Don Weber said it took about a year of "torturous thinking" to reach a decision that was announced Tuesday by the University of Kentucky.
After 34 years on the UK cross country track and field staff, the last 28 as head coach, Weber has retired.
"For pretty much a full year, unless I was really occupied with a task, I couldn't help this running through my head," Weber said. "And I didn't want even the possibility of 'I might not be here' to leak out, and the complications that would cause. So I pretty much kept it to myself."
En route to last month's NCAA regional competition, Weber informed Mitch Barnhart, UK director of athletics.
Weber told his staff Tuesday morning, then went to send pre-prepared email notifications to athletes, recruits, officials and others close to the program. He ran into a snag, though, as he couldn't get his email to work.
That still concerned him Tuesday afternoon, as he put U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier and former Wildcats standout Sharif Webb through a workout in Nutter Field House. He was shocked how quickly word spread. People that he wanted to be the first to know instead heard it through the grapevine.
"I hate saying it's been a tough day for me. ... I'm relieved that this decision has been made," he said. "I'm dead-certain that this is the right thing to do for Kentucky track. But, at the same time, I know there are people that are left with a great deal of uncertainty."
In addition to athletes who will have a new leader, Weber referred to his staff — Sammy Dabbs, Thomas Morgan, Althea Thomas, James Thomas, Cory Young, Ashley Trimbe and Lavera Morris.
Josh Nadzam, who came to UK as a walk-on and developed into a Southeastern Conference point-scorer in the mile, dropped by Tuesday to see Weber in the field house.
"Thanking him for the opportunity that he gave me and just how great of a mentor he's been to me," Nadzam said. "Helping me develop as an athlete but, most importantly, as a man. Just helping with so many different facets in my life that expanded, way more than just track and field and running."
Weber said he is fearful of what September — cross country season — will feel like without coaching duties.
He said he'll miss "watching people really work at exploring their possibilities; getting better."
In an email to his athletes, Weber wrote in part: "I will miss the daily inspiration of your 'magnificent struggle.' Practice was always the most enjoyable time of the day, especially those days when you were 'really engaged.' I will miss watching you, learning from you and being inspired by you on those special days."
His vacancy should attract many job applicants.
In addition to an upgraded Shively Sports Center and a premier indoor facility in Nutter, a new outdoor track is near completion. Stands, lights, press box and storage facilities are in place, as is the asphalt oval. The major task left is to pour the Beynon synthetic surface, expected to take place in mid-July.
As much as he would like to have had the new outdoor facility at his service, he said this is the right time for a change.
"I kind of see this as just passing the baton. I've carried the baton for a long, long time here," he said. " ... There are some significant possibilities here. And it just seemed like, where I was and the stage of my career, where the university is and where the athletics department is in terms of all the resources we have for track, now was the time to do it."
Weber plans to spend more time with his wife, Camille, and their three adult children: Jennifer, Katie and Robbie. He also plans to help the new coach with the transition to UK and play a role in the completion and opening of the new outdoor track.
"Don Weber has served his university with nobility and great integrity," Barnhart said in a UK press release. "He has coached numerous All-Americans and national champions. He is a critical component, not only of the past, but also of the future of Kentucky track. ... We thank him and wish the best for Don and his family in his retirement."
O'Neal to lead Ole Miss
Ole Miss named Brian O'Neal as track and cross country coach Tuesday.
He takes over from Joe Walker Jr., who retired after 30 years to become an assistant coach at Louisville in April. At U of L, Walker is on staff with his son, Cards assistant Joe Walker III.
O'Neal, who competed for the Rebels, returns to his alma mater after serving as an assistant at Florida. O'Neal helped the Gators to four national championships and three runner-up finishes over the last four years.