Welcome to Interview #63.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Coach of Manhattan College, Dan Mecca.
Coach Dan Mecca has been the head coach of the track & field program for 24 years (and 31st season overall) at Manhattan College. Coach Mecca is the longest tenured head coach at Manhattan and only the sixth head coach in the track & field program’s 100-year history.
During his career, Mecca has led the Jaspers to 61 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championships, 39 Metropolitan Championships and two IC4A Championships. He has coached several athletes to the NCAA Championships, including five NCAA National Champions.
Coach Mecca’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?
The best way to get our attention is to either email or send a short note of interest. They can always fill in a questionnaire on our track page at www.gojaspers.com. We normally look for essential information like events, results (not places), grades and area of interest to major in college.
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?
At Manhattan College the initial response would normally come from me as the Head Coach. But I would then have our event area coaches contact the athlete, Joe Ryan (our Associate Head Coach for Sprints) and Kerri Gallagher (our Head Cross-Country/Distance Coach) would follow through on the recruiting process and I would follow up on all Field and Multi-Event athletes
Track and field recruiting is all about recorded data, right? Or is there more to it?
We look for three main criteria:
- The results (indicating the type of athlete). This would be the recorded data.
- Where they are getting their best results i.e. state, federation and national meets (an indication of what type of competitor they are).
- Most important, talking to the athlete and seeing what type of person they are.
What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the college recruiting process?
One of the most common is telling us their places rather than actual results. Knowing they won a meet or they are all conference doesn’t really tell the college coach much. Track results are very specific. It is better to see they ran 10.99 than hear they won the 100 at the conference meet.
Should prospective athletes bring up scholarships with coaches or wait on the coach to initiate that discussion?
I wouldn’t bring up scholarships in the initial discussion, but I understand it is important to families. Having my own children graduate from Manhattan College I understand the economics of the school. Usually I or our other coaches would bring up potential scholarship opportunities if the athlete fits our criteria. They can ask after the third or fourth call and we are very up front where they would stand in offering any type of athletic aid.
For a Division 1 school, how and when are scholarships offered? How much time do athletes typically have to respond?
The first thing we do is to try to fill specific event needs (distance, sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws).
We can offer a scholarship in November of their senior year or in the spring (usually April). If we make an offer of a National Letter of Intent, the NCAA rule is 7 days from the date of the letter. If they do not respond the offer is no longer viable.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
Exceptionally important. The reality is the parents pay the bills. Any offer we make, I talk to the family not just the athlete. It has to be the right fit for the student-athlete and their family. If school is not affordable for the family it puts a burden on them that will not result well for the athlete, family, team or school.
What are some things that would keep you from recruiting an athlete?
If they are not the right individual for Manhattan College. Someone who is interested more in training & competing than graduating (we are a strong academic Christian Brother institution). Or others that may not be as serious about doing well in both (the party goer will not fit here).
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?
The intensity and level of training on a year round basis is the first big difference. A number of athletes come out of high school as the top athlete in their program. Here they will find themselves with 20 other top athletes from their programs. They will get pushed much harder in training and competition. They need to be prepared both mentally and physically. Most thrive on this rivalry.
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.
You have had a very successful NCAA Division 1 coaching career, 30 years at Manhattan College.
Looking back at your career so far, is it the wins you remember or something else?
You always remember the wins, but it is the few losses that I have learned from more so. Things I could have done better as a coach in preparing my team.
The best part of my career are the lifelong relationships I’ve created with my athletes. I stay in touch with athletes from the first HS team I coached (St. Mary’s in Rutherford, NJ over 40 years ago), to coaching children of my former athletes here. An athlete I coached to the 1992 Olympics & his son an All American for me at Manhattan.
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. What is the nature of your relationships with your current athletes?
I always tell them I have 3 children home and 80 at school. I look on my role here not only as their coach, but hopefully a mentor. Trying to lead them into the adult world and on to a long successful career post college.
How does the relationship change over their lives as they move onto careers and families of their own?
I find I have gotten even closer to them as individuals as they move on in their careers and families. From going to their weddings and even a few of them their children’s baptisms.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
Something I learned from my father,
“Whatever you do in life, give your best effort – whether family or work – remember it is yours!”
One other, “you mock what you are to become” – in other words if you have nothing good to say, say nothing.
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?
Several have met their spouses in our program. A number of my athletes have gone into coaching, citing their experience here with me and Manhattan.
Two athletes come to mind:
Jake Freeman was the high school AOY in 1999 and could have gone to any school in the country. He chose Manhattan because he said he felt good about me as a coach and the school support to get his degree. He went on to set the American Junior Record in the hammer throw, American Collegiate record in the weight throw. He won the NCAA Championship in both the weight & hammer, an 8 time All American, and IC4A Champion (no other athlete has done this winning all 4 years indoors and outdoors in their event).
Jake continued on with me as his coach winning the USA Championship in the hammer & weight throws. He was on the 2009 USA World Championship Team and third at the 2008 USA Olympic Trials. Jake has just retired from competition this year after 17 years of working together.
