Dublin Cross Country Coach Chris Williams On History, Coaching And Training Athletes

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dublin High School Cross Country and Track and Field coach, Chris Williams. His boys team recently finished second at the Clovis Invitational, behind national powerhouse, Great Oak. Dublin is currently the top-ranked Division II team in California and according to the just posted speed ratings, they are the third best team in the nation behind Great Oak and Loudoun Valley, and fifth in the latest Flo50 Boys Team Rankings. During the track and field season, coach Williams hosts one of the most popular track and field meets in California, the Dublin Distance Fiesta. Since his first year at Dublin in 2009, the meet has grown to one of the largest distance meets on the west coast. Thanks to coach Williams for answering all my questions and sharing with us the keys to his success as a coach both in the fall and spring.

1) What was your own running experience in high school? Highlights? Proudest achievements?

  • I ran cross country all four years at THE St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda (I didn't do track & field since I was a baseball player in the spring). Some of our highlights were winning the frosh/soph league title over Bishop O'Dowd, Piedmont and St. Mary's, Berkeley in the old ACCAL; being on the first cross country team in school history to qualify for the CIF state championships in 1996 and taking second at NCS a year after we were 21st; captaining the 1997 team that took fifth at state when we only returned three guys, lost our coach from the previous season and had our No. 1 guy ineligible at state. One of my goofy achievements is that I think I am still ahead of Cooper Teare on one of the all-time lists at Joaquin Miller Park!

2) Who was your high school coach and what did you learn from him that carries over to what you do now as a coach yourself?

  • Chris Rivers was my coach from my freshman-junior seasons.  He taught us how to be complete "athletes," not just runners, and taught us what it takes to really compete and taught us the determination you have to have to be the best, and if you believe in something enough you can will it into existence.

  • Tony Fong was my coach my senior year. He instilled in us a passion for running, that no prescribed workout is too hard, and that he allowed us to be ourselves athletically.  Oh, and that 20 Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie cards would be worth more than 1 Nolan Ryan rookie card (my children thank you, Tony!).

3) Tell us a little about your coaching experience at Skyline HS. What was the state of the team when you first started? What changes did you make? Who were the kids that really bought into your program and elevated to a new level?

  • I coached cross country and was the distance track & field coach at Skyline High School from 1999-2008.  When I first started in 1999, I inherited a program with only 2 returners - Zuberi Harmachis and Alejandra Cerda.  They were a few years removed from having a pretty good team but the cupboard had run dry the previous two years upon my arrival.  There were a lot of changes.  We did a lot of hard workouts those first few years, some good, some bad, but I wanted the student-athletes to understand what it took to work hard and to not hold anything back.  We raced at more invitationals to give them exposure to other courses and other programs.  And we developed a sense of family by having "fun days", team dinners and an extravagant awards banquet that really emotionally got the team to buy into the program.  There were quite a few kids who really bought in:

    • Alex Tellez (1999-2002) was a freshman when I started and ran all four years, highlighted by a speech he gave during his senior year banquet.  He qualified for State as an individual that year and said that, "All the hard work finally paid off...and I don't even like running!  Can you imagine what you can do if you do the work Coach asks AND you actually like running?!"  Spoken like a true golfer.

    • Diana Choi (2000-2003) was the OAL Joaquin Miller Park course record until Joanna Ross and Caroline Garrett from Oakland Technical broke it last year.  She was the first student-athlete I had that did everything I asked - summer running, double days, etc.  She really laid the foundation for what it was supposed to look like.  She also was the first student-athlete I helped receive an athletic scholarship (BYU Hawaii).

    • David Okikawa (2002-2005) was the captain of our 2005 that featured the likes of Sean Cameron Kohles (current Skyline coach), Ryan and Sean Purcell and Andrew Sylvester.  He helped pave the way for them to do what they did (I'll talk about them later).  David ended up coaching at Bishop O'Dowd when they had Colin and Sean Burke and Nick Downs.

4) What were some of the accomplishments of the Skyline HS team that you are really proud of as you look back at your time at that school?

  • The 2007 team with Steven Chu, Kohles, the Purcell twins, Sylvester, Jose Vazquez and Chase Wilson was ranked in the top 10 in the State for the majority of the season (it was us and Petaluma that year for #1 Northern California bragging rights).  We won Ed Sias, putting 4 in the top 6, was 4th at Clovis sweeps, and ended up running the fastest time and highest place at State an OAL school every achieved.  That group on the track also was top 15 in the country in the DMR (10:18) and 4 x mile that year, both done at Arcadia.

