Q&A with Mike Maynard

Boise State University

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.8, September 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1208/qamaynard.htm

In just four years at Boise State University, Mike Maynard has built the men’s track and field program into a national contender, finishing 15th in last season’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, winning its first Western Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championship, and earning Maynard the WAC’s Coach of the Year Award.

An NAIA champion for Azusa Pacific University in 1986 in the hammer throw and the weight throw, Maynard began his coaching career at Mesa Community College, spent the next 13 years as an assistant track and field coach at the University of Arizona, and arrived at Boise State in 2000, taking over a track and field program that had been finishing in the bottom half of its conference.

Since then, he’s been building both the men’s and women’s teams, and has seen his student-athletes break 14 school records (seven men’s and seven women’s) and win 14 individual WAC Championships, and had seven athletes honored as NCAA All-Americans. Along the way, he’s partnered with community leaders and organizations to construct the $2.18 million state-of-the-art Idaho Sports Center, which opened in 2002 and is scheduled to host the USA Track and Field Masters Championships in 2005.

In this interview, Maynard talks about the importance of setting audacious goals, managing time, and building relationships.

CM: How have you approached the challenge of building a successful program at Boise State?

Maynard: When I started here four years ago, I brought in a new staff of like-minded, goal-oriented coaches—people who are driven to create a program that can compete at the top level—and we’ve made a series of daily decisions to create excellence. I have a philosophy that I talk about with my coaches and athletes on a regular basis: There should be no apologies for trying to win everything, and if we start out with the intention of winning less than everything, we’ve already lost.

We want to consistently win national championships in cross country, indoor, and outdoor, and we want each of our athletes to graduate with a 4.0 GPA—that’s the vision we’re trying to create. The athletic director at Stanford talks about setting "big, hairy, audacious goals," which is absolutely what we’re doing, setting these goals and striving toward them every day. There’s no shame in ending up second or 42nd, but I continue to preach a vision of success where we set out to win everything.

Initially, that may sound like a lot of pressure, but it’s not, because it gives our young men and women an opportunity to pursue their dreams without apology and without fear of being ridiculed. There’s a great amount of freedom in whole-heartedly chasing a dream, and once they buy into that vision, it creates self-perpetuating success.

How do you find athletes who will buy into that vision?

We go to meets, we observe, and when athletes are good enough to rise to the top, we’re willing to engage in a recruiting battle. I enjoy recruiting, and having competed in a very tough conference at the University of Arizona, I don’t have any fear of getting into a recruiting battle with the top schools.

As the head coach and the throws coach, I spend the majority of my time recruiting throwers. But we also have recruiting meetings for the entire coaching staff, where everyone sits down and talks about the athletes we want to consider. Who should we pursue? Where can we make the most impact? What’s our plan? How does this person fit into our vision as a program?

We do relationship-based recruiting, and I urge my coaches to take the time to get to know potential student-athletes and their families. We need to know where they’re coming from, because that tells us whether or not we should continue to recruit them. Given the choice between an athlete whose character is exactly what we want and another whose performance is exactly what we want, we’ll always take the one with character.

We’re looking to develop a sense of resiliency and an attitude of being able to overcome obstacles. There have been times in the past when we’ve stopped recruiting someone—not because they weren’t suitable academically or athletically—but because we felt they did not fit the psychological profile we’re looking for here. Sometimes the most important part of recruiting is knowing when to stop.

How does a hammer thrower get to be a head track and field coach?

General Patton said that foot soldiers make the best generals, and if there’s anything like a trench in track and field, it’s the hammer. Too many people think you need to be a running coach or a sprint coach or a cross country coach to be an effective head coach in track and field, and it’s simply not true.

The leadership skills required to administer a program are separate from whatever event a coach competed at in the past. What matters is the ability to lead and create a vision in the minds of your student-athletes, which is the most important thing that I do. So why not have a hammer thrower, really?

Why not a hammer thrower with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy?

Why not? People ask me about that, saying, "That’s not a degree you can use every day." But really, it’s exactly the opposite. Every single day, I use my philosophy degree. The study of philosophy is important because it teaches you how to think, how to analyze a situation, and how to hone your persuasive skills. The only difference between manipulation and motivation is intent, and coaches have to motivate their athletes every day. Philosophy has definitely helped me motivate other individuals, and heck, I have to do that all the time.

