Thursday, January 17, 2013

Catching up with UC Davis coach, Drew Wartenburg

Today we chat with the director of Track and Field and Cross Country at UC Davis, Drew Wartenburg.  He got his start in coaching at the Division V level at Chadwick School in Southern California.  He then proceeded to the state of Washington to coach, teach and administrate at Charles Wright Academy before his next stop at Oregon State University.  Drew has been at UC Davis for the past four and a half years leading the Aggies to the success you will read about below.  Former Aggie and current UC Davis assistant coach Kim Conley, qualified for the 2012 Olympic team in dramatic fashion under Drew's guidance.

1)  What was your athletic experience in your youth?  Sports?  Highlights?
I spent every waking minute outdoors when I was young, mostly playing one sport or another. My early 'running,' in kindergarten and first grade, involved racing older kids from my neighborhood to school, and throughout my formative years I played whatever sport that was in season, something that has essentially disappeared during our current age of specialization. There is no running background in my family, and I primarily split my time between soccer, basketball and baseball.
My 'dark secret' is that I played soccer at the HS, club and collegiate level, and I sometimes wonder what might have been if I had been pursued by a zealous distance coach while in HS. I did run my first 10k when I was 12 years old. I finished second in my age group after the guy that I was running with told me that he was older than he actually was and then beat me. I won a pair of running shoes for second place but didn't find the love of distance running at that point.

2)  Who were the coaches that had a big impact on you?  What did you learn from them that you use to this day?
The best models that I have had athletically and professionally truly embody the model of coach as teacher. I grew up as a collegiate faculty brat and enjoyed the good fortune of having coaches as family friends from my earliest memories. My freshman baseball coach in HS also taught history, and I can still remember some of the life lessons he tried to pass along long after all of his baseball advice has been lost. My HS soccer coach, Ron Celestin, was also one of the kindest, classiest and most competitive people I have competed for. The best coaches I have worked with have always, in some way, stressed the need to be good both in and away from the competitive environment, and I think the way in which the running lifestyle and community fosters that relationship better than other disciplines has a lot to do with why I ended up at home in this sport.

3)  What led you into teaching and coaching?
Teaching and coaching was never a lifetime goal, but like many seemingly foregone conclusions, I ended up in this line of work largely without realizing exactly what the end objective was. Having grown up within educational settings, the fit of a teaching atmosphere seemed natural, but it wasn't until I had spent a year and a half working in a homeless and runaway shelter in Mexico that I consciously decided to pursue a career in education. Despite my lack of formal preparation I was fortunate to land a job teaching Spanish at Chadwick School, in Palos Verdes, following my time in Mexico.

4)  What was your first coaching experience and what did you learn from that experience?  Highlights?
Between college and departing for Mexico, I was able to work alongside my old HS soccer coach for one season as the JV coach. Much of what I thought of as highlights at the time would probably seem pretty embarrassing now, as I know that at that young age I was as concerned about making sure I looked like I knew what I was doing rather than actually knowing what I was doing. My guess is that I probably gave a little too much grief to referees and athletes instead of making sure I was fully in command of my coaching plan.
At Chadwick, I coached in both the cross country and soccer programs since seasons did not conflict. I feel lucky to have been a part of two girls' state titles in cross and a CIF title in boys' soccer while there.

5)  What was your next coaching experience?  How did you end up in another state?  Highlights?
After deciding that living at the beach in SoCal wasn't something that I could afford to do forever, but sure that the West Coast was the place to be, my sights fell on the Pacific Northwest. A fairly focused search yielded an opportunity to teach and coach in Tacoma, WA, at Charles Wright Academy. Like Chadwick, CWA offered another small, independent school environment, and part of the challenge there involved resurrecting a cross country program that was all but extinct.
Results the first year in both cross country and on the track were mixed, but I had an excellent and supportive AD that pushed me in my role at the helm of both programs. Washington is truly a running hotbed, and the level of competitive opportunity lent itself to the ability to build some running tradition there. On both the men's and women's sides we were fortunate to have numerous individual cross and track title winners, and runners like Tom Wyatt, Alex Crabill and LIzzie Jewson really helped put our small program on the map beyond the state level at The WA/OR Border Clash, Foot Locker, Arcadia, etc.

6)  Your next coaching stint was at the college level at Oregon State.  What were your responsibilities there?
After 13 years of secondary school teaching, coaching and administration, I took a leap of faith and resigned without a clear idea of where I would land in the coaching world. Going in, I realized that the move to the collegiate ranks was going to require some heavy sacrifice up front, but it took until early September 2007 for me to secure a spot on staff as an assistant coach, without pay, at Oregon State. I had driven down to Corvallis to meet with Kelly Sullivan, and although I think he was as unsure as I about the journey that I was embarking on, he told me that if I wanted he would put me to work as many hours a week as I wanted. As an assistant coach, I had to make sure that my personal coaching philosophy and agenda were completely shelved while making sure that I still carried Kelly's message forward in my own manner. Kelly's personality and style allowed me great latitude and wide berth to be a hands on and completely involved member of the staff, including all coaching and recruiting duties.

