Friday, October 17, 2008

Catching up with Aptos coach Dan Gruber...

The following interview is with one of the most successful coaches in CCS, Aptos HS coach Dan Gruber. His boys' team is currently ranked 2nd overall in CCS while his girls are ranked 3rd. Over the years, Dan has had some of the best runners and teams in the state as you will see below. He is also one of two coaches (I believe along with Willow Glen coach Victor Santamaria) to have won CCS as a runner and coached a CCS champion(s) in cross country. Last year, the Aptos boys finished in 3rd place at state in Division III to claim their first podium plaque. With the majority of their team back (as well as most of the girls), Aptos will once again be one of the favorites to claim those elusive state meet berths and place highly at state.

1) How did you get started in the sport of running?
I ran in junior high school as a warm up for the high jump and was beating most of the other runners...then my freshman year I got talked into going out for cross country to get in shape for basketball...I was successful and made varsity as a freshman (we weren't very good) so I stuck with it. Besides, my older brother heard I was going to go out for football but at 5 foot 90 lbs he thought I would get killed and he threatened to beat me up if I played football...so cross country was the only thing left to do.

2) What high school did you attend and tell us a little about your achievements during hs and beyond?
I ran for Aptos High School. It opened up my freshman year. I ran cross country and track all four years, I was CCS champion back then and was selected to the all-Nor Cal XC team my Jr. and Sr. season (we didn't race after CCS back then, no Nor-Cal or State). I had a pretty good high school career and went on to San Jose State on scholarship and won the conference 5,000m and 10,000m in track in both 1976 and 1977 track seasons.

3) What lead you to teaching and coaching? What do you teach at Aptos?
I am not sure what led me to teaching but I started coaching basketball in 1979 and loved it. I found that coaching distance running back then was very frustrating because I couldn't quite get the laid back attitude of the Aptos kids into training. So I decided not to coach distance runners and stayed with basketball for several years. It took a while until I could mellow and coach the kids here. I did coach at Cabrillo College track for a couple years and helped Willie Harmatz at Los Gatos for a few years in the 80s. It wasn't until 1996 I started to coach a couple distance runners at Aptos High School. It started out as the coach asking me to help with a kid, Gary Passanisi (state track champion 3200m 1998), who had no one to run with and the coach wasn't sure how to train him. So I inherited him and another runner asked me to coach her (Anelise Smith, state track medalist in 1600m 1997 and 1998) and then the head track coach and AD asked me to take over the whole distance crew. I teach Modern World History and Advanced Placement European History, I used to teach Earth Science also when I met Gary Passanisi and gave him a D during his Freshman year.

4) At one point, you were a basketball coach as well winning a CCS title in girls' basketball in 1983. What are the biggest differences in coaching basketball players and runners?
I have coached basketball at Aptos High School and won our school's first CCS Team Championship. I also coached the men's team in the early 90s. The main difference is that in basketball everyone has to be on the same page, you are only as good as your weakest link. In running you coach the individual to their best then blend them with the other individuals and form a team. I coach each runner differently, in basketball I coach them all the same but talk to them differently. Basketball players have to do things uniformed and the same, runners can arrive at the same destination taking separate paths.

5) Who do you consider to be your coaching mentors?
Without a doubt the one who influenced me the most was my collegiate coach Dr. Don Riggs. He taught me the theory and the application of running, training, and racing. He passed many years back but I would like to think that a little part of him remains in my coaching. He did his Ph.D. work at the University of Oregon during the Prefontaine years.

6) What are your expectations for your kids during the summer?
My expectations for my kids during the summer are very modest. I don't expect the kids to do much. They are to run on their own as they see fit. I give a rough summer program but very few have ever stuck with it. Usually I would like them to start running about 20-30 per week during July and 40 miles per week in August. I don't baby sit them or even meet with them during the summer. This is why we are so bad during September. It can also be said that we may even underachieve during cross country but the motivated kids will run and the others I get in shape when we start school. I probably run the lowest key program in the state but the kids get tired of me over summer and don't want to see me during that time. But I make sure that they perform during the spring.

7) Historically your kids have run very well at the end of the season. What do you think are the factors that contribute to post-season success?
A lot of their late season success is that I keep them training consistently once they get into my hands. They perform well late because I don't worry about early success. I keep my focus on when and where they want to finish not where they want to be each week. It is consistency and patience that I teach. A coach can't let his or her ego get in the way of doing what is best for each runner.

8) What is the training area like around Aptos HS?
The training area around Aptos High School is unique. If we have to stay on campus we will run a 2.5 mile trail we call "Shady", good on hot days or rainy days. During cross country we stay on campus two days a week and run our course which is brutal -- hilly, sandy, dusty, no real good place to run an even pace. Three days a week we try to get over to the Forest and run there. It is for the most part free of cars and a good place to run a good even tempo. There was a time where the administration wouldn't let us drive off campus and we ran through the streets near the high school but that was a coaches nightmare, good roads with variety but kids and cars all over...not great for anything but organ donation possibilities.

9) Looking back at your time in Aptos, who are the runners that really stand out and a few of their accomplishments.
The runners that stand out are obviously guys like Gary Passinisi (state 3200m champ), Brett Gotcher (Footlocker Finalist, multi time state medalist, Stanford All-American), Jacob Evans (1:52, 4:10, Stanford All-American), Scott McConville (7th state 3200m, former UCSB school 1500m record holder), Rylan Hunt (4th state 1600m last season); girls Anelise Smith (state XC medalist and 2-time 1600m medalist, University of Texas All-American), Casey Nevitt (10:32 3200m, 6th state D1 XC, state 1600m finalist), Jessica Van Ausdale (state XC medalist, 3-time 1600m state qualifier), Marissa Ferrante (4:52 as soph. state finalist). I also had a kid who lost 54 pounds in a year and a half and improved from a 17 minute 3200m to 10:12, that was a satisfying moment as his coach.

10) Over the past few years, the times of so many athletes and teams have gone off the charts. What do you think are the causes of all this improvement?
I think there is somewhat of a Renaissance in American distance running and it is manifesting itself in the high schools first. There has been a real effort to improve the coaching in the USA and it is working. There are far better coaches now than when I ran. For example, in high school I ran the same workouts for all of my last three years: Monday-- 5 X 400 @ 75; Tuesday -- 8 X 200 @ 35; Wednesday -- 2 mile jog; Thursday -- dual meet; Friday -- off; Saturday-- invitational; Sunday -- off. And I ran what is the equivalent of a 4:13 1600m off that both my Junior and Senior years. That is not coaching that could develop an athlete.

11) If you could give some free advice to new coaches (veteran coaches as well), what would that be?
My advice is to be patient and define your goals and stick to them. Also, don't train every athlete the same, whether it is mileage, speed, racing schedule, or distance. And listen to the runners, you need to know when to let up and when to work. Also, no matter who shows up coach them. My third man this year ran a 9:40 3200m (league champion) and 4:24 1600m last year as a sophomore. The first two weeks he showed up, three weeks into the cross country season, he ran in Levi's and skater shoes. He was so bad I had to teach him how to skip before I could even hope for him to run like anything except a Neanderthal. He is now a pretty tough runner as a Junior, he's still a goofball but he can race tough.

12) Anything else you would like to add.Aptos is one of the most low key programs in the state (sometimes people aren't even sure we are at the meets) and to be truthful it has been the athletes who have given the program exposure. I just make sure that the kids get entered into the meets and the entry fees are paid and we show up on time.

Thank you very much for your time Dan! AJC

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gruber for everything you do for us, we love you so much!!!