What are you proudest of in your first four years at Boise State?

Competitively, for our men’s team to finish in the top 15 in the nation after only four years is a very positive sign. It’s a road marker that says we’re heading in the right direction. This past season, winning an indoor WAC championship was quite fulfilling, and being chosen as coach of the year was very gratifying.

Another really exciting thing was helping put together the Idaho Sports Center. When I came here for my interview four years ago, Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier asked what it would take to bring this program to the next level. So I told him, "You’ve got a great institution with a great reputation for hosting championships. But you’re not going to be able to win until you can create a really positive training and competitive environment in indoor track and field. You need to have perfect training conditions." And Gene just said, "Okay, your first job is to make that happen."

But we didn’t just want to create an indoor facility. We wanted the very best—we wanted the indoor facility. So instead of going for a non-banked facility with a short track, which wouldn’t have allowed us to host a championship, we opted to go after the best banked, 200-meter surface available. We bought it from the Georgia Dome, and it’s a world-class track—one that the USA Championships have been held on. And through the cooperation and commitment of individuals in the city, we were able to work out a deal with the Nampa Urban Renewal Agency, which built this facility around the dimensions of our track.

The deal essentially allows Boise State Athletics to have the building for four months of the year, from mid-November through mid-March. So we now have one of the finest indoor facilities in the country, and the process of bringing the community and the university administration together laid the groundwork for the success that we’ve enjoyed in the two years since it was built.

That’s illustrates our philosophy, because we really did shoot for the top. To decide to go from having nothing to having the very best is a big, hairy, audacious goal. And though that vision is about increasing the opportunities for our program, it’s also about creating a recreational opportunity for the whole community. So I was able to go out into the community and talk about including everyone from grade school to grandma.

We have open community hours Monday through Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and we have community meets on Friday nights, where we invite all age groups, from six to 96, to come in and compete. After we finish our practices, I get to see a couple hundred kids enjoying track and field at a world-class facility, and it gives me a great sense of pride in what we’ve been able to achieve in fulfilling our role in the community.

How can coaches at other schools build those kinds of partnerships?

I believe a portion of every day should be set aside to build for the future, which isn’t just planning—it’s executing a part of your plan every day. There’s always the tyranny of the urgent, all the things you have to do next. There are going to be things you think you don’t have time to do. Well, you need to make time every day.

That means contacting people in the community, rebuilding old friendships, and creating new ones. Too often, coaches only call people when they need something. It’s important to call without having a specific request, just to talk. Because once people get to know you, they’ll want to help, and that’s what happened here in this community. Taking part of every day to make phone calls, just to say hello, is the best thing you can do for community support, fundraising, and development. It puts relationships foremost, and that’s really what I try to do.

How do you build relationships when you have 60 or 70 student-athletes on your roster?

Although I’d like to have a close, one-on-one relationship with every single person on the team, sometimes it’s just not possible. So I get together regularly with my assistant coaches and we talk about the different athletes and what we’ve learned about them. That’s one of the objectives we hold as a coaching staff: We want to get to know the student-athletes as well as possible, because if we’re going to help them, we have to get to know them first.

When it comes to the indoor season, we all ride to the facility together. It’s not a long ride—only about 15 minutes—but everybody gets on the bus, and it’s a real team-bonding experience. When we compete indoors, everything is more intimate, the relationships are closer, and so we all get to be pretty connected that way.

What’s the hardest part of being a head coach?

This is the best analogy I can give: I grew up on a dairy farm, and anybody who has done that knows there’s never an end to the work—just like being a head coach. Some of the stuff I do here is daily care and feeding, and some of it is planting seeds for future growth. Having done both of those growing up, both literally and figuratively, has prepared me for being a head coach, knowing what to do, when to do it, and when to take a day off. Though I have to admit, I’m not so good at that last one.

What’s your challenge for the upcoming season?

The challenge is to win a national championship—that’s always the challenge. And to pursue academic perfection and create great citizens through the process of athletics. That’s my professional goal. Beyond that, I don’t see anything unusual. We just want to win and keep on winning.