Chuck Landon: Future is bright for MU track coach
Picking Jeff Small out of a crowd won't be too difficult.
He'll be that tall guy wearing shades and humming the song, "I wear my sunglasses at night."
That's how bright the future is for Small as the Marshall women's track and field head coach.
Think about it.
Small just led the Herd to a best-ever fifth-place finish in the Conference USA Track and Field Championships at Rice University in Houston last weekend, scoring 63 points. To put that in perspective, Marshall's previous high was 28 points and an 11th-place finish, so the track team did twice as well as it ever has.
Twice as well!
And, remember, that's with virtually no training facilities. Unless, that is, somebody actually wants to count the corridors in Gullickson Hall, the concourse in the Henderson Center and Huntington High's track.
So, just imagine what sort of success Marshall's track team might realize now that the ground has been broken on a new indoor practice facility. The mind boggles at the notion of Small actually having an honest-to-goodness indoor track at his disposal.
But, first, let's allow Small to revel in the moment.
"I was so excited, I couldn't sleep Sunday night," said Small, during a telephone interview before leaving Texas on Monday to return to Huntington. "I was just thrilled for our kids and our staff. I have never been prouder of a team or staff in my career. It was an unbelievable performance. We just had a fantastic meet. It was really, really fun."
And it was really, really unexpected.
Well, sort of.
Small did think the Herd had a chance to post a best-ever finish, so he kind of saw it coming.
"Yeah, we did," he said. "I don't think we saw fifth place coming, but I think we thought if we had a great meet maybe we could get seventh or eighth. And that's even going into the last day.
"We knew we had a good shot, but going into the mile relay I thought if we get a third and UTEP didn't score and UAB was behind us, that would put us sixth.
"Well, duh, if you pass the sixth-place team (UTEP), you are in fifth.
"It was great. The 4x4 relay at the end is always one of the greatest events in track and field. For us to crush that school record by six seconds and qualify for the nationals, it was just a great exclamation point to the whole weekend."
That's another reason the future seems so bright.
"Yeah, it really does," said Small. "I think this is really going to help us in recruiting to have three Conference USA champions (Vanessa Jules in the heptathlon and high jump and Crystal Walker in the triple jump) and a Conference USA record-holder (Jules), who is second in the nation.
"Not only that, but with the nationals still a month away. ... for Vanessa to have another month of nice weather to train in so we don't have to be in the hallway in Gullickson, er, Henderson Center. I'm just looking forward to a month of good training for her to see what she can do."
And I'm looking forward to seeing what Small can do with the sizeable advantage of actually having an indoor track.
"It's really going to help us tremendously," said Small, who has been coaching Marshall track for 18 years. "It's definitely huge to be able to tell recruits we're going to have an indoor track. It's just exactly what we need, so we're really excited about it."
Somebody pass him a fresh pair of Ray-Bans.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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