I ran at a Big Ten school and always dreamed that one day I would coach at a Big Ten school - maybe even be in charge of the program. Join elite coaches in the conference like Gary Weineke, Ed Nuttycomb, Roy Griak, and Jim Bibbs. Ones with national acclaim and lots of all-Americans.
So when I got the call for the assistant job at Northwestern I didn't have to think twice. My answer was yes before I had even gone in for the interview. Although they had no indoor track (a dirt track used to be around the basketball court) the outdoor facility inside Dyche Stadium was a suitable venue with eight lanes and pits for the LJ, TJ, PV and HJ.
My first year at Northwestern we had immediate success in cross country, on the track a phenomenal middle distance crew that ran 7:21 indoors for the 4x800, strong women in the 3K and 5K, a year later the men's Big Ten champion in the 1500 meters. The program was strong, the sky the limit for the Wildcats.
The beginning of my second year Arnold Weber took over reigns as the 14th President of Northwestern. I read a little bit about him when he was hired, but his world and mine were completely separate. Cross country and track weren't on his radar.
I remembered that as the Colorado president he was in charge of hiring their football coach Chuck Fairbanks - a man who spent $55K remodeling his office and $624K upgrading the football team's locker and weight room facilities before football started, only to go 3-8 that season. And Weber was the same man who axed 7 of their intercollegiate sports. Hmmm.
My second year at NU we started off well, a 2nd by the women and 3rd from the men at the Big Ten XC meet, but the year ended with a gut punch I never expected. In April Arnold Weber decided to drop the men's and women's programs in cross country and track, only promising to leave a skeleton group to continue for one more season, relegated to a club team.
Two years ago I was pumped when I got the Northwestern job and now I was devastated. My Big Ten career gone. What had I done? I willingly left a good women's program in Des Moines for this opportunity and now...well, the irony of the situation wasn't lost on me.
Well, Back To The Drawing Board
So at our last home meet I put all my energy and frustration into sending the program off with a bang, doing my damnedest to make the Central Collegiate meet, a memorable one. A last big hip-hip-hooray for the Wildcat squad. And it was.
The meet ran without a hitch. Not one of the visiting coaches had a thing to complain about because it was so smooth. We had sufficient officials, a schedule that went off on time, and rain-free weather that made the competition enjoyable. My production was seamless.
As the day began to wind down and the 4x400 relay approached I decided to put in place an ending I had pondered all day. One that would make the meet memorable. I grabbed the blocks from the 200m start, threw each one in the wheelbarrow and dumped them at the starting line, heading towards the press box elevator with a sly grin.
When I stepped out of the door up top I spotted one of our injured athletes at the far end, running the events on the scoreboard.
"How do you run this? What do I do to put a message on the scoreboard for the 4x400?"
He looked at me out of one eye and then showed me how to type it in and send the message. I thanked him and pointed to the far end of the press box, indicating he should head over there and watch NU's last race. As he walked away he looked over his shoulder, uncertain what I was up to.
Here Goes Nothing!
I took a deep breath and began typing.
"Eat Me Arnie - Men's 4x400 Relay."
My finger paused over the button and then I hit send. It was one of my proudest moments as a coach. The chance to say what I really thought of the administration's bullshit decision. Of all our hard work. Initially there were just a few noticing, but very quickly more coaches and officials began pointing at the scoreboard as my opinion raced across the screen like a tickertape message.
"Eat Me Arnie - Men's 4x400 Relay"
I took the elevator back down after I made my opinion of the NU President crystal clear, the facilities coordinator shouting at me to hold the door as I stepped off the lift, riding upstairs to change the message. I knew he would soon find I was the one that did it, but I wasn't worried.
"Eat Me Arnie - Men's 4 x 400 Relay"
After all, what's the worst anyone could do - fire me?
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.