Interview With Nebraska Track and Field Coach

Interview With Nebraska Track and Field Coach

Aug 04, 2016 / By : / Category : Interview, NCAA

Gary Pepin

Welcome to Interview #61.

I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Coach of the University of Nebraska, Gary Pepin.

The all-time winningest track and field coach in the history of the Big 12 and the former Big Eight Conference, Nebraska Head Coach Gary Pepin will enter his 37th season as the head coach of the Nebraska men’s and women’s track and field teams in 2017, making him the longest tenured active coach in Cornhusker athletics and Big Ten track and field head coach.

Since 2000, Pepin’s squads have combined to win four Big Ten team titles, 19 Big 12 team titles, 34 individual Big Ten event titles, 143 individual Big 12 titles, 21 individual NCAA titles and have finished in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships 13 times.

Coach Pepin’s full bio is at the end of the interview.

Read on. This interview is full of priceless information!

What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen?  What are the important steps for an athlete to get noticed by you? 

A student athlete that has interest in a particular school should have his or her coach contact that school.  If the coach won’t help the athlete and/or their parents should contact the school. Times, heights, and distances that a recruit has achieved are important. 

Academics, previous training program, multi-sports, history of injuries are all a part of the evaluation process. Were the parent’s athletes, character, motivation and self-discipline also figure into the evaluation of the recruit as does performance at championship competitions.

A lot of recruits get confused by which coach is recruiting them and what that means? Can you talk about roles and interactions recruits can expect from assistants and the head coach during the recruiting process?

Schools use a variety of methods in recruiting.  Sometimes the assistant coaches play a major role in the recruiting process as the head coach is handling many of the business and administrative related items for the program.  Sometimes the head coach is very involved, sometimes maybe not at all.  The philosophy of the head coach would determine the roles that the staff would each play in the recruiting process.

Track and field recruiting is all about recorded data, right? Or is there more to it?

Recorded data is definitely important.  However, coaching, experience, location, weather, health, length of season, level of competition, and facilities all play a role as well. 

What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the college recruiting process? 

Some mistakes that are made by prospective student athletes are not choosing a school for academic reasons first, choosing a school based on who will give them the biggest scholarship, selecting a school for a specific major and then the athletes changes their major, not researching all aspects of the school such as graduation rates, post-graduation job opportunities, improvement of the athletes once they entered the program and how the school will help develop the student athlete to be successful in life after athletics.

Should prospective athletes bring up scholarships with coaches or wait on the coach to initiate that discussion?

I would suggest discussing scholarship opportunities right from the beginning.  This way you may eliminate wasting time and energy if this is a major issue in selecting a school.

For a Division 1 school, how and when are scholarships offered? How much time do athletes typically have to respond?

Written scholarships in Division 1 schools can only be offered starting on the National Letter of Intent (NLI) signing day, this year it will be November 9, 2016. 

A written letter can be sent to the recruit beginning August 1, 2016 detailing what the scholarship offer will be when it is sent out on NLI signing day.  Student Athletes are typically at the mercy of the school in determining the time frame they have to respond to the offer.  This time frame ranges widely.

What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?

Parents can be, and hopefully are very involved in the recruiting process.  They should be like a second set of eyes and ears.  At Nebraska we believe it is very important for parents to accompany their son or daughter on their recruiting visit if at all possible. 

What are some things that would keep you from recruiting an athlete?

Poor grades, injuries, bad recommendations, criminal record, character flaws, could lower or end our interest in a recruit. 

If a recruit doesn’t have or show a strong interest in Nebraska that could end our interest in the recruit. 

What are the differences between competing on the track at the high school or club level and the college level? What do incoming freshmen need to be prepared for?

One of the adjustments that many high school athletes have when they go to college is adjusting to year round track and field.  Also, the level of competition becomes much stiffer and training can be more intense and competitive.

Now I want to turn the interview a bit more personal. It is not often prospective college athletes and their parents have the opportunity to hear the wisdom of a coach who has been so long in the trenches and so successful.

It has been a privilege to work with many young men and women and to watch them grow into successful adult citizens.  I hope I have been able Gary Pepinto help them improve and reach toward their goals as athletes and students.  Wins are a reflection of recruiting and coaching but relatively quickly forgotten.  Impacting young people’s lives is much more lasting and rewarding.

