Aug 15, 2013
• News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez introduced new Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Mick Byrne during a news conference Thursday at Camp Randall Stadium. Retiring head men's track and field coach Ed Nuttycombe also took part in the news conference.
Video of the media session can be found above, and a complete transcript of the remarks by Alvarez, Byrne and Nuttycombe is below.
ALVAREZ: Well, you sit back and think when someone with the success that Ed Nuttycombe has, he walks into your office one day and says, "Coach, I think I'm going to retire," and my first response to him was, "Are you sure?"
He said, "You know, I've thought this out" and we went through the whole process. So where do you begin? You had someone for so many years that had so much success, that flowed with the times, changed with the athletes, and just kept winning championships. Where do you go? And you start taking a look around, and you feel fortunate, I felt so fortunate that I had someone, and we have someone, right in house that everyone respects who has a proven track record of his own, who has the respect and admiration of athletes, and it makes such an easy transition for your athletes to be able to stay in house and have one of your own in Mick Byrne take over your track program.
It was not a very hard choice. I think everybody realized the ability and the success that Mick had, and I couldn't be more pleased that he accepted the position of director of cross country and track of our entire track program. But I'm pleased that we offered, he accepted, and I am thrilled, and I'm sure all of our track athletes and everyone else feels the same as I do. I am certain and feel very confident that the success of our program will continue.
BYRNE: Obviously today is a very exciting day for Mick Byrne and for Mick Byrne's family. It's no secret that five years ago when I came here to Wisconsin, obviously very excited about that move, but leaving back home in New York my wife and my youngest son Cian, and I promised my wife when I left New York that this was going to work out for Mick Byrne, and it was also going to work out for our family but more importantly for the family and for my wife.
A few weeks ago when Coach Nuttycombe brought me into his office, it was actually Memorial Day weekend, and I got a phone call the night before, and he said, I have to talk to you, and I'm like, ooh, this can't be good, what's this about on Memorial Day weekend, and anybody that knows my father here (Nuttycombe), on Memorial Day weekend, he's not one to came into the office. We just came back from the NCAA regional meet. So the wheels started spinning.
I met coach on Monday morning, and he broke the news to me. I was like, okay, what's going to happen now. Obviously I wanted to be the new director, new head coach, and he supported that, and I'm very grateful for that opportunity. I'm grateful for his support.
I came to Wisconsin five years ago obviously as a cross country coach, and that's been my specialty. I'm known as a distance coach. But ultimately if I just wanted to be a distance coach and a cross country coach, I would have stayed back in New York at Iona College.
Coming to University of Wisconsin and having the opportunity to work with Nuttycombe for the last five years and to work in the areas of track and field, which is an area I wasn't I didn't have a lot of experience in because we didn't have an indoor and outdoor track team at Iona College, so it was a tremendous opportunity to grow professionally and learn from certainly someone who I consider the best track and field coach in the United States.
That was a wonderful opportunity for me, and now to be the guy that's going to take the baton from Nuttycombe, that's obviously very exciting, and I'm really looking forward to that challenge.
NUTTYCOMBE: You know, I sit here with very mixed emotions. I'm very, very happy for Mick, very excited to pass the baton, so called, to him. When I met with Barry, that is exactly what he said. He looked at me, and he goes, "Are you sure?" And I have to say for a brief moment when Coach Alvarez speaks to you and asks you that kind of question, you ponder for a moment.
But I had spent a great deal of time thinking about it, and certainly not years but a few months thinking about it, and talking with family, and felt it was the right time. I don't think there is a correct time or a good time. I mean, I'm going to use the word "we" if that's okay.
I think we're going to have a very, very good team this year, and I suppose if you're doing a good job and you have a team that's good from year to year, there's never a good time. But it's a good time for me. I'm very excited for Mick, the program, and Coach (Alvarez), you'll always be "Coach" to me. I thank you for all the support and things that you've provided to me personally and to our program, and I'm very excited about the future and want to be a part of it in some way, just a little more allowing to have family and home time.
So I thank everybody that's here and all the support, and I wish the program nothing but the best, and I'm going to do everything I can to see it continue.
