by Robert Johnson
January 7, 2014
Editor’s note: It came out today that Dartmouth women’s distance coach Mark Coogan is leaving after 3.5 years with the Big Green to take a position at New Balance in Boston. LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson, who coached in the Ivy League on men’s side at Cornell for two years while Coogan was at Dartmouth, caught up with the 1996 Olympic marathoner this afternoon to ask him about the move.
Here are the highlights of their talk.
Question by RJ: Tell us what exactly you’ll be doing for New Balance. The press release was a little bit vague. Does this mean Abbey D’Agostino will be signing with New Balance this spring?
Answer by MC: For now, I’m going to be doing a little bit of everything and learning how the sports marketing division works at New Balance and I’m going to help with Team New Balance and do some coaching. I’m going to be working hand in hand with John Evans (New Balance’s Sports Marketing Manager) on a lot of different things over the next few months. In a few months, we should have more to say about the final direction we’re headed.
The God’s honest truth though is this isn’t about Abbey (potentially going to New Balance). It’s about me having a relationship with these guys for 20 years. We’ve talked about doing something like this for a long time.
We hope that Abbey is with New Balance someday but she’s going to have a million different options out there and we can’t control where Abbey is going to end up. It’s honestly not about Abbey – it’s about Mark Coogan getting to work for New Balance.
What was the biggest decision for you to decide to leave? Lifestyle? More Money? When people ask me if I’m going to get back into coaching, I always say, “Maybe as a pro coach, the lifestyle is so much better.”
A lot of things. One thing I feel that I’m not being the best father I can be. Now I can live down close to my kids again, and I might even be able to be an assistant baseball coach on my son’s baseball team, things I just haven’t had the opportunity to do because I’ve worked so hard at Dartmouth. I’ve really thrown my heart and soul into this job, which is great because I love it and I love everyone at Dartmouth and I love my team, but I think this is going to allow me to be a better parent, which also is very important to me.
I’m going to actually get to live down near my family. Editor’s note: Coogan has three kids. Two of them – Margaret (a freshman in HS) and William (6th grade) still live at home near Boston with their mom Gwynn (1992 Olympic 10,000 runner). Mark’s oldest daughter Katrina is at Georgetown.
What about the immediate future? Who is going to be coaching the Dartmouth team and Abbey this spring?
I am going to keep my group through the spring. New Balance said I can come up here on Tuesdays and that’s typically our hard day and Dartmouth has agreed to allow me to do that as well.
So while it won’t be a perfect world they are still going to have me as their coach. Even when I’m not here, I’m only a phone call, text or email away – so I’ll be helping them through the end of June.
We have an assistant coach here Scott Phelps whom they will report to when I’m not here. At practice time, they’ll check in with him so he can make sure everything is going well.
The program is in really good shape right now. We are a pretty good team. We would have won Heps without Abbey and we would have made the NCAA championships this fall as well when you take her out of the scoring and re-add it up. So the team is going to continue to do really well.
I told the girls, “I’ve never run a race here (at Dartmouth). You run all the races you know.” I might have some ideas on strategies and I’ve been there before so I know what it feels like and I know how you should approach a race, but they are the ones that did it. They did all the work – they put the mileage in in the summer, did the hard workouts, took care of their bodies, things like that. And they know it – which is really cool – they understand that now.
The next person that Dartmouth hires is going to get a program that’s in really good shape.
What about the guys you are coaching Ben True and Sam Chelanga? What happens to them?
Well once I start working full-time for New Balance, I won’t be able to coach anyone that doesn’t run for New Balance so I’ve talked to them a little bit about it. I actually just had lunch with them today but I’d told them before (what was going on). They understand, they are grownups and good people. But it’s a bummer, it’s a bummer. Ben got down to 7:36 for 3k and Sam’s just starting to come back and he’s feeling great. He’s racing Galen Rupp in a 5k next week at BU and I think Sam’s going to give Galen a run for his money.
So that’s a real bummer (that I can’t coach them) but they understand.
So what are they going to do for coaching? Do they know? How much time left do they have with their current shoe companies?
They are trying to figure it out. Sam’s got two more years with Nike and Ben just signed a three-year contract with Saucony.
How hard was it to tell your team?
It was brutal. I told the team on Saturday. There was a lot of tears and I was crying and felt sick to my stomach. A lot of the girls were crying. Some of them came up to talk to me – some of them just walked out of the room when we were done.
They are happy for me but they are sad I’m leaving and so am I. I loved the team. There is no question about it – I have a lot of love for this team and a lot of love for all of the girls on it. And I’m pretty sure they care pretty deeply about me too.
It was very, very hard – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
It’s been special place, we’ve done some special things like the DMR coming in third (at NCAAs), Abbey winning 5 NCAA championships, Lexi (Alexi Pappas) breaking the school record in the steeple (9:55.89), Dana (Gioradano) was All-American (at NCAAs this year), and we’ve had other kids on the team break what would have been the school records if Abbey wasn’t here.
It’s special. I mean you know Artie (Artie Smith – the women’s coach at Cornell). He’s probably really tight with the girls at Cornell. It’s a little different than when you are coaching men.
Wow, that sounds tough. You don’t strike me a crier.
I was tearing up. I wasn’t totally bawling my eyes out. When you quit Cornell, you probably went straight to the pub, I certainly didn’t do that (Coogan said this with a chuckle).
I feel bad about having to leave the kids on the Dartmouth team, but I’d rather leave when the team is in good shape than say what it was like when I got here four years ago. Lexi was running 2:35 for 800 and they couldn’t even get 10 people to run Heps cross country. It’s just a lot different now.
What do you think key was for turning around?
I think that the attitude changed on the team that they wanted to be good – they took care of themselves.
I think it was important that I had done it before. They really trusted me so if I told them, “You just did four times a mile in five flat so yeah you should be able to run 15:30 for 5k,” they understood that. They were really quick to learn that you don’t necessarily have to do it in a race. If you can do it in practice, you should be able to translate it to a race.
They were really good at that type of stuff and they really do the little things – like we do our strides after every run, we stretch, we do core. They are really good at all the little things that make you good – things I learned living in Boulder or training in Providence or with Sev (Bob Sevene). All of the things I learned, I tried to give to them and the things that worked for me seem to be working for them.
It sounds like it’s going to take a little time to figure out what the final role will be for you at New Balance, but starting right now, who will you be coaching?
I’m going to be coaching Natosha Rogers for sure (Rogers won the 2012 NCAA 10,000 and was 2nd at the 2012 US Olympic Trials 10,000). She’s the only one right now. At some point, we’ll probably have a little more of a presence.
When you ran, were you with New Balance your whole career?
I was Nike Boston at first, then with adidas for two years, then New Balance for 20-22 years.
More: Messageboard Discussion: Ivy League Coaching News – Mark Coogan leaving Dartmouth for New Balance