You have had a very successful NCAA Division 1 coaching career. You are the all-time winningest track and field coach in the Big 12 (formerly Big 8) and now continue that success as Nebraska has jumped to the Big 10.

There are incredible young men and women in your track and field program now. There are also 30 plus years of other amazing men and women who have trained under your guidance.

I have been coaching and teaching since 1966.  I have had the opportunity to coach the children of former athletes I once coached.  I try to have a relationship of care and respect for the athletes on our team, with a large team of about 140 athletes naturally I get to know some much better than others.  I’m always trying to keep up with the former athletes I have coached or had on our teams.  It is always great to hear from former athletes and/or their families.

Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?

Good things happen to good people.  Keep working hard and success will come with hard work. Don’t get discouraged, the sun will still come up tomorrow.

Can you share a story or two about athletes who have gone through your program that have been impacted by their time in the track program?

One of the most dedicated, best athletes I ever coached was Merlene Ottey.  She was the first to practice, the last to leave and always gave 100% in practice.  From humble beginnings she became one of the world’s best sprinters and a successful business woman.  Great athletic talent, but in addition Merlene possessed the desire, dedication and work ethic to become one of the all-time great sprinters. 

*Merlene Ottey is the only track and field athlete to compete in 7 Olympics. In those she captured 9 medals.

*Read this fascinating article, when a 52 year old Ottey was preparing for World Championships.

Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or track and field athletes in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?

One of the great things about track and field is that as one continues their academic goals beyond high school, there is a level of competition for most everyone.  As a student athlete try to decide at what level both academically and athletically you believe you can be successful be it junior college, Division I, II, III or NAIA. 

Next, take a look An Athletes Simple Start to a College Search.


Please take a moment to share it on social media, by clicking on the “sharing is caring” buttons below Coach Pepin’s profile.



Profile:Gary Pepin

  • Three Women’s Indoor National Championships (1982, 1983, 1984)
  • Four Big Ten/67 Big Eight/Big 12 Conference Titles in 36 Seasons
  • Guided NU to 23 of its 29 Top-Five NCAA Team Finishes
  • 2008 USTFCCCA Hall of Fame Inductee
  • USTCA National Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year (1994) 
  • Indoor Midwest Region Women’s Coach of the Year (’05, ’10, ’11) 
  • Indoor Midwest Region Men’s Coach of the Year (’05, ’15)
  • Outdoor Midwest Region Men’s Coach of the Year (’05, ’09, ’10, ’13, ’16)
  • Big Ten Women’s Indoor Coach of the Year (’12)
  • Big Ten Men’s Outdoor Coach of the Year (’13, ’16)
  • Big Ten Men’s Indoor Coach of the Year (’15, ’16)
  • Big 12 Women’s Indoor Coach of the Year (’97, ’98, ’00, ’01, ’04, ’11)
  • Big 12 Women’s Outdoor Coach of the Year (’00, ’05)
  • Big 12 Men’s Indoor Coach of the Year (’97, ’98, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’07)
  • Big 12 Men’s Outdoor Coach of the Year (’98, ’00, ’02, ’04, ’09, ’10)
  • District 5 Coach of the Year (’95, ’96)
  • 42 Women’s National Champions
  • 15 Men’s National Champions
  • 317 Women’s All-Americans
  • 182 Men’s All-Americans
  • 348 Women’s Conference Champions
  • 194 Men’s Conference Champions
  • 50 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans

The all-time winningest track and field coach in the history of the Big 12 and the former Big Eight Conference, Nebraska Head Coach Gary Pepin will enter his 37th season as the head coach of the Nebraska men’s and women’s track and field teams in 2017, making him the longest tenured active coach in Cornhusker athletics and Big Ten track and field head coach.

Since 2000, Pepin’s squads have combined to win four Big Ten team titles, 19 Big 12 team titles, 34 individual Big Ten event titles, 143 individual Big 12 titles, 21 individual NCAA titles and have finished in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships 13 times.

Overall, Pepin’s teams have dominated the indoor conference championships through the years, winning 21 of the last 32 women’s titles, while the Husker men have won 19 of the last 29 meets, including back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, which marked Pepin’s 71st career conference team title. Nebraska has also fared well at the outdoor conference championships, winning 17 of the last 32 outdoor conference meets on the women’s side, and taking 10 of the last 20 men’s titles, including in 2016 when the men finished off the indoor-outdoor Big Ten sweep.

