It has been an absolutely wild offseason of coaching moves and surprising headlines. It's crazy to think that the dismissal of just one coach (Metcalf) could cause such a massive ripple effect on distance programs around the nation.
All of these coaching changes and promotions got us thinking...how did these teams fare when looking for new coaches? Which teams found the best fit for their program? What are the pros and cons of each hire?
We decided to analyze these coaching changes from a subjective point of view and look to see if these teams addressed the weaknesses in their coaching vacancies.
* IMPORTANT *
Keep in mind that this is just to spark conversation. These grades are based on...
Ability to recruit
Event speciality / focus
These grades are NOT based on their coaching ability or coaching methods. However, previous success with past programs will be considered.
With that in mind, let's begin...
Washington (Andy Powell, Oregon): A-
It's only appropriate that we start with the biggest move of the summer. The departure of Metcalf required Washington to fill the role with a big-time impact name. Luckily, the Huskies accomplished that by securing a pair of the best coaches that the nation has to offer (the Powell's).
The men of UW have a lot to be excited about, especially when you consider the credentials of Andy Powell. Just this past spring, Powell was able to put four of his athletes under the 3:40 barrier for 1500 meters. In the same season, Washington didn't have a single individual faster than 3:46.
Granted, the talent Oregon attracts certainly gives the Ducks an edge when it comes to recruiting. Still, there is no doubt that Powell can consistently give the Huskies an edge that they may have been lacking beforehand.
There are a few minor reasons why Powell isn't granted the full A grade. We're still waiting to see if any of his former Oregon athletes end up transferring to Seattle with their former coach. Additionally, there were multiple Washington runners who were upset about the sudden dismissal of Metcalf. Some Huskies may not be thrilled about the arrival of a new coach from a rival school (although that is just speculation).
Still, these are ticky-tack things that may not have that much of an impact in the long-run. Powell is an established, elite coach who is well respected in the running community. This was a huge win for UW.
Texas (Pete Watson, Virginia): B
After six years of coaching at UVA, Watson has taken his talents to Austin, Texas where he'll be given the task of revitalizing the Longhorns distance program. Yet, even before Watson was recruited, the Texas men were already beginning to show promise.
The duo of Alex Rogers and Sam Worley were some of the best milers in the nation this past winter and spring. John Rice emerged as one of the best steeplechasers in the NCAA and has built upon his distance credentials. The rest of their squad has gathered enough depth and consistency to become a legitimate threat against their conference rivals and other national contenders.
Simply put, Watson will be entering a program with a great base that is filled with young talent. There is no doubt that he'll be off to a great start when the cross country season begins. With his proven ability to recruit some of the top talent in the nation, he will be an incredible asset to the Longhorns for years to come.
Not only is Watson a great recruiter, but he has been known for producing some incredible 5,000 and 10,000 meter runners. His expertise in the long distances will be welcomed, especially after Texas lost All-American Craig Lutz to graduation in 2015.
Despite Watson's phenomenal recruiting tactics, I occasionally question if he could've done more with the talent he's brought in. Don't get me wrong, Henry Wynne and Brent Demarest are top-level talents who can attribute a god portion of their success to Watson. Even so, the Virginia athletes weren't as consistent as they could have been. Last cross country is evidence of that. That's the main reason behind his B+ ranking.
Regardless of consistency, Texas made the right decision. They already had strong performers in the mid-distance events, but they needed someone capable of enhancing their long distance unit. With Watson on the staff, Texas could become one of the more well-rounded distance groups in the nation.
Eastern Kentucky (Cory Erdmann, promotion): C
Let's make something clear. We have no reason to believe that Cory Erdmann is (or will be) a bad coach. In fact, he's actually been the bloodline of EKU's extensive foreign recruiting from countries like England, Kenya, Spain, and Belgium (to name a few). One thing is for sure, the number of talented foreigners on their roster will not be diminishing anytime soon.
