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.
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 to 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.
*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.
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- 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