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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Will the Sleeping Giant Awaken?

This last June it was announced that longtime Ohio State head coach Russ Rogers will retire effective in September. This has led to much speculation about who will replace him (OSU said there will be separate men's & women's head coaches), which can be read here and here and here and here. Trackshark now reports that men's assistant coach Robert Gary will move up to men's head coach, with no info on any of the other jobs.

Amid that speculation about new hires are some recollections of Russ Rogers' less than stellar career. Apparently he made enemies in Ohio very quickly:

"In over 30 years I have not heard one person make a single positive comment concerning Rogers."
"Russ got off on the wrong foot with Ohio HS coaches by addressing 1500+ at their clinic shortly after getting the OSU job. Among other comments including "a lefthanded third leg in the 4X1 is more important than speed", Russ told the crowd that he 'will recruit nationally because Ohio doesn't produce kids good enough to run for OSU.'"

Immediately prior to his hiring at OSU, he was possibly the most headline-making head Olympic track coach in USOC history, as multiple relay team members told the press Rogers said they would not see relay action unless he became their agent. Apparently the response from the athletes was such that there would not have been any relay teams if Rogers had kept to his word; in any case, it was a remarkably poor hire even for such a money-grubbing institution as An Ohio State University.

But Rogers has only continued a tradition of underachieving in this sport. In 183 Big Ten championships (indoors and out) the men's track program has won just nine times. The women's team has never won the Big Ten, and has achieved runner-up status only four times. Distance running has been even worse; there have been no Big Ten cross-country championships in Ohio State history, and until Gary was hired as a coach the men had never qualified to the NCAA championships, and Oberlin claimed more Big Ten track distance titles than the Buckeyes. The women have only won the Ohio Intercollegiate XC title twice. It's safe to say that this level of futility is not acceptable to the Ohio State faithful in a media-heavy sport; look at what they did to winning football coaches Earle Bruce and John Cooper.

Rogers' comments notwithstanding, Ohio's production of top high school talent is bettered in depth only by California, Texas and Florida, and bettered in breadth only by the Golden State. We have produced All-Americans in every event competed at the state meet, and Olympians in every single event. The number of collegiate All-Americans who came from Ohio high schools is staggering, but very few of them stayed in Ohio and even fewer yet went to Columbus.

There are other hotbeds of high school track in this country; the west coast is the most outstanding, but the northeast, Texas and Florida are great too. But in Ohio, there is only one major university. Every boy who grows up watching college football in this state knows about the Horseshoe and the Best Damn Band in the Land; any coach who can take advantage of that and be competent enough not to screw the kids up could build a juggernaut to rival UCLA, USC, Florida, Oregon or even Arkansas. On the women's side, the financial advantage alone that OSU has over every program within 200 miles of Columbus should set them up for a fantastic ability to recruit.

Will the giant awaken? We shall see.

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