QUESTION: Mick, how do you make something so good better?
BYRNE: A great question. You slow down and pinch yourself and take some time to reflect on the opportunity that's been given to me, the trust that Coach Alvarez has bestowed upon me, the confidence that Nuttycombe has bestowed upon me, and just take some time to really analyze and think about the direction that we're going in.
Obviously we've decided to combine both programs. Rome wasn't built in a day. There's going to be some problems, some issues that we'll have as we go through. It's a learning process, and it's almost like I consider it like dating again. We're going to have to work our way through those little issues and problems, and we will do that.
I'm very confident in the young coaching staff that we have put together. We still have one piece of the puzzle, a sprints coach, and we're doing a national search immediately. So it's just take some time, reflect on where we've been and think about where we're going. Don't rush into it, don't go in with blinders on, and we're going to make it work.
QUESTION: Mick or Ed, what are the benefits of combining men's and women's track and cross country programs?
BYRNE: I'll address that. Certainly we've been somewhat of a combined program. Coach Dave Astrauskas worked with our field events, both male and female athletes. Mark Guthrie worked with our men's and women's sprinters, so in some sense we've been combined, but now we have the opportunity to take advantage of six coaches, the talents of six coaches, put them in one pool, and when we go to a meet, for example, the Big Ten championships, the coaches will have to make a decision are we going to go with men or are we going to go with women. I think it's better for athletes and certainly it's better for the coaches. I think it's a win win situation certainly for our student athletes.
Obviously when you combine a program I think there's certain financial benefits to doing that. Certainly economies of scale, when you talk about buying airline tickets for men and women, 60 athletes, 70 athletes, including 70 athletes plus staff, equipment, I think, so there's certainly going to be some financial benefits.
But I think overall it's just having the combined talents of six coaches and spreading them out over the two programs. I think our student athletes are going to benefit most.
QUESTION: Mick, is there another level that this program could go?
BYRNE: Absolutely. Why not? You know, obviously in cross country on the men's side, we've been fairly successful. The objective and the goal now is why can't we do the same on the women's side. That's the plan. We've had tremendous success in women's cross country over the years. We've fallen a little bit over the last couple of years, but we certainly believe, and my passion is to get our women's program back onto the podium in cross country.
To say that our women have not been successful would be doing a disservice to athletes like Dorcas Akinniyi and all the great athletes that we've had over the past couple of years, the missing pieces obviously being a team concept. I think the girls will certainly benefit from being around the men's team. Obviously we've won the outdoor championship in 2012 and the indoor championship in 2013. Winning is contagious.
We expect to talk to our women about that, and we're going to set the bar and set some real high goals for them. On the men's side being third at the NCAA championships with seven athletes this year indoors, we had a great performance outdoors. We can be better, as Coach Nuttycombe said. We think right now that we've got a better indoor and outdoor program coming back on the men's side. We believe that we also have a better team on the women's side coming back indoors and outdoors. Our cross country team on the women's side is definitely going to be stronger this year, so yes, we can be better.
QUESTION: Outside of hiring another assistant coach, what's number one on your to do list?
BYRNE: Obviously during the cross country season it's just around the corner, we've got some challenges. Anytime you've been as successful as we have on the men's side, been second at the NCAAs, first in the NCAAs, winning five Big Ten championships, Mohammed Ahmed, Elliot Krause, Reed Connor, Maverick Darling, they've graduated. Finding replacements for those athletes, hitting the recruiting trail because it's all about recruiting, and we've certainly started that.
We've just hired a young man who I'm very familiar with, Gavin Kennedy, who I'm familiar with from my Iona days, also spent some time down at University of Illinois. Gavin is going to assist Coach Stintzi and myself certainly on the recruiting part of the distance program.
My goal is to, as I said, certainly work with Coach (Jim) Stintzi and have our women win a Big Ten title very soon, have our women perform very well at the NCAA championships. We hired Coach Kennedy to help us do that, so that's the immediate objective.
QUESTION: Mick, around the country is this more the norm, to have track and cross country under the same umbrella?
