"We could get caught up in looking at the small picture and, obviously, fans can get caught up in it also. And I think the small picture in all sports is just to look at how you did in your conference. I'm not happy that we were last at the SEC Championships. And if anybody had had to stand with me at the SEC (Conference Championship) Meet, they would have understood that I wasn't happy. We do have to do better at the conference meet. After all the hours that we all put in and then winding up last at the SEC Meet, we aren't happy about that at all.
"But you can't let your kids see how much that bothers you because things could go to shambles and then you aren't going to do well at (the NCAA) regionals which, I believe, had almost 90 schools. And we were a top-10 team at the regional meet. Then, all of sudden you are moving on to the NCAA Championships where we wound up 28th (in the nation). That's not too bad when you consider almost 300 schools compete in Division-I track.
"So, if you look at the big picture, we're not totally disappointed with the year. We had a top 30 finish and five All-Americans out of seven that we took (to the NCAA Championship). We felt pretty pleased with that.
"I've had people get upset with me when I'm asked if I would rather do well at the SEC or the nationals and I say nationals every single time. I will give that answer every single time. If you asked me if I would rather win 25 SEC Championships or 1 national championship, I would pick the 1 national championship. I came to Mississippi State to do all that I can to win a national championship. If that means sacrificing at the conference meet, I will do that.
"But there's no excuse for us being last in the conference. I'm disappointed in that. But I'm grateful that we have an athletic director who sees that our track team has, in the last seven years, finished among the top-30 in the country, including top-20 twice. I appreciate that. He's a Mississippi State person who understands the battles that we coaches have to go through. That's why a lot of coaches have stayed here so long and that's probably why Larry Templeton has stayed here for a long time. He loves Mississippi State and loves being here. And it's the same way if you are a fan. No one likes losing in any sport, but the Mississippi State fans haven't bailed out when their teams are losing. They stick with their teams even when they are losing because they are Mississippi State fans and they love Mississippi State."
Explain why, in track and field, you can do well at the NCAA nationals, but not do well at the SEC Championship Meet?
"I'll use baseball as an example. Like us, they don't get a lot of scholarships (baseball 11.7, men's track 12.6 scholarships), so they have to, number 1, find other ways to obtain financial backing, and, number 2, they have to look at their schedule and, at time, use somebody who is not quite as good because they can't use their ace pitcher every single game.
"But baseball is different than track when it comes to nationals because they have to have a pretty good regular season record to make it to the regionals. So, they do have to chop up their scholarships because they have to have depth. But it's different in track. If they scored the meets we could lose every single meet, but still take nine guys to nationals because they hit the automatic qualifying standard in a particular event. Then, we take those nine guys to nationals and we win two relays and we win three individual events and score 50 points and win a national championship. So, I need to get the best nine or ten guys that I can. They may win 50 or 60 points at the conference meet, but that won't win the conference meet because teams can run as many people as they want in every single event. You have to score 120 to 130 points to win the conference meet. And it's tough for us to do that because there are four or five main schools (in the SEC) that can draw the type guys that are willing to come out for those teams free (as walk-ons) because of their rich tradition.
"And another thing that hurts us in recruiting a little is we don't have indoor track and field. We are the only track school (in the SEC) that only has outdoor track and cross country. Everybody else has indoor. And it's tough to go into the house of the number 1 sprinter in the nation and tell him that there is one season he is not going to get to compete. That would be kind of like asking basketball to start their season in January."
Why doesn't Mississippi State have indoor track and field?
"Because of Title IX (gender equity law). I'm not blaming Mississippi State at all. They can't control what happened the day the Supreme Court came up with Title IX."
Who are some of the returning athletes who should make an impact on the squad this coming track season?
"Chris Woods is a 800 meter guy who is an All-American. We also have two 400 hurdler guys returning, Kyle Roberts and Delandus O'Neal, who both went to the NCAA regionals. And we have John Bailey, a kid from Terry, Mississippi who started out as a walk-on. He qualified for NCAA regionals this year, but ended up being banged up in NCAA regionals. Jamil Hubbard, who was on our team last year, did not make the relay team, but he was a junior college national champion in the 400. So, hopefully, he will progress and help us. Our decathletes are back. Joseph Queen was third in the conference. Darryl Brady is back and Allen Cassell, who scored in the high jump, is back. And Golden Coachman, who was an All-American at the NCAAs this year, can return. He was 4th in the NCAA Championship. But we may redshirt him next year (because it's an Olympic year).
"I'll explain the reasoning behind that. At the USA Championship this year, once he made it through three rounds of the 800 meters, that was his 37th or 38th race of the year, versus the pro guys he was running against who were only running their 8th, 9th or 10th race of the year. His legs were a little deader than the guys who had only run a few races. I would hate to know that he went to the Olympic Trials next year and ends up being 4th or 5th and doesn't make the Olympics because his legs were too dead to make the team. So, there is going to have to be some evaluation as to what we will do with Golden.
"But we lost all four guys from the 4x4 relay team that have been All-American four years in a row. There have only been three teams that have made the finals event in the NCAA championships in the 4x4; Mississippi State, Baylor and LSU. To make it five, we have a much more uphill battle than those other two schools when you consider that we lost all four of my guys (due to their eligibility being up). But we have some good alternates and some good guys coming in."
Who are some incoming athletes who should contribute this season?
