Leading With Olympians
California University of Pennsylvania is on the right track.
Two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom was recently promoted to head coach of the men's and women's track & field and cross country programs, after assuming interim duties in March of 2005. He's hoping to make big changes.
"This promotion is a validation of the confidence we have in Roger Kingdom to build our track & field and our cross country teams into high-profile Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) and NCAA programs," President Dr. Angelo Armenti said.
"He developed and has begun the implementation of a strong long-range plan for the success of the teams. I believe he will continue to improve and bring prominence to the University and the athletic department."
Kingdom won the gold medal in the 110-meter high hurdles at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. He also set the world record of 12.92 in the event while competing in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1989, surpassing Renaldo Nehemiah's old mark.
"What I bring to the table is that I have a wealth of experience," said Kingdom. "I can also sit and talk to the kids and let them know success doesn't come overnight. I let them know about times in my career when I wasn't as successful, and then from that point on I talk to them and nurture them, and let them see that they have the power to control their destiny."
Kingdom, who originally set out to pursue a career as a business executive, realized the place for him was coaching student-athletes.
"I realized that was better suited to helping young kids reaching their goals and their potential," said Kingdom.
"I found so many kids that were giving up on their dreams because they were working with coaches that were too much like drill sergeants. I feel that you can teach and nurture kids, get them to see they have the potential, and get them to focus on it. There are a lot of different ways to do that other than yelling, screaming and shouting."
California University (Pa.) is a member of the PSAC, but has never won a team championship or even placed in the top three in the standings. Kingdom hopes to change that with his coaching philosophy.
"I joke around and play at practice, and have fun," said Kingdom. "In doing that, it keeps them in a positive frame of mind, distracts them from frustrations and creates an environment that is more conducive for learning. My kids started giving me their very best without even realizing it. They've started untapping potential that they never thought they had."
Kingdom has already seen the results of his hard work, especially with freshman Brad Rager. Rager won the 200 and 400 meters at the 2005 PSAC Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field Championships last season. He garnered PSAC Rookie of the Year honors in both indoor and outdoor, and earned the PSAC Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year award.
"That's a grueling double - a tough double," said Kingdom. "He's a freshman that did that in our conference."
As most good coaches do, Kingdom has surrounded himself with a great staff as well. Coach Marty Uher volunteers with the distance runners and cross country teams.
"He (Uher) was responsible for building the program here in the 1970s and '80s," said Kingdom. "He offered his assistance, and I brought him right aboard, because of all of his years of experience, especially in this area (Western Pennsylvania)."
In addition to Uher, the Vulcans have added a second former Olympian to the staff -- Candy Young Sanders. Sanders specializes in working with sprinters and hurdlers, and brings 15 years of Division I coaching experience to the program. She was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, and has coached at her alma mater -- Fairleigh Dickinson -- as well as Seton Hall, Ohio State and Pittsburgh during her career.
"How many universities can say they have two Olympians working for it?" said Kingdom. "It is a very big deal. It shows that our athletic department means business when they talk about turning the program around."
Kingdom realizes that turning a program around does not happen overnight, but does have lofty goals for his team.
"The PSAC is a hidden treasure," said Kingdom. "You have a lot of schools like Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and Lock Haven, who have really produced some great athletes. My goal here is to make sure that we're as competitive, if not more competitive, than those schools.
"We also want to take it beyond the PSAC by making a name for ourselves in the Division II Championships. That's what we would love to do, but you've got to crawl before you walk."
So far, Kingdom has the Vulcans headed in the right direction.