  • On the track and field, we won every girls dual meet, league and section title while I was there.  In all, we won 16 OAL titles between cross country and track & field.

5) What led you to move to Dublin HS? What else do you do at Dublin HS aside from your coaching duties? How have you changed as a coach since having your three children (Son Christopher with Cooper Teare and coach Alex Mason above)?

  • In 2008, we hosted our first ever Distance Fiesta at Skyline and a couple of headliners that year were James Attarian (CC state champ, Foot Locker nationalist) and Jeremy Grace (CC state podium) from Dublin High School so I was at least familiar with their top runners.  A good friend of mine Denny Molzen had just finished his first year teaching and coaching football there and he had many fine things to say about the school.  They had a cross-country opening so I decided to look into the possibilities of me working out there and contacted their athletic director.  The rest is history.

  • I am the cross country and track & field head coach at Dublin High School.  I teach mathematics at Valley High School, which is the continuation in DUSD, and also sit on the Mathematics Curriculum Council for DUSD.

  • Having three children (6, 3 and a 4-month old) has made me a calmer and much more effective coach.  I used to spend hours upon hours doing course projections and analyzing other programs, which would lead me to stress out and waste energy on things I couldn't control.  Having our children made me give that up because I just didn't have the time anymore to do that - all of my time I spent coaching needed to be spent on me just focusing on our team, not worrying about other teams.  Having children also made me more focused when I do have time to dedicate to coaching - since my time is so limited, I can't waste it on "junk" coaching stuff.  I have to utilize my time very effectively, which has lead me to a much more optimal performance as a coach.

6) Since your first year coaching at Dublin HS, what have been some of the biggest changes you have made that has allowed your teams to compete so well in your league as well as some of the bigger Invitationals?

  • One of the biggest changes I made was holding the student athletes accountable. Everyone on our team has to be at practice every day -- no exceptions. This includes tutoring, SAT prep classes, club sports (yes, that means soccer), etc.  I ask my parents at our parent meeting who willfully and happily accepts "D"s on their child's report card.  No one ever raises their hand.  I then ask why then would it be ok if their child only came to 4 out of 6 practices a week, which is 66%, which is a D.  If it's not ok in your house, it's not ok in my program.

  • Another major change was allowing our team to make their goals, rather than our coaching staff providing them to them.  The student-athletes hold each other much more accountable when they are the ones making these goals.  We have seen a huge shift in our program once we started this.

  • We pick our spots with our workouts and races.  As a staff, we try tirelessly to create workouts where the student-athletes can feel successful and gain confidence.  We also find invitationals that fit the needs of our current team.  We just don't run at an invitational because everyone else is or because it's the popular trend - we have very specific goals that we want to accomplish at each meet.

7) Last cross country season, Dublin had it's most successful season in school history. Now that you can appreciate those accomplishments a year later, what are you most proud of about your athletes' accomplishments? What did you learn from that season that will help your current team?

  • Believe it or not, the proudest moment I had was when we won the EBAL Championship. Moving into the EBAL from the DFAL last year I knew it was going to be a daunting task, especially with already established programs De La Salle, Granada and Monte Vista (who all were also in our division in NCS) coming back with very good teams.  We had never won a league title before and we had lost the center meet to Monte Vista right after Clovis so I wasn't sure how our guys were going to respond.  As the race played out, we caught every teams' best move and handled it extremely well and won very convincingly.  This win helped propel us into the NCS Championships and that confidence has carried into our track and field season, our summer training and our current season now.

  • There are so many things we learned through that process. For one, we had to change some of our race schedule to help us prepare for State. We went to Woodbridge this season to help address some issues I thought we had problems with at State. We also elected to run the Clovis Championship Race to address some of those same issues. I also implemented a new workout that I feel can race model some of what you can experience at State.  I didn't feel that I gave them enough tools in workouts last year so we had to change it up a little bit. I don't know if it will work but so far our results have spoken for themselves.

8) You have also had success with your track athletes. Tell us a little about some of your top performers and what they were able to accomplish?

