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July 13, 2022

What to Make Of Oregon Hiring Jerry Schumacher As Track and Field Head Coach

Apparently, my dream job isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be? Granted, if I was going to be a Nike-backed coach of the best professional distance running group in the country, then we would be using the turf fields underneath the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to do our ten miles of threshold work. After 15 years exclusively coaching the Bowerman Track Club, coach Jerry Schumacher has accepted a position as Head Coach at the University of Oregon for the Cross Country and Track team.

In addition to now overseeing the 96 athletes on the current college roster, the whole of the Bowerman team will relocate two hours south from Portland to Eugene. That’s a lot of training logs to parse through! Unlike OTC Elite, which just split ways with Mark Rowland who now has a new role with Athletics Canada, the challenge of being able to use the Hayward track most likely won’t be an issue. If there was ever any doubt that the relationship between the University of Oregon and Nike was intimately intertwined, then this should bring some additional clarity to that relationship’s complexity.

Like most leadership positions, being a successful coach largely comes down to who you choose to surround yourself with and how effectively you can delegate to those you trust, like what Schumacher did with the Nike Run Club app. The head coach of a collegiate track team is not personally overseeing and writing the workouts of each athlete. Oregon will undoubtedly fill out the coaching roster (if it changes) with the very best in each discipline to guide each group. It’s hard to imagine Jerry will stay up on Tuesday nights calling 4:08 high schoolers to talk about what they want to major in.

And if there is one thing that we have learned from the exit interviews of those who have moved on from Bowerman, it’s that Jerry’s best trait as a coach is culture building and the training philosophy to which he subscribes. That is a subtle way of saying it’s a system. The Bowerman team first learned of this news last week and although that’s a lot to digest before the World Championships, especially for those with homes and families in Portland, they’ll still do their job.

My questions center less around the how will Schumacher make this and more of the why.

Being able to hand pick the best runners out of the NCAA and train them up to be world beaters without the stress of administration, parents, politics, recruiting, conference meets, and whatever the hell NIL is seems like the ideal setup. The club was reportedly close to moving to UNC in the not-so-distant past, so maybe there is some element of getting back to the NCAA that has intrigue. More money is always nice and Jerry’s predecessor was making at least $350,000 a year, so perhaps that’s a factor?

Coaching professionals is so much easier than coaching college kids. Their entire existence is dependent and dedicated to becoming the best runners possible and they know how to do it. There’s no checking in on Evan Jager to make sure he’s doing all the little things to get better — he’ll do them without you. A team of college runners left unattended in a locker room for more than 10 minutes can lead to more chaos than whatever is happening inside Pandora’s box. Will Jerry regret this move the first time an RA reports one of his athletes for drinking a beer in the freshman dorms?

This move speaks volumes of Nike’s trust in Jerry that they would hand him the keys to every Ferrari in Phil Knight’s garage, but surely the expectations are daunting. Anything less than NCAA titles and global medals would be considered a disappointment – maybe it’s not my dream job after all.

The Lap Count is a weekly newsletter delivered on Wednesday mornings that recap all the fun action from the world of track & field. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the sport. There is a lot happening and this newsletter is a great way to stay up to date with all the fun. Subscribe today.

Photo via Kevin Morris/@kevmofoto

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