"Justin Christian, who was the number one 60-meters guy in indoors in the country. He'll help us a lot in the 4x1 relay and the 100-meters. He's got some training to do to get use to the 100 meters, but he can definitely run. Emmanuel Mayers, one of the top 400-meters hurdle kids in the country, will be able to run the 400 hurdles and a leg of the 4x4. And a lot of the distance kids that we signed should help us. (Prep All-American) Antoine Lipscomb, a kid from Starkville who was one of the top 20 long jump and short hurdlers in the country, should help us. Martin Lee, the (Mississippi) Gatorade (Track and Field) Athlete of the Year, should make a contribution to the decathlon. He should score as a freshman in the conference meet. And Ed Wesela, who is coming from Slinger, Wisconsin, is one of the top-15 shot put guys in the country. To ask him to score in the nationals his freshman year might be a little too much to ask, but going to regionals shouldn't be too much to ask of him."
What are the expectations for this coming year if Golden Coachman is redshirted?
"Even with a redshirt of Golden, we should find a way to be top-25 or 30 without him. Then, the next year we can add him back to the good incoming class that we have coming in now and another good incoming class next year. Then, maybe, we can go into nationals knowing, like we did a few years go, that we have a chance to win the national championship."
Long-term, where should Mississippi State track and field wind up being on a consistent basis when it comes to the SEC and the nationals?
"To get our program back to where we are among the top-10 and top-15 on a consistent basis, we have to have those alpha type athletes here. If we get those type athletes, we should also finish among the middle of the pack in the conference."
Talk about the process involved in track and field and cross country recruiting.
"July 1st is the first day we can call or go see a kid in person. I know there are a lot of programs out there that can cause a lot of damage by just calling a kid. But unfortunately, until we build more tradition within our sport, we have to go sit down in the living room with them in person.
"But first you have to make the list of the ones that you want to visit. Right off the bat, I look at the list of every event area and start off with the number 1 senior in that event. I look at the distance side and sprint side of the kids that I want to go see and I, basically, have the top 15 kids in the country in both event areas on my list. While that will take some time, a goal of mine is to have most of them seen before school starts so that during the fall I can start bringing them in on visits. Sometimes they won't let you in their living room because you are not one of their choices. That's disappointing, but you move onto number 2 if that happens with number 1.
"And there are some athletes that may not have been on the list you started with that evolved and got better. Or they email or call you. We have a lot better athletes that call or email us now than the ones that did six or seven years ago. Because we have produced enough pro athletes in track and field, kids realize that we do a pretty good job of helping people get better over the course of four or five years.
"Part of the battle (in recruiting) is to get the kid to make the decision to do something for you. You obviously can't go into a kid's living room and tell him to make the decision to sign with Mississippi State right then. But there are some things they can do. They can send you a transcript. That might seem elementary, but when you are the number 1 kid in the country and someone who might not be in your top-5 at that time asks you to do something for them, it's an effort for him to go to or call the high school and have them fax you a transcript. But if they do that, then they have made a decision that has imprinted Mississippi State in their mind. The second thing is coming in for a visit. If they do that, then they've made another decision for you. If he does things for you, then it's going to make it a lot easier for him to sign with you. That's, basically, how I lay the groundwork to get them to come here.
"If I get transcript of a kid and see he's not going to qualify, I'm going to keep recruiting them. A lot of times we sign kids with number 1 potential even though they will have to go to junior college. A lot of schools won't because it's an effort to do all the paperwork, but I'm willing to do all that paperwork and put the release out that we've signed them. Then, when they go to junior college, hopefully, they will remember that and we will have a chance with them when they get out of junior college."
Track and field as well as cross country have done well not only athletically, but academically. That's pretty impressive.
"Some kids might tell you that doing well in class has nothing to do with running fast. I've been told that. But I don't agree with that. As an example, this past year we were last in the conference. Well, we also had the lowest GPA that we've had in the past. I realize that we had 24 make academic all-conference, but as a team it's the lowest GPA that we've had since I've been here. We aren't happy with that.
"When I inherited a junior college program, the team GPA was 2.1. I told them that I would cancel the season if they didn't get to a 3.0. And I had to cancel a season once when they didn't achieve that. They were 2.97. The season they won the national championship in cross country they were second in the nation GPA-wise. So, don't tell me it can't go hand-in-hand. It takes X amount of intelligence to be a very good athlete. You can't be dumb or uneducated and make good adjustments as an individual or as a team.
"If they will not get out of bed and go to class or go to their study hall on a consistent basis, they are not the type person that will give consistent and great effort on the track."
You seem to be very detailed in everything you do. Does that carry over to your athletes as well?
"I make everybody in my group a book that I give to them when they first come in that is a yearly plan that has everything in it. It includes areas of training, warm-ups, traveling, hotels that we will be staying in, even the names of everybody in my group and the minimum GPA that I expect from each one of them. I even have a goal GPA for the team. If they don't achieve that, then they have failed. There is not one thing that we do that doesn't have a goal. You can't go through the year blindly. I don't want a kid coming to school thinking he's just going to go to class, take a test and get a grade. There are some kids that come to school that don't even know how to calculate a GPA. So, we help them figure out very quickly how to calculate a GPA. When they look in that book and see that they are expected to get a 2.9, a 3.0 or a 3.6 GPA, they need to know how to get that 3.6. It's just like me putting them on the track and telling them to run a 45 second 400, but I don't break it down and how to do the training. While I'm going to give them a goal, I'm also going to give them the tools to achieve that goal.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.