BYRNE: Yeah, it's becoming more common. In the Big Ten right now we've got seven schools. It's a trend that's happening around the country nationally.
BYRNE: I think, again, it's having the opportunity to utilize the talents of combined staffs. Not having staffs, men going one direction, women going in a different direction, the economics of it today, the cost of airfares are going through the roof, being able to take advantage of just the scale, the larger scale, whether it's ordering shoes, whether it's airfares, whether it's hotels. You can work better deals. You can certainly and that's obviously from the business part of it, but from the athletic part of it, relationships with the student athletes, it just Nuttycombe has come from a different era where it was always split and we always had a Big Ten championship on the men's side and the Big Ten championship for the women on the other side, and a coach had to be put on the spot and make a decision are you going to go with the men or are you going to go with the women, and I don't think that's a fair situation to put our student athletes in.
QUESTION: Could you give me an example of something that you learned from Ed that you didn't know when you got here?
BYRNE: Oh, my God, do you want the list? I mean, obviously I've had I had success at Iona on the cross country level. During the fall it was fantastic. You always got after competing at the national championships.
I can still, as if it happened yesterday, going to my first Big Ten indoor championship, and I remember the week, the Monday morning of the week of the Big Ten championships coming in, and this guy was going crazy, and I'm like, what's going on here? And then it got worse on Tuesday, it got worse Wednesday. The Thursday it was like I was this is nuts.
But when we got to the meet, I understood it. It was like, we're competing for a Big Ten indoor championship, and it's an accumulation of six months of training, go back into the previous year, even some of the kids were seniors. A lot of those kids had won three Big Ten titles, and I got it right when we went to the stadium. Wow, some of these guys have never lost a Big Ten Championship. And to me it was how do you handle that. How do I incorporate that into my training plan with my distance athletes and keep them healthy through the outdoor season.
So learning how to do that, just learning how to get excited about an indoor season, about an outdoor season, and how to balance the three seasons, I think I learned that from Ed. And it's just how you do business with other coaches, how you conduct yourself at meets. I could go on. The list is just it's too long to talk about.
QUESTION: Ed, Mick admitted he had little experience with track before he came to the University of Wisconsin, so five years now at Wisconsin he's going to take over the men's track program and then oversee these four programs. Why do you think it's in the best interest that the man to your left is the one that's going to be guiding this program?
NUTTYCOMBE: That's a fair question. I think he's being a little tough on himself when he said he had little experience in track. He perhaps maybe didn't have the experience of the team I think is the term that he used, but he had some tremendous athletes. I remember Solinsky having to go deep into the well to beat one of his athletes in the 5000 at the NCAA meet, so to say he didn't have any experience is probably not fair.
The difference was we had a track team, and what he had was a group of distance runners who were national caliber in cross country and competed well but weren't able to, because they didn't have enough diversity of events to put a team together on the track.
You know, I've had a chance to hire several more than one cross country coach and been very fortunate that they've all done fantastic, and I really felt the moment I first talked to him and the moment he came in for his interview and visit, so to speak, that he had what it took. And it's only been better.
He's going to do a great job. I'm very, very pleased and very happy.
QUESTION: Ed, when did the idea of a combined team, this particular format, when was that seed planted with you?
NUTTYCOMBE: Well, the I've heard it been referred to as the hybrid model, the Wisconsin model the term Wisconsin model has been used, and that is where you had kind of two combined programs. You have coaches that overlap in the middle, then you have some that didn't. You know, we were teetering on the brink of that the whole time, and it seems that a change of this magnitude probably offered the opportunity.
I think there's a lot of programs nationally that are very successful that are separate, and there's many that are very successful combined. I share Mick's thoughts and ideas that it is better in many, many ways when you have six coaches and you have let's say a jumps coach who coaches jumps. Well, there's no difference between the woman jumper and the men's jumper, so why would you have a men's coach and a woman's coach coaching, and therein lies the advantage, and therein lies, as well as many of the other factors, as to why programs have done this.
The NCAA has seen wisdom to give us six coaches, three men, three women, or six, and this is just a better way of dividing it.