The following article is reprinted with permission from Cross Country Express, originally published in 2009.
Today we catch up with S.F. University coach, Jim Tracy, one of the most successful coaches in NCS and state meet cross country history. He's seen here on the far left side of the picture with his '09 NCS championship boys' team from yesterday's NCS Meet of Champions. His girls' team also collected an NCS title (by the narrowest of margins over College Prep) to go along with their amazing total of championships won in previous years. That total includes 6 state championships for his girls, the most for a girls team in state meet history.
1. How did you get your start with running?
I showed up at Riordan H.S. in San Francisco fall of '64. High School was a super new experience and after one week my best friend said let's do cross country, they have to race two miles. I thought he was crazy but we tried out, made the team and thus was the beginning of four years of c.c. and track and field. It was a fantastic era of bay area running talent full of memorable rivalries. I had excellent teammates and Riordan prospered.
2. Tell us a little about your own running from high school to now.
After h.s., I ran at city college of San Francisco and a few small meets at the University of California from which I graduated in '73.
I took a year off from running then began to establish a pattern of training that would accommodate being a working adult. This fluctuated quite a bit as jobs changed, hair fell out, and the running scene began an astonishing surge into mainstream society. By the 1980's, I had finally trained enough to be a better runner and competitor.
3. How did you get into coaching?
At this time I would volunteer some advice to other adults in the excelsior running club and continued learning from their efforts,
I ran through the 80's and was basically an adults' coach.
Finally in the 90's, a good friend of mine, Mike McManus, asked me to join him at university h.s. in San Francisco as his new job and family commitments were such that if u.h.s were to grow and maintain his standards he needed help. Mike and I coached together for three years and thus the groundwork for more success was strengthened. Upon his departure, I remained at u.h.s. and have worked with several assistants since. My present staff is very talented.
4. Who were your coaching mentors then and now?
My very first coach in H.S., Rich Kenneally was a super guy and showed me a lot about how good coaching could enhance kids lives.
At city college I met Lou Vasquez, a fine technical coach who gave me greater knowledge and a desire to learn even more.
Later, I attended a lecture by Arthur Lydiard , a very remarkable man and teacher.
Finally, I have subscribed to Track and Field News for many years and that combined with great conversations with a friend, Robert Darling, I have continued to gain knowledge and perspective on people and athletics.
5. Where else have you coached besides SF University? How long have you been at UHS?
This is my 16th season at San Francisco University high school. Thanks to encouragement from the athletic dept., parents, and supporters of running in general the program there has been a pleasure to direct. The kids have been wonderful and I cherish all my memories of the diverse and talented athletes who have graced my teams with their presence.
6. Might be a little difficult to add them all up but how many NCS championships do your boys have? girls? state meet plaques for girls? boys?
As for winning, yes we like to do it and will continue to do so at every opportunity. Our opponents are talented, the racing worthwhile and our goals of excellence always before us.
Now in my 16th season, the UHS girls have won 12 league championships, 11 section titles, and have 6 state wins plus three seconds. They have also won at least once, every cross country invitational we have entered.
The UHS boys have won 16 league titles, 11 sections, and have been second twice at the state championship and third 5 times. In 13 years at state they have never been worse than sixth.
7. What do you feel have been the keys to success at University during cross country season? How does track factor into the xc success?
The teams succeed because young people have talent, parents encourage them, schools structure them, and I would yell at them if they did not! Seriously, I apply all the knowledge I have gained and demand that they take the chance for success and never fear failure. enjoy vicariously their victories as I remember the opportunities in racing that enhanced my life.
8. What are you expectations of your runners during the summer in preparation for the season?
Summer program: go to a good camp, run with your friends and stay healthy. Remember, the trip to the state meet in Fresno really begins before the school year begins and the joy of the trip never ends.
9. What do you feel are the key workouts for your team during the season? Late season?
Key workouts: I conduct a low mileage, interval speed based program with plenty of races that is supported by adequate stretching, rest, good attitudes, and supportive coaches. Run a variety of intervals on cc terrain controlling the volume and rest cycle and let each athlete reach a level that reflects their talent and interest level.
10. What do you feel are the important points in running well at the state meet on the Woodward Park course?
We go to the state meet every year so we always know the course pretty well. It is an excellent course. Recipe for success-for heavens sake its late November, you've trained all season. Run smart the 1st mile. Measure yourself and opponents the 2nd, and don't give anything back on the third. By all means, when your foot hits the last grass stretch to the finish line, you had better already be sprinting!!!
11. What would be your best advice to a young coach, starting out and with ambition to run a great cross country program?
If you are a new coach, expect to learn from the kids as well as teach them. Keep records, know what you've done so that training is logical and explainable. Give the kids a program they can understand and enjoy, and never ask a veteran opposing coach advice before a big race as we will always lie to you. You'll always enjoy the big win and there is always something to learn from a tough loss.
12. Anything else you would like to add.
Thank you Albert for your interest. It is great to be a cross country coach in Calif. and to compete in the incredible North Coast Section. So many fine coaches and storied programs.
Thank you very much for your time Jim! AJC