  • Mecca McGlaston was the 2014 CIF State Champion in the girls 100 high hurdles and I guess you can call her the "runner-up" in 2015. Just a little bit of controversy in the finish, that's all. She is currently running for USC.

  • Keremiah Crockett won 2nd place in the triple jump at State in 2011. He is currently serving our country in the Air Force and is a new father!

  • Johnathan Shaw made the State finals last season in 2017 in the triple jump. He is currently competing at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

9) Who have been your biggest coaching mentors for you and what have you learned from them?

  • Tom Craig, husband, and coach of Regina Jacobs. Tom taught me how to write a training schedule, how to play the edge in workouts, how to implement strength and circuit training into the program.  He also taught me to calm down a lot (my current athletes won't believe how much more intense I used to be - think Jon Gruden 24 hours a day, 7 days a week every day at practice) and that it's not about who trains the hardest, it's who trains the smartest. He is a great friend and was a groomsman in my wedding.

  • Curtis Taylor, multiple state champion coach in the sprints, jumps and hurdles; current sprints and hurdles coach at the University of Oregon. He taught me a lot about the science of running (and jumping and hurdling for that matter), a lot of which we implement throughout our entire program, not just with sprinters. He also helped me simplify our training by doing the little and simple things 100% correct.

  • Patrick Kleinow & Gabrielle Vidrio, current Dublin assistant coaches.  I am very analytical and look a lot into numbers and trends and I cannot overlook that our successes began skyrocketing once Patrick and Gabrielle joined our program.  They have taught me so much by giving me input on what we are trying to implement on a day to day basis, mainly on the emotional side of how our workouts and races are affecting the team.  This has helped transcend our program and his given me such great insight into my own coaching.

  • I can go on and on and I'm sure I will leave someone out. All of these distinguished individuals have made some impact on my coaching that I utilize in our program today - Jamal Cooks (Bishop O'Dowd head coach, former Skyline head track & field coach), Nick Crowell (former Dublin assistant coach), Tony Fong (SJND head coach), Robert and Liz Grove (Vista Del Lago head coaches), Bill Gregg (Davis head coach), Chris Huffins (2000 Olympic decathlon bronze medalist, current Purdue assistant coach), Walt Lange (Jesuit head coach), Alex Mason (SJND assistant coach), Patrick McCrystle (Bellarmine head coach), David Okikawa (former Bishop O'Dowd and Dublin assistant coach), John Pelster (De La Salle head coach), Dave Ponas (former Oakland High head coach), Chris Rivers (former SJND head coach), Steve Ruegg (former Head Royce head coach), Peter Scarpelli (former Amador Valley head coach, current Dublin athletic director), Laura and Jake Schmitt (Redwood head coaches), Doug Soles (Great Oak head coach), and Chuck Woolridge (Campolindo head coach).

10) What does a typical week look like for your more experienced runners? Mileage? Distance of longest runs? Typical pace for boys/girls? Key workouts? Strength/Core workouts? Morning runs? Summer expectations?

Monday - easy run w/ strength training
Tuesday - hard workout (hill repeats, intervals, tempo) w/ core
Wednesday - long run w/ core
Thursday - recovery run w/ core
Friday - easy run w/ strength training
Saturday - hard workout w/ core

  • We build our mileage up every season, with our most experienced runners averaging between 60-70 miles a week.  Their long runs will get up to 14 miles.  We give them pace "windows" on their easy runs where the top boys will do between 6-6:45 pace, top girls 7:50-8:20 pace.  Some of our key workouts are hill repeats (10, 14 or 18 x 175 meters), intervals (6x800, 5x1000, 4x1200, 3x1600), tempo (6xMile, 4x1.5 miles, 3x2 miles, 4 miler) and a combo workout I am trying this year which is a mix of intervals and tempo. We have a strength and conditioning coach Vernon Stephens who our top 12 boys and 8 girls see on Mondays and Fridays. The rest of the team will do circuits set up by our assistant coaches Kleinow and Vidrio on those days. They also set up our core routines. Our more experienced runners will do double days Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on our high mileage weeks. We expect everyone to train over the summer.

11) During the Track and Field season, you host one of the most popular distance meets at your school. Can you tell us a little about the Dublin Distance Fiesta and how it started, what makes it so popular and why teams should come to your invitational (Coach Williams with athletic director Peter Scarpelli)?