7)  What did you learn during your time at Oregon State?  Highlights?
Aside from using my year at OSU as a chance to put every aspect of someone's training plan under the lens, comparing it to my own ideas in the process, I was able to get up to speed on the unfathomable amount of work that occurs 'off the track' at the collegiate level. It is hard to express the burden that the required paper trail and time investment that good recruiting entail, and experiencing those elements firsthand were true eye openers.
In the fall, hosting the PAC-10 conference cross country meet and a related alumni reunion was a highlight, and throughout the course of that year I got to see the very early wheels go into motion as the process to raise funds and plan the new track facility got underway. 2008 was also an Olympic Trials year, and although I was consumed with the search for a paying job at the time, the opportunity to go to Eugene every day with Kelly was a like earning extra credit in my year-long coaching class.

8)  How did you end up at UC Davis?  How was the transition to leading your own college program?
The coaching world is a small one, and after learning of the opening at Davis, Kelly's previous relationship with Dee and Jon (Vochatzer) provided the foot in the door as their search process unfolded. After spending the early part of the summer waiting for something to emerge, I remained hopeful that the buzz of the Olympic year would create some job movement, and it was actually in Eugene during the Trials that I was able to meet Coach Dee and Coach V for an informal lunch. From there, a campus visit and formal interview followed, and although it felt as though it took an eternity, on July 20, with most of my belongings already packed in boxes, I accepted an offer to join the Aggie staff.
It was difficult to comprehend the good fortune I had to land a job in a program like this one, where transition and growth put everything right on the cusp of a very exciting future. While the prospect of being handed the reins of both the cross and distance track groups was daunting in its magnitude, it also represented the fruition of exactly what I sought some 15 months earlier when I decided to pursue a college position.

9)  What have been some of your highlights during your tenure at UC Davis?
My four and half years here at Davis have provided quite a whirlwind of experiences in many ways. The face of the program is drastically different than it was when I arrived in ways that I certainly did not foresee, and I can honestly say that not a year has gone by without it's share of challenges to keep me on my toes. There are a number of individual success stories that provide true highlights for me as a coach along for the ride, but in our program we truly seek team success, and that makes the men's 2010 cross country title and the 2011 and 2012 women's cross and track titles truly special moments. Our staff invests a lot of time and energy in preparing each individual in order to create full, synergistic team success, and seeing a group achieve at a high level proves extremely satisfying.

10)  Tell us a little about Kim Conley and her amazing ride to qualifying for the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 5000m.
I have never met a runner that truly loves to both train and compete as much as Kim does. Her road to London began somewhere in Santa Rosa, long before I came on the scene, although at some point in the year leading up to the Games I think the possibility became a more conscious conversation point and objective. When Kim first decided to base herself here in the Davis area for her post-collegiate career, we charted a plan that involved working on both her strengths and weaknesses during a three-year period in order to maximize the odds of being in contention at the Trials.
It would be irresponsible to say that talent doesn't play a large role in the success of an athlete at the professional level, but belief, consistency and focused efforts will also carry talent a long way, and those crucial elements all have a lot to do with Kim's evolution as an athlete. Kim's involvement on the coaching side of things here at Davis has also granted her some very good insight into training theory and design, and that allows us to work collaboratively on some aspects of the training plan.
Some days it's still hard to believe how everything fell into place last summer, but at the same time we are already a long way down the road for exciting opportunities on the schedule for 2013 and beyond.

11)  During your coaching career, who have been your most influential coaching mentors?
There is no way to put into words the profound debt I owe to Kelly Sullivan. In the college coaching world Kelly does have something of a reputation for being a 'coachmaker' and putting people on the path to jobs, and regardless of how much stock one wants to put in those accounts, Kelly stands unparalleled as an outstanding mentor in coaching, educating and caring for athletes. The time I spent on staff with Kelly made it difficult to leave Oregon State and difficult to not return when that opportunity arose, but Kelly also told me numerous times that the ultimate goal as a coach is to be your own boss and operate as the head of a program. Kelly's diverse and deep roots at the collegiate coaching level give him a wealth of perspective and experience that I, and numerous other coaches, still call upon when seeking guidance. Using someone as a lasting and trusted confidant may be the the highest compliment that anyone can pay a mentor, and as many times as I ever line a team or runner up against Kelly I would still show him every card I have in my hand before making a play.

