Coaching Management, 15.1, January 2007, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1501/bbohiostate.htm
Which is better—separate coaches for men’s and women’s teams, or one head coach for both? Upon the retirement of 17-year Head Coach Russ Rogers last year, The Ohio State University opted for the former. The Buckeyes have created separate men’s and women’s head coaching positions, naming Robert Gary as Head Men’s Coach and Karen Dennis as Head Women’s Coach. Gary has served for 10 years as Head Cross Country Coach and distance coach for the track and field teams, while Dennis spent the past four years as an assistant coach for sprints and hurdles under Rogers.
“We had been looking at going back to separate coaches for a number of years,” says Miechelle Willis, Senior Associate Athletic Director at Ohio State. “When Russ Rogers notified us he was retiring in the spring, we saw it as a good opportunity to make the change. Mostly, the decision was based on the logistics of one head coach managing a team the size of a combined program.
“One year the women would be competitive in the Big Ten, then they would fall and the men would be competitive—it went back and forth,” Willis continues. “We were concerned that at a given time one team or the other was being negatively affected by the combined programs. With separate head coaches, each coach can be devoted to the recruitment and development of student-athletes in one program.”
In the biggest change for Ohio State track and field, each team will have not only its own head coach, but also its own staff of assistants (per Division I rules, each team may hire up to two full-time assistants). Previously, assistant coaches like Gary and Dennis coached one specialty area for both genders. “This head coaching opportunity has allowed me to refocus my appreciation for assistant coaches,” Dennis says. “Coach Gary and I have hired our own staffs. Having a smaller team to coach is going to allow us more time with each individual athlete.”
While the split may put more of a crunch on the athletic department’s budget, it will also give more athletes the chance to compete. The teams will no longer travel to meets together, opening spots for athletes who had been forced to stay behind. “Traveling will be a little more intimate,” Gary says. “It was a pretty big production when we traveled with two teams of 32 athletes each. When you add coaches and support staff, we were bringing more than 100 people, plus all the equipment. Being able to get around more easily will definitely be a benefit.”
But just because the men and women have their own coaching staffs and will travel separately most of the time doesn’t mean the teams will no longer work together. They will still practice together. And Dennis and Gary aren’t going to sever their close relationship, either.
“I’ve seen our program with one staff and with split staffs,” Gary says. “There are pluses and minuses both ways, but regardless of the circumstances, Karen and I have always worked well together. I know a lot of track teams where the men’s and women’s coaches don’t even talk to each other. We have a close-knit group and we won’t throw those positive relationships away.”