Still, you can't help but wonder why the Colonels didn't take a closer look at assistant coach Tito Medrano. He has only been in the program for two years, but he has quickly become one of the best steeplechase coaches in the nation. Medrano has produced two All-Americans in Jakob Abrahamsen and Jamaine Coleman as well as Samuel Abascal, an 8:49 steeplechaser in his own right. In fact, even before he got to EKU, Medrano gave IUPUI a three-time school record holder who owned a personal best of 8:44 in the steeple (Robert Murphy).
Even if Medrano wasn't the right choice, there may have been other candidates with a history of success against stronger competition. What about Syracuse's Brien Bell before Fox left? Former Texas coach Brad Herbster? Why not switch it up and look at recruiting recent collegiate graduates with All-American credentials like Mason Ferlic, Jake Hurysz, or Ryan Walling? All of those options would have been a refreshing change to a program that is looking to reignite the prosperity of their 2013 cross country season.
Although EKU's selection for head coach wasn't who we expected, we have to admit that Cory Erdmann is an understandable choice. His father ran the same program for 39 years and there is literally no one more familiar with the Colonel distance runners than Cory (other than his dad). If Eastern Kentucky was looking for stability, they certainly got what they were looking for.
Eastern Washington (Sam Read, Montana State): B
One of the more underrated hires of the offseason has been Sam Read to Eastern Washington. Read was an assistant coach for Montana State during the 2017-2018 academic year after running for the Bobcats throughout his undergraduate eligibility.
Admittedly, inexperience as a coach is a concerning aspect that can't be overlooked. It's the major reason why he isn't graded higher. Still, this is a guy who has seen the development and progression of stud milers like Cristian Soratos and Diego Leon over the past few years. Montana State is a very underrated program and they have a strong history of coaching milers. Could Read bring that knowledge of milers over to EWU?
Eastern Washington is a program that desperately needs a spark. Last spring, they only had one man break 4:00 for 1500 meters (3:53) and another individual break 15:00 for 5,000 meters (14:54).
A change in leadership was necessary if the Eagles were going to make any progress as a program. The youth of Sam Read may be a refreshing addition to an Eastern Washington team that has the near insurmountable task of contending with the titans of the West region during cross country.
Virginia Tech (promoted Eric Johannigmeier): B-
The loss of head coach Ben Thomas this offseason was a huge hit to the Hokies. The program had just begun to enter the powerhouse tier when it came to track performances. Their incredible depth in the 800 and 1500 meters has made them one of the best and deepest mid-distance schools in the nation.
The Virginia Tech men (and women) were left to ask themselves some difficult questions as to who they want for their next head coach. Was Johannigmeier experienced enough to take the reins of the best mid-distance squad in the nation? Or would Director Dave Cianelli opt to look elsewhere?
The decision turned out to be the former. On July 26th, Virginia Tech announced that Johannigmeier would take over the program and be promoted to head coach (although it was first confirmed by TSR).
At first glance, Johannigmeier seems like an odd fit for the Blacksburg-based university. Thomas was a 17 year coaching veteran who had built the program towards steady success. On the other hand, Johannigmeier is still (relatively) young and untested as a coach. VT was his first assistant coaching job after he finished his eligibility at Illinois. Will he be able to maintain the same level of success that Thomas had?
If there is anyone who knows how to continue the performances we've seen from the Hokies so far, it has to be Johannigmeier. There wasn't any eligible coaching candidate who would have fit the mold of a superstar mid-distance coach who also had a similar level of experience to Ben Thomas.
Johannigmeier's promotion to head coach is clearly a long-term move. There is no doubt that Virginia Tech wants to keep him around for the foreseeable future. Although the move makes sense from an administrative standpoint, the pressure to produce results is still there. DMR national champs and mile All-Americans Neil Gourley, Patrick Joseph, and Vincent Ciattei have now left the program and UVA is still beating Virginia Tech when it comes to in-state recruiting.
Who knows? Maybe Johannigmeier will beat expectations and establish a new era of VT distance running. Yet, until we see the results, we'll have to settle with the B- ranking.