By Cameron Blair
This coach has been with the same program for 29 years. This coach has won nearly 50 Coach of the Year Awards. This coach has won 50 conference championships. This coach has accumulated more conference titles than Dean Smith, Rick Pitino and Bobby Knight combined.Who is this coach? He must be a legendary football or basketball coach at a large Division I university, right?
Wrong. The accolades listed above belong to Eastern Track and Field/Cross Country Coach Rick Erdmann. In his time at Eastern, Erdmann’s men’ and women’s cross country and track and field teams have been nothing short of dominant.
Eastern’s women’s cross country team has won 20 titles during his tenure as coach and the track and field team has won 13 championships.
The men’s teams have been nearly as dominant during this time span. The men’s cross country team has notched 11 titles since Erdmann took over the program.
Erdmann’s men’s track and field team recently won their fourth indoor track and field championship since he took over in 1979.
Well, you may say, four indoor championships in 29 years is decent but nothing special. What you may not know is that the indoor track and field teams have to fight somewhat of an uphill battle. They have no indoor practice facility.
That’s right. Eastern’s indoor track and field team does not have a proper indoor practice facility. And Erdmann’s indoor teams have combined for 17 titles. To put it in perspective, this would be like our football team winning games without having a field or our basketball teams winning championships with no hardwood to practice on.
Erdmann’s teams have also produced some of the most dominant individual performers in OVC history. Two of the athletes Erdmann coached are in Eastern’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Pam Raglin Andrews was a 13-time conference champion and picked up two OVC Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year honors during her time at Eastern.
Joseph Nganga was even more dominant. He won the OVC Cross Country Championship and won OVC Runner of the Year during each of his four seasons as a Colonel.
Erdmann also has a sure-fire future Hall of Famer running his final season. Senior Jacob Korir, like Nganga, has won the OVC Cross Country Championship in each of his four seasons at Eastern and has won multiple indoor track Athlete of the Week awards.
But, you may say, Eastern is a fairly small school so Erdmann’s teams must be feasting on inferior competition. Not true.
Eastern’s cross country and track and field teams run against some of the biggest universities in the country.
During the 2007 cross country season, the men’s and women’s teams competed against power conference teams such as Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia Tech.
In a cross country meet against Marshall, the Colonels destroyed the Thundering Herd by a score of 15 to 45 (I thought Marshall had beaten us until Erdmann informed me the lowest score wins in cross country. Oops.).
Both of Eastern’s cross country teams have beaten UK multiple times during Erdmann’s tenure as coach. That’s right. Erdmann is one of the few coaches in Colonel history to have regular success in the I-75 rivalry (Yes, I just made that up. Catchy, isn’t it?).
So why is Rick Erdmann not recognized as a legend, as he should be, at Eastern? Part of the reason could be his personality. Erdmann is very soft spoken in interviews. He’s always quick to deflect any praise for himself to the hard work his athletes and assistants put in.
In other words, he’s everything many collegiate coaches are not.
Also, the fact that Erdmann coaches cross country and track and field works against him. These sports are not traditionally spectator sports and often get overlooked in the scheme of things as far as collegiate sports are concerned.
This is a shame as well. Cross country and track and field have to be two of the most psychologically draining sports to participate in. Think about it. You run, and then run some more, and after that you run and then ? you guessed it ? run a little more.
Their sport is basically the punishment you receive in other sports.
To have two teams be so consistently dominant in such a difficult sport for such a long period of time shows that Erdmann has been and continues to be one hell of a motivator.
When Erdmann decides he has coached his last meet (hopefully that day is still a long time from now), it will be a shame if he is not a first ballot inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame.
And, assuming I still attend this great institution, I will be there shifting around uncomfortably in my dress clothes as I cover this great coach’s induction.