PROVO — Ed Eyestone is like a man standing up in a speedboat. He doesn’t want to do anything to impede the momentum, he doesn’t want to rock things or fall overboard, but he believes he can increase the horsepower and make every molecule of fuel count.
That’s the mindset of BYU’s newly appointed head track coach, who will take the men’s and women’s program under one umbrella starting the day after this week’s NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Eyestone is a master at putting mass to motion for maximum velocity. Ever since he ran his way out of Bonneville High, earned All-American citations at BYU and became a decorated Olympian, he’s done just that. In his office, the wall is plastered with competitor tags, numbers pinned to his running clothing, a litany of race experience, a dash to the tape.
This is why Eyestone’s appointment is respected. Even as tensions and stress levels were high in BYU’s men’s and women’s track office over these changes since the announcement last week, you’d be challenged to find anyone who didn’t think Eyestone’s promotion was not a worthy individual professional decision.
“He’ll do a great job,” said women’s coach Patrick Shane.
“Ed is a great choice,” adds Willard Hirschi, retired head men’s coach.
That BYU shook up its track and field program on the eve of a national championship was even a little surprising for Eyestone. But once it was explained it would give coaches on staff not retained a chance to look for other opportunities, he understood.
“My main focus is the student-athletes,” said Eyestone. “They come with great expectations and they come to BYU hoping to reach their potential. As a coach, as they come to the end of their run in five years, or six or seven if a mission is involved, it is my job to make sure they can say they were glad they came here.”
For any coaches retained, hired or recruited after this week, he has three requirements: “Coaching, coaching, coaching.”
Eyestone inherits two programs that have dominated the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences through the past four decades and are a respected brand at NCAA championships. That supremacy over regional foes included the ascension of a myriad of All-American national champions and Olympians.
“BYU has an amazing tradition in track and field. The administration has decided to bring the men and women together. As we combine it, bring it together, I think we can continue to have a solid program and history, but I think we can do better. It’s time to take it to the next level.”
Eyestone’s game plan includes an injection of passion, enthusiasm and chemistry. Track and field, he explains, is a unique sport that is kind of like a three-ring circus where you have a runner side, a power side and a jump side, often their own entities. He seeks to bring all under a single team culture in what he says will be “empowered, excited and directed” to possess a “swagger” when athletes step on the track. “I’ve seen that happen in my group, and there needs to be a culture among coaches that are enthused and can bring that to their groups and to the entire team, to come together, be tighter and do it better than we’ve done in the past.”
Improvements, says Eyestone, will come across the board. He will begin a scholarship audit to determine where resources can be used best in recruiting. Track and field, unlike football and basketball, can use partial scholarships for athletes and spread around benefits with recruits.
“I’m not a micro-manager,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy to coach distance runners and let others do their jobs.”
Like other sports, Eyestone’s squad has been impacted by the LDS Church policy to allow 18-year-old males to serve full-time missions. But he also recognizes one of BYU’s big advantages is quality walk-ons that fill out the Cougar depth in both women's and men’s programs.
“BYU is an amazing place to recruit to,” said Eyestone. “It is an amazing place, and I’m not just talking about the LDS athlete. We have so many things going academically, socially and all that BYU is, and that’s a good hook.
“Every university has its hook, and that (LDS culture) is one of the great hooks that BYU has," Eyestone continued. "It’s a blessing to come to work every day because of it. It means I don’t have as many distractions as some of my colleagues do trying to put out fires with various silly things that happen to 18- to 20-year-olds.”
Juggling scholarships, dividing scholarships, giving a particular coach a number of scholarships for his specialty, managing the comings and goings of missionaries, deciding on who will walk on and compete isn’t rocket science, says Eyestone.
“I’m not a rocket scientist, but I do love this sport. I’m passionate about this sport, and as good as we are and as good as we have been, we can be better.”
He’s sure of it.
“We have great athletes who want to be a part of this program and we’re lucky to have them,” he said.
On one wall in his office, he has a photo of himself standing alongside the late Paul Cummings and Doug Padilla. He says some student put it there because it shows him wearing a mullet and mustache and it was pasted there to make fun of him.
But that photo, if you add Henry Marsh, NCAA steeplechase champion and Olympian, represent a Mormon contingent of runners circa 1984 that were dominating on the national scene.
Will there ever be a year like that again in BYU track and field?
Yes, says Eyestone, and while they haven’t come all at once, folks saw that talent in the careers of Josh McAdams, Miles Batty and Josh Rohatinsky, to mention a few.
Eyestone sees great talent among LDS youths, but he’ll also focus on non-LDS who want the BYU experience.
I asked him why it seems there are so many Mormons who tend to excel in track and cross country.
“I think we’ve been blessed to have great coaching here at BYU and successful LDS athletes elsewhere,” he said. Using the right substances or avoiding harmful substances also helps.
“Track requires some positive enablers, and many from LDS homes have that built in, so it isn’t a surprise that LDS athletes are typically dedicated, goal-setting and goal-oriented individuals who come with background and heritage and faith. There are some from other faiths who excel and want and believe they can make a great contribution to our team, and we will seek them wherever they are.”
Eyestone came to BYU in 2000, when he was named the head men’s cross country coach and an assistant men’s track coach working with the distance runners. Eyestone has led the Cougar cross country program to nine conference titles, 11 top-three finishes at the Mountain Region Championships and four top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships, including a fourth-place finish in 2011 and a sixth-place finish in 2012. He has also coached nine All-Americans who have earned 13 citations and an individual national title.
As the men’s track distance coach, Eyestone’s athletes have earned 34 All-America citations, four individual national titles and one distance medley relay national title. In cross country, he has coached nine All-Americans who have earned 13 citations and an individual title.
A 10-time All-American in college, Eyestone captured the 1984 individual NCAA and cross country championship and won the 10,000 meters at the 1984 and 1985 NCAA championships while adding the 5,000 meter NCAA title in 1985.
So, if there’s ever been a guy who knows how to move something from Point A to Point B, according to the laws of physics, Eyestone may be the one.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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