*Note: We have opted to leave Notre Dame's Matt Sparks out of our article. His promotion to Director maintains the same control over the same distance groups.*
These grades are based on experience, ability to recruit, roster needs / fit, and event speciality. These grades are NOT based on coaching ability or coaching methods. However, previous success with past programs will be considered.
Oregon (Ben Thomas, Virginia Tech): B+
Although the Powell's moving to Washington was the biggest hire of the summer, the coaching move with the greatest importance had to be Ben Thomas to Oregon.
The politics of the decision made sense. Thomas became one of the most revered coaches in the nation after the Hokies secured three All-Americans in the mile following their national title win in the DMR. His 800 and 1500 speciality was new, refreshing, and unique when you compared him to Powell who focused more on the 1500 and 5000.
Thomas' mid-distance accomplishments should not be undermined, especially for a program that is lacking some much needed speed. Oregon's fastest 800 runner during the winter was Jaxson Hoey who ran a season best of 1:52. The half-milers clearly need to improve and this coach looks like he can remedy that issue.
Of course, that's not to say that he can't coach the longer distances. Thomas Curtin was one of the few individuals to EVER beat Edward Cheserek in a head-to-head matchup after he won the 2015 Pre-Nats title. Two years later, teammate Peter Seufer placed runner-up in that same meet.
Coach Thomas brings a lot to the table and it's hard to dislike Oregon's decision to bring him onto the staff. I am cautious as to how the Ducks will perform in the longer distances, specifically in cross country. Thomas has never had a distance group of this talent level before. How will he handle the variety of lineup combinations?
We also have to consider if Thomas will be able to retain any individuals who are thinking about transferring out of the program now that Powell is gone. Oregon has already lost Brodey Hasty, could they lose someone else?
These are minor things to consider, but on a legendary team like Oregon, every performance is under a microscope.
Oregon (Helen Lehman-Winters, San Francisco): A
I don't think some people realize how important of a hire this was. Lehman-Winters, the former San Francisco head coach, has been one of the best recruiters and developers of talent in the entire NCAA. Her women's team was one of the best programs in the western United States while the men had a variety of underrated stars such as Alex Short, Jack Rowe, Ben Alcock, and Jacob Allen.
There is no denying that Lehman-Winter's is a great coach, but it's her recruiting that really stands out. She has great connections to the UK. It is, afterall, where she is able to find most of her talent. Last summer, the Ducks recruited James West, a UK native who has been one of the most exciting (and under appreciated) roster additions in recent history. His personal bests rank among some of the best to ever wear an Oregon singlet.
Between Lehman-Winter's recruiting network in the UK and the success of James West, it's very possible that you could see more English men and women travel to Eugene in order to advance their running careers. With the former SFU coach now in an associate coaching position, she can dedicate more time to finding top talent while also assisting Ben Thomas in training plans. She has a great resume in the longer distances which should perfectly balance Thomas' mid-distance speciality.
Virginia (Jason Dunn, promotion): C+
I'll admit, I thought (re)hiring Dunn was a bit odd. For those who aren't familiar with his background, Dunn was actually the head coach for the Cavaliers from 2004 to 2008. During his tenure, Dunn helped UVA qualify for their first-ever Cross Country National Championship in 2005 and did the same in 2007.
Dunn later left Charlottesville to pursue coaching stints at Stanford, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. None of positions lasted longer than four years. In fact, his role at Kentucky only lasted for one year. He would later return to Virginia in 2016. However, instead of coaching, Dunn assumed the role as Director of Operations.
Does anyone else think it's odd that he moved around so much? In eight years, he moved four times to four different places. I hesitate to speculate on the matter, but you have to ask why he couldn't find a home for a longer period of time. More so, why did he take a position in operations instead of coaching?
I struggle to believe that Dunn isn't a good coach. He is a big reason why Virginia is considered one of the best distance programs in the ACC. To go from never qualifying for Nationals to two team qualifiers in three years shows that he can rally the troops and have an impact on this squad.
Still, I'm cautious about the inconsistent coaching stops around the nation. Isn't UVA looking for a long-term solution with Pete Watson now out of the program? The past decade hasn't exactly been an encouraging sign of that trait.
Regardless of his scattered trips around the nation, Dunn has clearly established a legacy within the Cavalier program. He is also credited for guiding the development of many Stanford greats during his time as an assistant coach in Palo Alto. There are very few coaches around the nation who can match the experience and veteran leadership of UVA's newest leader. We may not be considering that aspect of his career enough in our final grade.
UNC (Andrea Grove-McDonough, Iowa State) (reportedly): B
It has yet to be confirmed by UNC, so this may be a bit premature. However, all signs points to Andrea Grove-McDonough leaving Iowa State and establishing roots in Chapel Hill.
The hiring decision by UNC is an interesting one that very few distance running fans expected. She had only coached women and was beginning to establish a great streak of strong performers over the past few years. Although Grove-McDonough is an experienced coach, she hasn't had the opportunity to have complete control of a program like this before.
Despite these cautionary characteristics, I really like UNC's choice for their new coach. She was a great recruiter on the women's side, developed athletes for nearly all distance events, and created a program that could contend at the national level.
Grove-McDonough will be tasked with the job of revamping a UNC program that has slowly been on a decline (in the distance events) over the past few years. Having the former women's coach of Iowa State may be a refreshing kickstart for the Tar Heels who have been relatively stagnant as of late (at least compared to their ACC counterparts).
She still has a lot to prove, but if McDonough can create momentum and generate some confidence within this squad, it will be tough to discount her coaching abilities.