his team.

Michael: I think Vanhoy would be a very good candidate. As an assistant in his current role at Ole Miss, I have to imagine he would be interested in a head coaching job. The flip side of this is that as an assistant, he is not as experienced with the demands that come with a head coaching role. Personally, I see Stanford going for somebody who has already been successful in a head coaching position, but I think Vanhoy would be able to help the Cardinal keep shooting for national title wins. Great pick by Garrett.

Maura: Vanhoy never even crossed my mind, but I agree with everyone about him being a candidate. His men’s team really caught the attention of fans around the country thanks to their low time-spreads, impressive results, and big team wins (i.e. SEC XC and South Region titles).

Sean: As I read over everyone’s suggestions, this is all a reminder of how many factors go into picking a Director for such a great program. Almost every candidate can have negatives against them, but it will come down to who has the best vision for Stanford TFXC.

Round Two Selections

Michael: Julie Culley, Georgetown

Julie Culley is relatively new on the NCAA head coaching scene, having just finished her third year at the helm of Georgetown’s program (she was an assistant for two years prior). However, despite a few somewhat disappointing regional cross country finishes in the past couple of years, the Hoyas have managed to bring in some strong recruits which has helped build a strong foundation for the future.

A strong future is admittedly something that would keep Culley in Washington D.C., but the work she has done in her short time at Georgetown is surely something that would stand out to a selection committee at Stanford.

Culley is the director of the Hoya track and cross country programs as a whole, but the majority of her coaching is done with the women. If she is looking for a position in which she could be responsible for both teams entirely, Stanford could be a great fit for her. Georgetown has produced 44 All-Americans during Culley’s time as head coach in everything from cross country, to the DMR, to the steeplechase. Culley’s prowess could make her a strong candidate for one of the most prestigious positions in the country.

Ben: Robert Gary, Furman

Like Vanhoy, Gary has taken Furman to higher heights than ever before. Robert, along with his wife Rita, has made a small program a consistent national qualifier while also developing the professional club, Furman Elite.

Gary has been responsible for developing top-tier collegiates with Aaron Templeton being the most recent headliner. In addition, he has coached a few high-level steeplechasers such as Daniel Huling, Cory Leslie, and Troy Reeder. Moving to Stanford would be a huge opportunity not only for Gary, but for his Furman Elite club who is currently without a sponsor. At Stanford, Gary will be able to recruit even better talent and develop teams that can consistently finish in the top 10 at Nationals (instead of the top 20).

Garrett: Jill Miller, Wisconsin

One of the more underrated coaches in the NCAA is Jill Miller who has done an incredible job developing the Badger women. She oversaw the development of superstar Alicia Monson and produced a handful of strong contenders such as Alissa Niggeman and Amy Davis. Much like Vanhoy, she is an assistant coach, so it’s easy to imagine that she would want a Director role. After learning from a legendary coach like Mick Byrne, it’s hard to ignore Miller as a great candidate as she checks off nearly every box when it comes to development, recruiting, experience, and consistency.

Sean: Beth Alford-Sullivan, Tennessee

Alford-Sullivan is one of only seven women to lead a combined men’s and women’s track and cross country program, and was the first woman ever to head coach a men’s SEC program in any sport. Alford-Sullivan has overseen success in all event areas with 251 All-Americans over her career. Although Alford-Sullivan hasn’t necessarily been know her success in the distance events, but her greatest strength is her ability to run an overall program. Before Tennessee, she was the Director at Penn State for eight seasons and was the head coach for another seven years prior. Before State College, Alford-Sullivan coached at Stanford; this return could be the incentive she needs to take the position.

Maura: Corey Ihmels, Boise State

Teams at Boise State have been on the upswing since Ihmels has taken over. The women have steadily improved at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and the men have seen similar results. Allie Ostrander was the star-pupil for Boise State over the last four years and now that she is gone, does Ihmels decide to leave as well for bigger and better things at Stanford? Unlike some of the coaches previously mentioned, Ihmels has experience with both men and women which could come in handy for him.

Sam: Martin Smith, Iowa State

The Iowa State veteran has done an incredible job throughout his career with his respective distance programs. He is currently the Director at Iowa State, a program that has been rapidly improving. However, Smith has shown that he isn't afraid to move around. Back in the 1980's, he helped the Virginia women win two national titles in cross country and then later led the Wisconsin men to two national cross country titles of their own shortly after. When you also consider that he has experience at Oregon, it's hard to say that anyone is more qualified than Martin Smith.