Pepin’s remarkable success has not gone unnoticed, as he was inducted into the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2016, Pepin was named the Midwest Region Outdoor Coach of the Year on the men’s side for the fifth time in his career and 10th overall region coach of the year honor. He was also the Big Ten Indoor and Outdoor Coach of the Year, his 27th career conference coach-of-the-year award. Pepin either won or shared Big 12 Conference Coach-of-the-Year honors a remarkable 22 times. Pepin was also honored as the 1995 National Indoor Track Coach of the Year by the USTCA, and earned NCAA District 5 Women’s Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1996.

Only the fourth coach to guide the NU men’s program since World War I, Pepin has maintained the program’s stability after replacing the late Frank Sevigne in 1984. Pepin’s men’s program has matched the women’s success, capturing 17 indoor and 12 outdoor conference titles during his 35-year tenure. The 2010 outdoor men’s title marked the third time in his career that he has won back-to-back men’s outdoor titles, including 1989-90, 1995-96 and 2009-10. 

The Husker men ran away with the 2015 Big Ten Indoor title. Pepin’s 57th career individual NCAA national champion came in 2016.

The Husker men made history in 2013 as Pepin guided NU in a dominating win at the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships. The Huskers recorded 10 conference titles, eight first-team All-America honors and 10 second-team All-America accolades in 2013.

Pepin guided the Husker women to the 2012 Big Ten Indoor Conference team title. The Huskers recorded 11 conference titles in 2012 and 11 first-team All-America honors.

Pepin’s Huskers own a reputation of excellence at the national level as well. His women’s teams won three straight national indoor titles (1982-83-84), and have placed in the top 10 at 17 of the last 32 NCAA Indoor Championships.

Outdoors at the NCAA Championships, the Husker women have finished in the top 10 in 16 of the last 31 meets, highlighted by third-place finishes in 1983, 1991, 1992 and 2004. The top-three finish in 2004 produced two national champions and 58 points for NU’s highest score since 1984. The Nebraska men have also made noise at the outdoor national meet, earning 14 top-20 finishes during Pepin’s tenure.

Entering the 2016 season, the Husker men have won 14 consecutive dual/tri/quad meets dating back to 2001, the longest streak in the NCAA per In that span, the Huskers have defeated 35 opponents. The Husker men were 5-0 in 2015 and ranked eighth, while the women were 5-0 and ranked 12th by Track & Field News.

Pepin has coached women who have earned 317 All-America awards and 18 indoor and 24 outdoor individual national championships. His male athletes have won 184 All-America certificates since 1984, nine indoor (including an NCAA relay title) and six outdoor national championships. Among the elite athletes Pepin has coached at Nebraska are eight-time Olympic medalist, world champion and world-record holder Merlene Ottey; four-time NCAA champion Rhonda Blanford; Angela Thacker, who missed a bronze medal in the long jump by one-quarter inch at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles; 1989 NCAA outdoor triple jump champion Renita Robinson; 1991 NCAA outdoor 400-meter dash champion and Olympic bronze medalist Ximena Restrepo; three-time NCAA triple jump champion Ineta Radevica; two-time NCAA long jump champion Arturs Abolins; indoor high jump national champion, school indoor and outdoor record holder and 2008 Olympian, Dusty Jonas; 2009 indoor national champion and Big 12 indoor and outdoor long jump champion Nicholas Gordon, who also represented Jamaica at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Germany; nine-time conference champion Mara Griva and most recently Miles Ukaoma, who won his first national title in 2014 in the 400-meter hurdles.

Before coaching at Nebraska, Pepin served as the women’s head coach at Kansas in 1976. Pepin also spent nine seasons at Kansas as an assistant to Bob Timmons. Before joining the Jayhawk program, he coached in the prep ranks in Missouri.

A native of Pittsburg, Kan., Pepin graduated from Pittsburg High School and Pittsburg State University. He received his master’s degree from Kansas in 1974. He is married to the former Jean Ann Frank of Pittsburg, and they have three daughters, Heidi, Lisa and Michelle, and five grandchildren, Carter, Blue, Landon, Millie and Scout.


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