12)  What are the training and coaching differences between coaching high school and college distance runners?
To a great degree, running is running at any level, but the relationships between a coach and athlete take on some distinct forms across different age groups, and a lot of that has to do with the maturity level of the athlete him/herself. As a longtime HS teacher and coach I feared losing the personal connection that I had with athletes that I saw every day in the classroom and hallways before practice, knowing that such contact was an important component of the coaching role at that level. At the college level, athletes have just as many needs, and arguably more personal pressures, with the added component of living and functioning independently as young adults. My approach always presupposes 50% of the equation coming from my end with the other 50% resting squarely on the athlete's shoulders. That may mean greater or lesser demands on my coaching input, depending on the athlete's commitment level, but there always has to be balance.
I still believe firmly in tailoring expectation and work levels to the individual, and it's unavoidable that the demands at the college level exceed those that I would have held for any HS runners. Athletes at any level also have to remember that, at the end of the day, they do this not for a coach, parent, friend, etc., but for themselves. We all runners that found their way to running for one of those external impulses, but the ones that commit to running and succeed over time are those that find the intrinsic motivation and love for the craft.

13)  As a former high school coach now coaching college, what is your advice for a current HS distance coach?
My time as a HS coach did a great deal to set me up for any success that I will have during my career, for those years are where I truly learned how to coach and develop athletes. Regardless of what level you coach, you have to have an articulated philosophy; constantly assess and grow; and set goals to exhaustively pursue every day, season and year.
One of my biggest regrets now is the lack of time and open exchange necessary to learn from fellow coaches. Once you stop learning and developing as a coach you have fallen behind and are failing to hold up your end of the load where athletes and teams are concerned. Seek out people to challenge the way you think, plan and execute the way you run your program. Establish a vision, chart the plan to get there and move forward undeterred. Nothing good ever happens by accident, and if we wait for success to find us most of us grow bitter or tired long before capturing lightning in a bottle.

14)  What is your advice for high school runners who have aspirations of running in college?  What training advice do you have for them that will best prepare them for college running? 
There is a program for every HS athlete that wants to pursue running at the college level. The hard part is finding the program and coach that fit. Without overstating our own importance, I would say that most HS runners fail to realize the importance that a coach's influence is going to have on the 4-5 years that they spend in the collegiate setting. It's hard to paint any broad brush training advice, since I believe strongly that an athlete should buy completely into whatever the plan in place may be in his/her current situation. Consistent performance and progression are both very important, and it is also crucial to remember that results in this sport do not come easy. 'College running' is about a lot more than running, and that fact is confirmed for me every June by frosh as they their first year here. Almost everyone underestimates the summer between senior year of HS and college report date. Don't be that guy or gal. Put in your summer miles and arrive with something to prove.

15)  Anything else you would like to add.
Thanks for the opportunity to share some of what I have learned along the way. Hopeful people can pull one or two pearls of wisdom from the preceding jumble of thoughts. Enjoy a great upcoming season on and off the track.

Thank you again for your time.  Best of luck to all your athletes in 2013 and beyond.

Thank you very much for your time Drew!  AJC

11 comments:

NCSfanboy said...

would love to hear an interview with a colligate athlete from Norcal

Albert Caruana said...

Like?

Anonymous said...

maybe like a follow up with someone you already did, whose had a successful transition. or maybe even someone new whose been doing well.

Anonymous said...

Drew is one of the best coaches in the country...great interview!

Anonymous said...

How about Sarah "Stump" Sumpter? Her story is amazing! She is a great athlete and has fought back from cancer to be one of the top ditance performers in the Big West. She's also been honored as a top scholar athlete. Coach Wartenburg has quite a few Norcal athletes.

Anonymous said...

Another great option may be Jacque Taylor. She left North Carolina with health/injury problems and is now on the Sac. State roster. How is she doing? Would be great to hear from her as well. She was a great one in high school then boom, we never hear about her
again.

Anonymous said...

Jacque Taylor? Went to NC and had health problems returned home and is now on the Sac St. Roster. She was a great high school runner and it seems may be fighting to resume her running career. Another great story I think.

Anonymous said...

Another North Bay athlete which you have interviewed in the past is Isabel Andrade who is now the #1runner for Nebraska. It might be nice to hear from her.

Anonymous said...

Would love to hear from Carrie Verdon after a year at Colorado or Parker Deuel at Alabama. Luis Luna at American River; Nick Ratto at UC Davis... the possibilites are great and their stories are probably very entertaining stuff.

I hear they have to eat a lot of salad!

Anonymous said...

luna was faster in HS

Anonymous said...

You Should do a Interview of University of San Fransisco Coach! She Has turned that Program around and Now looks like Program where a Good Runner would like to go and compete at a High Level and also get a Great education!