Kentucky's new coach infusing track program with energy

mmaloney@herald-leader.comDecember 12, 2012 

As head track and field coach at the University of Kentucky, Edrick Floreal sometimes morphs into his alter ego:

Edrick the Entertainer.

Hired by UK last July to replace the retired Don Weber, Floreal and his staff are on the brink of bringing new twists to the program.

For instance, the annual Rod McCravy Memorial meet in Nutter Field House will feature elevated runways on the infield and temporary stands that will reduce the homestretch to six lanes.

A new facility will enable UK to host a collegiate outdoor meet for the first time since the Southeastern Conference Championships in 1996.

Floreal says he learned plenty at Stanford, where he succeeded Vin Lananna as head coach when the latter took over at Oberlin and, later, Oregon. Lananna stressed making the sport fan friendly.

"I don't want to just be a track coach," Floreal said Wednesday at his desk inside UK's Joe Craft Center. "I want to be sort of an entertainer — a guy that's out there with the public doing community service, get the community to know you a little bit more. You really worry about the fan and about the community enjoying the sport."

That's in addition to the citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger) ideals that virtually every coach tries to instill with the athletes.

Floreal has been busy with all aspects since returning from the London Olympic Games, where he served as Team USA jumps coach.

As an athlete, he competed for Canada in the Olympics in the triple jump (1988) and long jump (1992), as well as in the World Championships. He was ranked as high as No. 5 in the world in the triple jump (1989). Including indoors and outdoors, he was a five-time NCAA champion for Arkansas.

He then served as assistant coach at Nebraska (1991-92), Georgia Tech (1993-96), Kentucky (1995-97) and Stanford (1998-2005) before succeeding Lananna in 2005.

Already he has a pair of UK All-Americans in cross country — Cally Macumber and Chelsea Oswald — under the guidance of assistant distance coach Hakon DeVries.

Floreal got a first look at his track team in action last weekend at Indiana.

"I would say about 50 or 60 percent are committed and have bought into the process," he said. "I think there's about another 40 percent that are maybe a little nervous about what's asked of them. And I'm not stupid — I know that you come and you start telling people what you demand and require, and they're not used to doing that, that's an adjustment. And I want to give them the benefit of the doubt to just really get a chance to be a part of the process."

Highlights at Indiana included sophomore female sprinter Morganne Phillips breaking a 25-year-old Gladstien Fieldhouse record for 300 meters (37.70 seconds), and male shot-putters Bradley Szypka (60-0¼) and Isiah Kent (59-2¾) placing 1-2. Szypka, a sophomore, set a personal record by about 5½ feet. Kent, a junior, PR'd by nearly 8 feet.

"Hopefully it's saying that we're doing things right," Floreal said.

Several other Wildcats set PRs, yet Floreal expects better results to come. In a Twitter post to his troops before going to Indiana he wrote: "I will NOT compromise, I will NOT settle, I will NOT conform, I will NOT accept anything less than OUR best Carpe Diem live life extraordinary."

Among his challenges, Floreal said, is to show patience as the athletes adjust to his highly driven style.

With final exams underway, most athletes are about to head home for the holidays — "the scariest time for a coach," he said. He doesn't want them to increase training, but does want to maintain fitness levels while rejuvenating mentally. Once the athletes return to campus Jan. 7, they'll have a low-key UK Invitational the next weekend.

The McCravy, Jan. 25-26, will be business for the team and, he hopes, fun for fans.

Well-known track announcer Dennis McNulty will call the meet. Elevated runways on the infield will be in place for the long jump, triple jump and pole vault. Bleachers will be set up along the outside of the homestretch. Part of the infield will be a "mixed zone" where fans can meet athletes.

The first collegiate outdoor meet since 1996 is scheduled April 19-20, merging with the longtime high school meet Heart of the Bluegrass.

Floreal expects the first Heart of the Bluegrass Classic to attract 30 to 40 high school teams and 10 to 15 colleges, with plans to grow. Weber will be meet director.

The last time UK sponsored an annual outdoor home competition apparently was in 1990, the 21st and final running of the Kentucky Relays.

"I think it'll be pretty neat to have mom and dad in the stands and kind of watch little Jimmy run the (high school) 100, and then you've got the college kids right after that," said Floreal, who had a similar format for meets at Stanford. "And the high school kids walked away thinking this was the best thing since sliced bread, that they got to rub elbows with an NCAA champion and what-not."

There may also be some children's races and even T-shirts to be tossed to fans in the stands.

All part of Edrick the Entertainer making his job fun for the whole family.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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