After taking first place in the Big Ten Track and Field Indoor Championships Feb. 22-23 and third in the NCAA Championships March 8-9, the Badgers have had another solid indoor track season with head coach Ed Nuttycombe at the helm. In his 30-year career, Nuttycombe has recieved 33 Coach of the Year honors throughout his coaching career and won 26 Big Ten Championship titles along the way. As the indoor season comes to a close, Nuttycombe took some time to sit down with The Badger Herald to talk about trophies, recruiting and the approaching outdoor season.
The Badger Herald: What does being named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the 22nd time in your career mean to you?
Ed Nuttycombe: It means I’ve been here a long time, and it means I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of great coaching staffs and good athletes. You know those honors, they’re wonderful, but you really do share them with your staff and your team because without them, they don’t exist.
EN: [That he] worked hard, took care of his athletes, was consistently competitive and enjoyed the process.
BH: The success of the track program has led you to 26 Big Ten Championship titles in 30 years. What do you as a coach need to do to keep Wisconsin competing at such a high level?
EN: We need to continue to attract great athletes, continue to have stability in our coaching staff and upgrade our facilities.
BH: As far as upgrading facilities goes, how would that impact the athletes that are already here, and your ability to get recruits to come to Wisconsin?
EN: I’m not sure it makes the athletes better … I think it makes it easier to attract future athletes because you have great facilities, which demonstrates commitment from the university and commitment to your sport.
BH: What are your goals as a coach going into each season? Are you looking for more individual success or success with the team as a whole?
EN: I think that you build your team success around the individual success and if enough individuals excel, you’re going to have a pretty good team. But, I think having had the history that we have, I certainly would not be honest if I didn’t say we were looking to do as well as we can as a team at the conference and national level.
BH: Looking at some of your athletes, why has the heptathlon duo of junior Japheth Cato and sophomore Zach Ziemek been so successful?
EN: It goes back a lot of years, and the young guys learn from the older guys as they graduate and turn over. Last year we had three seniors that turned the reins over to some younger guys this year, and you build on what you’ve had. Quite honestly, there’s a commitment in our program toward that area and not a lot of programs are willing to commit to coach those types of athletes because you’re coaching seven events with indoors or 10 events with outdoors to get one score. So there’s not a whole lot of places that are willing to put in that time and energy like we are, and we hope to be able to continue that success.
BH: Looking at another teammate pairing, how much does the experience that guys like seniors Maverick Darling and Mohammed Ahmed have from running on the cross country team and the success that they’ve had over the years with that sport translate to the indoor and outdoor track season?
EN: Those guys, [seniors] Elliot Krause, Mohammed Ahmed, Maverick Darling and not so much [sophomore Austin] Mudd in the cross country, but Mudd as a track runner, all of those guys are in that area that Wisconsin has been really tough and competitive in for decades. It’s good to see those guys pick up the torch and carry that tradition on…but having distance runners who have competed at the national level, year in and year out — been there and competed at that high level — gives us a lot of confidence that they’ll perform well.
BH: When it comes time to compete at a national level, what becomes different in terms of preparation and how guys react?
EN: I think the preparation is such that you’re trying to kind of reach the so called “peak” at that moment. As far as preparation on an event basis as you prepare the day or two before, I really don’t think it’s that different. One of the things you try to do is maintain the things that got you there and continue to do those same things.
BH: What does success at the national level mean to you, the program at UW and to the players on this team?
EN: They’re very proud of it. You look at year in and year out and there’s not a whole lot of northern teams that are consistently ranked in the top echelon for track. Wisconsin is one of them, and we’re very proud of that. To make it just means we’re doing a good job and that we’re getting the athletes here and developing them. It’s kind of like the students—you’re just proud of the accomplishments.
BH: As the indoor season comes to a close, what is the biggest transition from indoor to outdoor?
EN: Everybody just kind of takes a little bit of a half-step back, kind of regroups and gathers in their individual groups, be it sprints, distance or field events. You move outdoors, and the biggest thing is probably that it’s a little different set of events, like the 60m dash becomes the 100m dash, and it includes events that aren’t even in indoor track like the steeple, javelin and the hammer. We also travel more.
If you look outside and know what the weather’s going to be like for the next month, that it is probably not going to be good outdoor track weather around here yet. It will be, but not yet. I think the big transition is taking a step back, starting to regroup and peak for the outdoor season and enjoying a little bit of travel to some warmer places to start the season out.
BH: Looking at the outdoor season, what are your goals for this upcoming season and defending your Big Ten title?
EN: We’re the defending outdoor champions in Big Ten. So, if I said anything other than we want to win that thing again, I would not be telling the truth. I think that we want to try to qualify as many possible people as we can for the national meet and do the same thing we’re doing with indoors, that is, competing in the top ten nationally, which I think we can.