Does it surprise anyone that Dan Waters literally hit the ground running at Alabama?
During the 2011 NCAA championships in Des Moines, Waters helped coach Texas A&M’s men’s and women’s teams to their unprecedented third consecutive dual outdoor national championships. That Monday he turned in the keys to his office in College Station. Then he was in Tuscaloosa devoting full attention to the program there, hiring coaches and taking meetings as the new head coach head of the Tide track program.
“It was hard not to think about [his new job while coaching in the national championships],” Waters said. “But [Texas A&M] finished with a flourish. I’ve already hired a couple of assistant coaches, so we’ve got a lot done in a few days.
“It’s good to be back in one of the best outdoor conferences in the country. Of course, the Big 12, when, I was there, we said the same thing. But I believe this conference top to bottom has some of the best programs.”
Waters’ opinion of the SEC is an informed one. He came to Texas A&M in August of 2004 after running a successful distance program at Georgia. During his three years there, Waters’ men’s team reached the NCAA Cross Country Championships for the first time in school history.
His team also won the NCAA South Region Championships. The Bulldogs excelled in the SEC earning a second-place finish – the highest in school history – and a second-place finish for the women, which matched its highest ranking. Under Waters’ guidance, Georgia distance runners broke seven school records.
Waters also coached at Texas Christian. He helped the Horned Frogs to four Western Athletic Conference team championships – two in indoor track and field, one in outdoor track and field, and one in cross country.
So acquainted with huge success, his challenge ahead is replicating that at Alabama. It may seem daunting to the uninitiated. For Waters, getting there means starting with the program’s foundation.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” Waters said. “We’ve got to communicate a clear, consistent, message. And we’ve got to recruit like crazy. That’s how you do it.
“We’re going to use the [Alabama] football team as an example. That’s the kind of model we’re using. They have great athletes and they will gravitate toward our program. I’ve hired some great coaches who are very good technicians and very good recruiters.”
So being in the monstrous shadow of a perennially powerful football program won’t hamper Waters’ efforts apparently.
“I think it enhances it,” Waters said. “Strong recruits make good programs. People see what [Alabama] coach [Nick] Saban wants; [they] are the same athletes we’d want in track and field. Those kinds of kids who want to develop every day and make the program a winner. And we want to be ready for them.”
By that Waters is speaking of enhancing the physical assets of the track and field program. Part of the meetings he’s taking is with companies that will help transform the facilities there.
“We have a nice footprint,” Waters said of the existing facilities. “But we want to do things to make the best use of that space we have. It is a big part of what we want to try to do here.”
Which is to host major events on campus, something that is one of Waters’ strengths. Through the years, he has overseen championship events, including the 2009 and 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships, 2009 Big 12 Indoor Championships and 2003 Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships.
“We’re looking for ways to make it more functional and the best use of what we have for meets,” Waters said. “We want it to be a place where we can attract the big name schools [for meets]. We want to them to come to the University of Alabama to run, and know that it will be on time, that there will be good competition and a track that will allow for great performances.
“We are 300 miles from the best track and field teams in the country. We want them to want to come here and know they can get a lot done during the meet and then go back home. We want them to think great things about Alabama.”
And Waters thinks what he will be doing at Alabama will accomplish that. Its teams have not been a factor in recent years.
Water will run the men’s program formerly headed by Olympian and Auburn All-American Harvey Glance, and the women’s program, which was run by Sandy Fowler. He’s seen firsthand how having a lone head coach for both programs and outstanding assistants are a winner. He just came from that situation at Texas A&M where he worked under Pat Henry.
“I’ve always wanted to do a combination program,” Waters said. “The way things are in college sports now with people seeking efficiencies, like having both [men and women] teams traveling to the same meet.
“We’ll be able to coach better with the three coaches I have teaching across my teams whereas they used to have six [assistant coaches]. Really, only the dinosaur programs still split the [men’s and women’s] teams. I think that what we will do will be successful because kids will have a great college experience at Alabama. And they’ve had some special athletes here in the programs and we want to return to that level.”