  • The Dublin Distance Fiesta had a lot of influences that helped get it started.  The first time I saw the meet format (just 1600, 800 and 3200) was at the old Piedmont Distance Festival.  After a year at Cal (changed the name to the Bay Area Distance Festival), the meet didn't really have a direction anymore and there was definitely a need for it.  I had already hosted the Skyline Distance Scrimmage in previous years so making it an official meet wasn't going to be too much of a stretch for me.  We added the Distance Medley Relay to add on an exciting relay event to cap off the evening.  And, of course being a former disc jockey myself, we had to have some music!  The "Fiesta" name came from a conversation with Oakland High School coach Dave Ponas, who said our meet was more like a party rather than just another race.  I think the music helps make it popular, and I also think how quickly we get the heats on and off the track doesn't allow for any downtime you traditionally see at track & field meets, and the heats are seeded appropriately for a maximal opportunity for personal records.  Giving away t-shirts and bags as we do and the sombreros also is a plus (and we will be adding more and different prizes this year!).

  • Teams should come to the Dublin Distance Fiesta to give their student-athletes an amazing atmosphere to set personal records, earn some cool gear (t-shirts, bags, and new items to be shared later) and listen to some great music!  There is also going to be a new interview/photo booth/press conference area for the student-athletes to participate in.  All in all, it is not just a track & field meet - it is an experience that your student-athletes will never forget!

12) What is your advice for coaches who are new at a school and want to field competitive teams?

  • Hold the team accountable for everything - coming to practice every day, setting goals and taking care of themselves outside of practice (sleeping, eating, social media, etc.).  When I first got to Dublin, we were not very good, pretty much the doormat of the league in both cross country and track & field so I decided then that we were not going to allow anyone to miss practice for any reason, especially club sports.  While you may lose an athlete to lacrosse, soccer or volleyball, you will gain (and I have the data to back this up) 2.4 athletes who will stop those club sports to run full time!  And since you are new, do it immediately - it is much harder to do this once it has become a past practice that it is allowed to miss practice to play club sports.

  • Be realistic with the talent you have and give them workouts and put them in races that they can be successful in.  I have been guilty of this (even this season) and I have been blessed with two great assistant coaches who politely reminded me that what we were prescribing wasn't working.  It bothers me when I see teams put their student-athletes in "invitational/rated/seeded/sweepstakes" races and have the majority (or their entire team!) finish in the back because their ego told them they had to run in them.  The more success they have, the better they will perform for you later.  Then you can run in all the sweepstakes races you want!

  • Seek and get help!  As I have mentioned, I am very blessed to have two great assistant coaches in Patrick Kleinow and Gabrielle Vidrio.  Find good people who can assist you and let them coach, not just be clipboard carriers.  Don't micromanage them.  I don't claim to have all the answers so I am constantly asking for advice and help from other coaches.  The power of the network!

    Photo below is Dublin boys after 2nd place finish at 2017 Clovis Invite.

13) This past season, the NCS divisions changed quite a bit from past seasons. For those that are not aware why those changes were made, can you explain the reasons for the changes and the potential benefits for the section in the future?

  • The previous alignment put the NCS at a disadvantage relative to most other state sections.  NCS was sending teams to the state meet to compete against schools with significantly larger enrollments.  The number of state meet berths are awarded based on the performance of a section in a specific division over previous 3 years.  NCS would continue to lose (or not earn) berths without moving divisional enrollment numbers closer to other sections.  The change kept the integrity and competitive balance of the NCS without forcing it to adhere to other sections just because they were doing it, especially in the new divisional alignment in 2, 3 and 4.  The potential benefits is earning more state meet berths and more podium spots.

14) Anything else you would like to add.

  • Thank you for covering California cross country and track & field as much and as well as you do!  And thank you for allowing me to do this interview.  It truly is an honor to have our program recognized like this.  Thanks to my student-athletes for allowing me to coach them to this notoriety that we are receiving.

  • Over the last couple of years, we have seen politics invade our sacred sporting world.  As coaches and athletes, we have a special platform to make positive changes in our communities.  We must remember not to formulate opinions for our student-athletes but rather give them the tools to articulate for themselves how they feel and provide support for them for their freedoms.  We can disagree, but we do not have to be divided, as many of our politicians want us to be.  Allow our student-athletes to grow through dialogue that will help unify our communities.

  • Lastly, go Warriors!!!!!!