Athletics West, the beginning.
September 1977. Geoff Hollister hired Harry Johnson a local high school coach. Original core members: Craig "Felix" Virgin, Phil "Tiny" Kane, Mike "Manks" Manke, Jim "Craw" Crawford, and Myself ("malmo" after defeating hometown hero Dan Glans in Malmo, Sweden)... I think that it was either Tiny or Craw that first moved to Eugene.
November 1977 Satellite original members: Mac Wilkins, Al Feuerbach, "The Reverend" Jeff Wells, John Lodwick, Doug Brown, and Craig Brigham.
June 1978: First generation, second wave were Ralph "Mr. Freeze" King, Henry "Mormon" Marsh, Kevin "Kinky" McCarey. And Dick Brown, who would run their "lab" that was formed in the fall of 78.
Fall of 1978. Second generation: Alex Kasich, Ron Addison, Tom Burleson, Lionel Ortega, Tony Sandoval, Paul "Stem" Stemmer, Randy Melancon, Paul Geis. Mary Decker soon followed (1979)
By 1980 the flood gates had opened and by 1983 they had Jack Daniels, Jeff Drenth, Don Clary, Al Salazar, Dan Aldridge, Thom Hunt, Tom Byers, Steve Placencia, Ken Martin, and many others. The list is very long and I'm sure that I left off a lot of major players, not by design.
Athletics West started in 1977 as the result of Geoff Hollister's misguided dream of bringing top Americans to Eugene to train together. The thought here was to develop American talent to become competitive on the world stage. It was a good idea, but a very poor implementation. In the first two years that AW was in operation athletes were expected to live an train in Eugene under a successful but unproven high school coach named Harry Johnson. Johnson quickly proved to be ineffective as a coach because of his dictatorial and abrasive manner and was fired in the Spring of 1980 and was sent off to Korea by Nike.
Geoff Hollister started recruiting athletes for AW sometime in the Summer of 1977, a few of them (Tony Waldrop, Greg Fredericks and Randy Thomas) turning him down for greener pastures. Others like Craig Virgin and Tiny Kane accepted the offer of a guaranteed minimum income of $1000/month and a part-time job. $1000/mo. was good money in 1977, especially in Eugene's awful economy. Remember up until then, no one was paid openly to run by the shoe companies, and those who were paid under-the-table were few and far between. Hollister called me in Europe in August then a few times in early September. He sounded shady and desperate but his persistence wore me down so he flew me to Eugene to hear them out. First impressions mean a lot, and I was not impressed one bit by either Harry or Geoff, both of whom could not stop talking about themselves and how great Harry was and how lucky I'd be to be coached by him. The one thing that really bothered me about these two was that neither of them cared about the sport or other people except when they could benefit from it/them personally. I could see that from day one Hollister and Johnson’s sport wasn’t anything like the sport that I signed up for. In fact, the only employee at Nike that I can think of whose philosophy on running aligned with mine is Jeff Johnson (not related to HJ) -- ironically someone I've never met.
Against my better judgment, and swayed by the idea that my running career didn't have to end at age 22, I said I'd come out for a year to see if it was for me. We were the first track and field athletes to "go pro."
Johnson's training method was essentially the prototype of the mindset you now see on these message boards. He plagiarized from the ideas of famous coaches (Lydiard, Holmer, etc) that he had read in running books, then put them all together into one "program", then threw in his own numerology metric on top of that, and wrote out complicated schedules. He didn't know a damn thing about training or human physiology. It was a lot like saying "I like ice cream, I like tacos, I like sushi, and I like apple pie" then throwing it all into a pot and serving it every day. It tasted like shit.
Contrary to the active imaginations of some, there was no dormitory style living. We weren't allowed to race indoors or any race of our choosing. Johnson decided when and where we'd race. His schedule had us running into a brick wall week after endless week for nine months all for a three month racing window of opportunity in Europe. There wasn't a week that went by without Johnson telling you how great he was and how lucky we were to be coached by him. The most frequent boast of his was that "you'll never understand my program until the year's over." His way of reminding us about his coaching genius. We heard this boast from him every week.
To this day, I don't understand his program, and I don't know of anyone else who does.
We had a small group of hangers-on who were allowed to train with us. The camaraderie of the added bodies was a positive, but there were more negatives to it than the positives. Many of those hangers-on were local Eugene runners who were envious (even pissed off) that they didn't get selected to AW and would show up ready to race every workout. It got to be a real pain trying to train consistently when some yahoo goes nuts for part of the workout, then you don't see him again for days.
Johnson had a sour view of our sport and of life in general. In Harry's mind, it was "us against them." "Them" was everyone else, especially the U of O, and specifically Bill Dellinger, whom "J" had a special wrath for. Apparently Dellinger refused to bow down at the altar of Johnson during a recruiting call.
By the end of the first AW tour in Europe (1978) almost all of us were sick of Johnson, but there was nothing we could do about him. Harry controlled the purse strings. A dependency relationship model was the only thing Harry understood. It was Jim Crawford who nicknamed him "little Hitler". Doug Brown was the most vocal anti-Johnson instigator, and he advised us all to do what he did -- keep two sets of books: 1) What you told Harry you did, and 2) What you actually did. But when push came to shove it was Craig Virgin and I who became the first defectors. Believe me, it would have been much easier leaving the mafia than it was to leave AW -- "we're not going to let you get away with this, you know?". They were furious. They reneged on their bonus commitments and began a malicious whisper campaign. When the smear campaign failed it went so far that my landlord Stu Berg, a hulking 6-8 300lb thug (and a close friend of Johnson's) threatened to break my legs when I refused an extortion attempt by him. When I finally got fed up with their vindictive games, I drove up to Beaverton to tell Phil Knight what was going on, it only infuriated them even more. Johnson and Hollister, true to form, never spoke to me again, and it wasn't until 15 years later that Hollister was forced to put on his best Mike Damone face when he found himself next to me in a Eugene restaurant.
The absolute best moment from the first year was when Mac Wilkins caught Henry Marsh cheating at Risk. I can still hear Mac's voice: "Now wait a minute there, Mormon. Let me see those cards!" Had it been 1878 instead of 1978 there would have been 6 bullets in Dinwoody's chest.
By 1979 a couple of athletes escaped Harry's regime by running for cover under Bowerman's apron. This made both Johnson and Hollister pissed, and finally opened the eyes of a few in Beaverton that if they didn't do something about the Johnson problem things were going to implode. In the spring of 1980, in the midst of the Olympic Trials training, and without warning, Johnson was fired to the joy of everyone, and athletes were free to be coached by whomever they wanted and could live wherever they chose. I had people running across the track the day he was canned to be the first to tell me the "great" news. Ironically, not including Hollister, Virgin and I were the only ones saddened by Johnson's demise. For Hollister it was an indictment on his poor judgment.
After Johnson was fired, I was told by insiders in Beaverton, he boxed up the shrine to himself and never followed track again. Sad.
By the early 1980's the original goal that AW was to be a springboard to international success had been compromised to the point that it became cluttered with individuals whose only goal was to keep their subsidy going for another year. While there were a few blue-chippers stepping up to the plate, by and large, Eugene became a hangout for running vagabonds.
Athletics West had the potential to be a good thing, but it lacked adult supervision from the beginning. The closest it came to that was when Bob Sevene took over. By then it was too late.
If you want to learn more about AW then read "Swoosh".
PS. For the record, Tiny Kane really could piss into a second story window.