The Powell Effect

By: Michael Weidenbruch

The week before Outdoor Nationals took place earlier this spring, one of the headlines dominating the track and field community was the resignation of Greg Metcalf from the University of Washington. There were reports that he verbally abused and weight-shamed his athletes that he deemed not to be skinny enough. The separation from the UW program was labeled as mutual, but the allegations carried a heavy weight that would have made it difficult for the athletic director to justify keeping him on the payroll. The University of Washington program has had great success in the ultra-competitive PAC 12 conference, producing stars such as Colby Gilbert and Izaic Yorks.

Despite the allegations against Metcalf, he is still a very accomplished figure in the track and field world, and the shoes that he left to be filled were quite large. Once he departed from the program, the focus immediately shifted to who would replace Metcalf as the coach at UW. That question was answered on Monday. In a shocking move, Maurica Powell was hired as the Director of Track and Field and Cross Country, and her husband, Andy Powell was hired as Head Coach of both programs.

This is a mind blowing move. The Powell’s were previously at Oregon where they coached the distance teams for the past 13 years. During that time, they led the Oregon team to 19 NCAA team titles in men’s and women’s cross country and track, as well as 40 individual titles. 13 years is a long time, and countless superstar athletes have gone through the Oregon program. If any of our readers aren’t familiar with the Powell’s and the Oregon program, this could be compared to when LeBron James left Cleveland to go to the Miami Heat. The Powell’s are some of the best in the business and they have the results to back it up. UW is currently in the process of filling the assistant coach positions and it could be very interesting to see who may take those spots. I don’t anticipate any big name coaches moving to Washington for those jobs, but I think it is a possibility that some strong up and coming coaches/former standout runners could take those positions.

This move leaves us with a lot of questions. First and foremost, who will take the job at Oregon? Head coach Robert Johnson is still at Oregon, but I’m sure they’re looking for new distance coaches. This is a position that I could see a prominent coach moving to. There is also the question of what will happen with the Washington and Oregon teams. New coaches can make things tricky and athletes don’t always seamlessly transition to a new coach. I think the addition of the Powell's at Washington will be great for the Huskies, but the situation could be much different in Eugene if the correct hire isn’t made. Greg Metcalf was certainly successful at Washington, but it sounds like the team culture that he created/enforced may have held them back a bit. If the Powell’s fit in (which I imagine they will) they could help the Huskies reach their full potential as well as attract some top recruits.

At Oregon, however, things may be more difficult. While the prestige surrounding the program will not go away, some of the credibility might. If the coach that UO hires is young and untested, there might be somewhat less draw for recruits looking to go to a top program. My guess is that the replacement will be someone with some experience and success at the top level. Is it possible that we could see Vin Lananna return to UO? It seems unlikely, but his role with USATF seems to be diminishing so this could be the perfect time for him to break back into the NCAA scene.

However, the Powell’s didn’t have an insane number of years as coaches when Oregon hired them, so it is definitely possible that UO could bring in a younger individual to be there for the long haul. Some coaches that I think could be possible candidates are Ryan Vanhoy (Ole Miss) and Ryan Waite (Delaware).

The Ole Miss program has become a powerhouse for middle distance running in the last few years and has translated that success to the cross country course very well. Their rise to prominence aligns with the addition of Ryan Vanhoy at the helm. Vanhoy has brought the program from being in the bottom half of the SEC to one of the best in the nation. In 2017, they won the NCAA indoor DMR title in a ridiculously competitive race. Vanhoy is still young and relatively new on the coaching scene. Oregon may be looking to pick up somebody who fits this description before his career really takes off.

Ryan Waite is the cross country and distance coach at the University of Delaware. Delaware only has a women’s program, so a transition to Oregon with full men’s and women’s teams may be a bit of a challenge. The Blue Hens are not known for having a whole lot of firepower in the distance events, but Waite has shown promise during his short tenure as coach at UD. A 2014 BYU alum, he has impressive running accolades to his name such as three West Coast Conference individual titles. It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t learn a lot of what he knows about coaching from Eyestone, who consistently puts together impressive teams. Waite also has ties to the Nike Oregon Project (a team that is made up of a few Oregon graduates) so he may have an inside perspective on how the program runs. Similar to Vanhoy, Waite might be a prime candidate in Oregon’s eyes because his career hasn’t totally taken off yet. However, he surely has potential to lead a program as prestigious as Oregon.

The thought that Vin Lananna would return to coaching at Oregon may seem ridiculous (and maybe it is). Lananna was the head coach for the Ducks before Robert Johnson took over so coming back to a smaller role as the distance coach may be strange. Lananna, however, knows the program inside and out. He has worked with the Oregon Track Club Elite, as well as USATF and the Tracktown USA committee. You’d be hard pressed to find someone more qualified.

If Oregon is to pursue Lananna, they will be taking a clear opposite approach from what they would be taking with Vanhoy or Waite. Going for the insider who has been proven time and time again is probably a safer move, because they know what they’re getting. I would argue that Lananna is up there with coaches like Alberto Salazar and Frank ‘Gags’ Gagliano, some of the best ever. He has had a hand in developing dozens of NCAA champions and Olympians. There is no question that he could keep the Oregon distance program going in the right direction. The hard part would be getting him to return to UO for this position. Lananna is at a stage in his career where a job that is technically an assistant coaching position may seem small, so he might not want to seemingly backtrack in his career. However, if I was Robert Johnson or the athletic director at Oregon, I would be doing everything I could to get Lananna back on board. My gut, however, tells me that they will go with somebody young and less proven like the Powell’s were when they arrived at Oregon. Perhaps they’ll even pick someone we haven’t heard of before. Whoever it is, they’re going to have some big shoes to fill.

Lastly, how will this affect the dynamic of the PAC 12? Will Washington rise to the top and start collecting titles left and right? It’s too early to tell and any major shift will likely take a few years to play out. We can expect to hear about what will happen at Oregon very soon as the staff there must be anxious to fill the Powell's positions with cross country fast approaching. It will be interesting to see how the teams adapt and perform this fall under new leadership.