David Frazier is the other athlete that comes to mind quickly. I have known David since he was 8 years old while I was coaching at the high school level. He went on to become our school record holder in the triple jump & long jump and an All American. He is now the athletic director at his old high school, Rutherford, NJ. We are still very close to this day since his freshman year in 1989.
There are so many over the years that I have enjoyed coaching and becoming close to them and their families, especially the first few I coached at Manhattan like Gary Halpin, Gerry Ryan, Paul Quirke, Malin Marmbrandt, Tina Magi, Jenna Daly. The list would go on way too long here.
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?
- Look for the best academic fit first and foremost!
- Look for the coach, team and program you feel will help you to excel.
- It’s always best to visit the school if you can to get a better feel for the school and team. If you can’t visit, ask if there are any alums in the area you can contact to ask about their experience. I refer athletes (especially international ones) to other athletes I have coached from their area or country to ask about me and school.
The reality is I’m the hype guy! I’m here to sell the school and program. Always look for the best fit for you and your family.
Next, take a look at Are College Rosters Filing Up Without You?
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Now in his 24th season as head coach of the track & field program (and 31st season overall) at Manhattan College, Dan Mecca is the longest tenured head coach at Manhattan and only the sixth head coach in the track & field program’s 100-year history. His 24 years as head coach equals Fred Dwyer’s tenure as the longest in program history. Before succeeding Dwyer, Mecca spent seven years (1986-93) as the field events coach for the men’s team. He was also the Jaspers’ head cross country coach from 1993-2012.
Over the course of his illustrious career, Mecca has continued Manhattan’s tradition of excellence. During his career, Mecca has led the Jaspers to 61 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championships, 39 Metropolitan Championships and two IC4A Championships.
Mecca was named the MAAC Men’s Coach of the Year for both the 2012 indoor and outdoor seasons. Mecca is the only coach in conference history to receive the award in each of the six disciplines (men’s & women’s indoor, outdoor and cross country). He was also the 2005 NCAA Regional Coach of the Year for men’s indoor track & field.
He has coached several athletes to the NCAA Championships, including five NCAA National Champions: Jake Freeman (2003 indoor weight throw, 2004 outdoor hammer throw), Aliann Pompey (2000 indoor 400 meters, Manhattan’s first female NCAA Champion), Michael Williams (1995 indoor 800 meters), and Gary Halpin (1988 indoor weight throw). Mecca has coached a total of 32 NCAA All-Americans in his 30 years, and 14 athletes he’s mentored are now members of the Manhattan College Athletic Hall of Fame.
In addition, at least one Manhattan athlete has won an IC4A championship every season since Mecca’s arrival. The Jaspers captured the IC4A indoor team title in 1992 and again in 2004.
Mecca has continued to coach eight-time All-American Jake Freeman in the weight and hammer throws since his graduation from Manhattan in 2003. Freeman qualified for the 2009 World Championships after a second place finish in the hammer throw at the U.S. National Championships. Freeman also competed in three Olympic Trials (2004, 2008, 2012), finishing third in 2008. He captured his first national championship in the hammer throw in 2010.
Over the years, athletes trained by Mecca have competed at prestigious international meets such as the Olympics, World Championships, World Junior Championships, World University Games, European Championships, Pan American Championships and Caribbean Championships, representing the United States, Ireland, Sweden, Jamaica, Serbia, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Throughout his career, Mecca has served in various capacities for a host of national and regional track & field committees. For the NCAA, Mecca has served as a member of the Regional Cross Country Championships Games Committee and on the Indoor & Outdoor National Championships Throws Jury. For the IC4A, he has served on the Site Selection Committee, as a seeding advisor, and on the Cross Country Games Committee. And for the MAAC, he has served as the meet director for the Cross Country and Indoor Track Championships and as a member of the Outdoor Track Games Committee.
A 1976 graduate of Montclair State with degrees in history and physical education, Mecca began his coaching career in 1974 at St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford, N.J. He began as a throwing coach, but eventually took over as the head coach in both cross country and track & field in 1977.
In 1984, Mecca was named head coach at William Paterson College in Wayne, NJ. While there, Mecca produced six All-Americans. Since arriving at Manhattan in 1986, Mecca has had at least one athlete qualify for the NCAA Championships every year.
Mecca coached the United States squad that competed at the 1990 World Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and the Irish National Team at the 1993 World University Games. He currently serves as a member of many national track & field committees.
A native of Passaic, NJ, Mecca currently resides in Florida, NY, with his wife, Kathleen. He has three children; Christopher, who lives in New Jersey with his wife, Jaimie, and daughter, Lyanna; Patrick, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from Manhattan in 2007 and lives in New Jersey with his wife, Rachel ’09 ’10; and Caelyn, a 2012 Summa Cum Laude Manhattan graduate, who received her Master’s degree Summa Cum Laude from Manhattan in 2015.