A Q&A With Track Coach Bryan Fetzer

MSU assistant track coach Bryan Fetzer had the chance to coach on two national teams this past summer. He gives us a little insight into the entire process of coaching on national teams that travel to places like Poland and Mexico - how he got selected, what his duties were, what's it like in other countries, how the USA coaches and athletes were treated by the people in those countries, etc.

You were selection as a men's assistant coach for the United States for the 2008 World Junior Championships this summer. How did you wind up getting selected? Bryan Fetzer - "You get nominated by someone high up in US Track and Field. Then, the head of the US Track and Field selects the coaching staff. But it's more of an honor. And anytime you can put the red, white and blue on it's a blessing. I got goose bumps."

Exactly what does a coach of a team like that do?
"On those kind of trips you are more a manager of individuals. There's not really a lot of coaching going on unless it's your own personal athlete. Anytime you are a coach for a U.S. National Team it's more of an honor - it's more being recognized by your coaching peers for doing a good job. It's not really an actual coaching task because every kid that is on the team has their own personal coach.

"When I talk about coaching, I'm referring to setting up their training, being very technically involved in how they compete and how they do things. Track and Field is different than any other sport. There's no changing of strategy in the middle of a race or in the middle of another event. To me, that's a coach.

"What a coach does for a national team is making sure the athletes get their practices in, making sure they get to the warmup area on time, making sure they know when they are supposed to check in and check out, taking them to drug testing, making sure they cool down and get treatment. It's more logistical and managerial in nature."

When you are in another country representing the United States, what is the reaction of the people in that country toward the US athletes and coaches?
"The world loves us. Among kids all over the world, the most popular items to trade or get things of is the USA gear. All the coaches from the other countries want to talk to us, the US coaches ... or be around you taking pictures. (MSU athlete and USA World Junior Championship team member) O'Neal (Wilder) was like a rock star walking around signing autographs. It's like that anywhere in the world."

You mentioned that O'Neal was treated like a rock star. I guess it was good for him that you were there, someone who is a familiar face to him.
"It was good because he and I had a lot of long conversations. We talked about a wide variety of things. We talked a lot about playing football and running track. I did that in college so I'm familiar with what he's going through."

Being such a young guy who is new to the world-wide scope of track and field, was O'Neal a little in awe with all that was happening around him while in Poland?
"No, because he is an unbelievable leader. The kids flocked to him because he's got one of those type personalities. But I do think it was a learning experience for him. Him finishing third and not winning the gold in the 400 meters ate him up a little bit. And how many times does a person get to travel abroad?"

What were the crowds like at the championships in Poland?
"There were 20,000 to 25,000 people in the stadum. This was the world championships. It was a big deal."

Was that the first time you had travelled to Poland? If so, how was it different than the United States?
"This was the first time I had travelled to Europe. Europe is a lot more like America than Asia was. But growing up in the Cold War Era it probably meant a little bit more to me than to some of the other coaches on staff and the athletes because they didn't understand that Poland was a communist country at one time. I'm walking around and seeing the tanks that are relics now. The building are all built exactly the same, no color to them, just square buildings."

Were you able to meet many of the regular Polish people while you were there?
"Oh yeah. If you had the red, white blue on or anything that said USA on your chest, you had a million little kids following you and people wanting to take your pictures.

"I remember I was trying to go from the decathlon to a staging area and I walked in front and a bunch of little kids asked me for my autograph. I told them I wasn't the one so I turned and pointed to one of the athletes. They went and got (autographs from) him, but a crowd of them continued to follow me. So, as I'm walking around the stadium I'm signing autographs. I'm sort of laughing because I'm thinking they have no idea who I am and that I'm not anybody important."

Did O'Neal have to deal with that same kind of attention?
"They had to deal with that every time they moved. Envision LeBron James or Michael Jordan walking through downtown New York City ... that's what it was like for him and the other athletes while they were walking around the stadium."

While you were there was it all work or were there times where you could go out?
"Actually, I didn't know how hard it was going to be. I normally left for the track each day at 7 am, then came (back to the hotel) at 9:30 at night. I stayed there trying to learn how things worked at a major international competition for future reference. I love the interworkings of athletics. I really didn't do any sightseeing. It was business."

Poland wasn't the only place you went to this summer as a coach. You also helped coach MSU track athlete Marrissa Harris at the North America, Central America and Caribbean Under-23 Championships.
"I got back from Poland and was going to Mexico two days later with Marrissa. And I actually did coach there because I specifically went down there for her.

"I'll tell you this - I don't think I have been more proud, more excited or ... I don't even have the words to describe my thoughts about her. First of all, you get this crazy guy who is your new coach and he's very different than a lot of folks that she had who coached her (He's talking about himself.-Gene). Then, she had tragedy in December over the Christmas holidays when she lost her father. Going into the season she is an All-American indoors. Then she becomes the SEC champion outdoors after just being another average kid in the SEC. She makes the USA National Team and ends up winning a bronze medal with a personal record in the 800 meters.

"She made this year pretty special for me."

I know you didn't really get to go out while in Poland. What about in Mexico?
"I actually did get to go out since I was coaching and not managing. They told us we were going to a really nice mall. I took Marrissa and one of the girls from Tennessee to the mall to get some non-hotel food. I was kind of nervous about the mall. But it had a bowling alley and an ice skating arena inside of it. It was a very high-end, high-dollar mall. I was kind of floored by how gorgeous it was."

Have you gotten to travel a lot as a track coach?
"I've been unbelievably blessed. I was on the Uganda's staff at the World University Games in Bejing, China back in 2001. I was there for two to three weeks. I was on Jamaica's staff and went to Jamaica, Trinidad and the Bahamas. I got to speak in Thailand to their federation. I've been fortunate. The Lord has blessed me so much."

How do you get on staff on countries other than the USA?
"I (coached) some of their athletes. And some countries select things differently. At the time I was on Uganda's staff I had the best female athlete that their country had because I was her coach while I was at Gardner-Webb."

When you come back to the United States after traveling to other countries, do you appreciate the US even more?
"It makes you appreciate everything ... just from hearing your own language to the food we are accustomed to eating, to the (television) that we are accustomed to watching, how people interact and how we travel. After going to some of those countries, you appreciate the easy modern day conveniences that we take for granted so often."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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