Round Two Reactions

Garrett: I love so many of these picks. Ihmels is a great candidate when you consider that a heavy portion of his superstar roster left Boise State earlier this year (Emily Venters, Kyra Lopez, Allie Ostrander). It might not be a bad time for him to jump ship and join a program where he can put together a complete lineup.

Maura: Garrett, you picked my choice of Jill Miller and I agree with why you believe she would be a good choice for Stanford. The only concern I have with Miller is that she just became the head women’s coach for Wisconsin.

Michael: Sean’s pick of Beth Alford-Sullivan was initially a surprise to me, as when I think of Tennessee I do not immediately think of distance running success. But, after taking a moment to think about it more, she would be an incredible fit for the Stanford job. Her extensive experience around the country would be a major asset.

Ben: I don’t think Alford-Sullivan is a great fit for Stanford when you consider their need for coaching in the distance events. As a leader of the track team as a whole, I think she would be a great option, but I think she would be more effective at Tennessee where the sprint and field events take greater precedence than the distance races.

Maura: I’m liking the first pick in this round - Julie Culley from Georgetown. Even though she is newer to the NCAA scene, her success with the Hoyas has not gone unnoticed. The whole Georgetown-Stanford path (the same taken by Chris Miltenberg) is a route that Culley could also follow.

Garrett: I also really like the idea of Robert Gary (and his wife Rita Gary) taking the Stanford job. The Gary’s have transformed Furman after leaving Ohio State and they have proven that they can make any team they control a national contender. On paper, Furman never should’ve the national contender they are now. The Gary's are the reason for that.

Sean: I think this round is much better than the previous round. More than the first, it feels like each of these candidates has something to gain in this position. I really like the Corey Ihmels pick as a distance coach, but I’m not sure he’s led a big enough team quite yet to be a Director at Stanford. Then again, he would’ve been my pick if I hadn’t taken Alford-Sullivan. Oh, and the Stanford coaching staff currently has no women, so I think that could play a factor as they select their Director and other distance coach.

Honorable Mentions (pick three)

Garrett: Jerry Schumacher (Bowerman TC), Rob Conner (Portland), Jason Vigilante (Princeton)

Ben: Scott Dahlberg (Wyoming), Pat Tyson (Gonzaga), Art Siemers (Colorado State)

Michael: Steve Magness (Houston), Andrea Grove-McDonough (UNC), PattiSue Plumer (Texas)

Sean: Marcus O’Sullivan (Villanova), Steve Dolan (Penn), Helen Lehman-Winters (Oregon)

Maura: Marc Burns (Mizzou), Louie Quintana (Oregon State), Diljeet Taylor (BYU)

Honorable Mentions Reactions

Sean: No Alberto Salazar. Sad. More seriously, if a pro coach does head to Stanford, Schumacher is probably the most likely. Magness of Houston could certainly fit well in Palo Alto too especially with how academic he is.

However, a name that no one has mentioned is Michael Eskind who is the current associate head coach for Stanford. He obviously does not fit the distance needs of the coaching staff, but promoting him to the Director position would allow them to hire one or two head cross country coaches as well. My gut is that the Director role will go to a distance-oriented coach since that’s Stanford’s bread and butter, but don’t be surprised if they promote internally and then go after distance coaches as assistants.

Garrett: Steve Dolan is a great candidate when you consider that he has done a respectable job developing athletes at a top-tier academic university. Not only that, but his son is now out of high school and running for Villanova, meaning that there may be less incentive to stay on the east coast now that he is in college. Also, on paper, BYU’s Diljeet Taylor may be the best candidate out of anyone.

Ben: I like the Jason Vigilante idea. I hadn’t thought of him, but he has done a great job at Princeton and would be a perfect fit for Stanford as someone who is coming from another elite academic university. Also, Steve Magness would be fantastic just for the reaction that it would cause. As someone who believes in his philosophy, I think he would create some very good teams with the talent he would get at Stanford.

Michael: I like the Marcus O’Sullivan pick. I would be shocked to see him leave Villanova, but there is no denying he would be a top candidate. My hot take: someone who was not named in this discussion gets the job.

Maura: I can’t be convinced about Schumacher leaving the professional world for the NCAA. He left Wisconsin for a reason and has now built a team of talented elites. Even though he has connections to Stanford (his son runs there and many of his new athletes are alumni) I don’t see it happening.

Garrett: Kind of surprised that no one said Chris Solinsky. Thought he would be a name that would come up...

Michael: I was on the fence about Solinsky. I think he is just too new and untested as a coach. With that said, it does look like Florida’s distance program for the women is on the rise.

Maura: Maybe down the road Solinsky will be a Director, but right now he has to build his resume. Last year’s success [with the Florida women] helps him, but there is still room for growth.