This season the CSUN track and field team will host the Big West Outdoor Championship, and what remains of the coaching staff is going to great lengths to make sure student athletes are not feeling out of place in what they should be calling home.
As the 2004 Big West Outdoor Champions, the men and women’s teams have found it difficult to proceed with training after the preseason departure of two key assistant coaches.
Matador jumps coach Jeremy Fischer, and sprints coach Jeffrey Perkins, are now working with the University of Oklahoma Sooners track and field team.
“I found out during the summertime that Fischer was leaving. Not a lot of people were happy when he left,” said DaShalle Andrews, who was recruited from Arizona by Fischer in 2003. “But, I can understand the move because it meant more money for his family.”
Andrews, who placed second in the long jump at the 2004 Big West Championship in Irvine, said that hosting the 2005 conference title adds a little more pressure, especially since the team won the conference championship the last two years.
“In a way, the team has all been brought a little closer together. We can’t afford to lose. We have to represent our house.” Andrews said?
Other students who were recruited and coached by Fischer said they were surprised by his decision to leave CSUN.
“We were kind of upset at first,” said Anthony Brown, who was the 110-meter hurdles conference champion his freshman year.
Brown, who was recruited from Seattle, said he had initially considered following Fischer to Oklahoma, but then decided to stick with the (CSUN) team.
“We’re all pretty tight,” Brown said. “We all play video games and watch TV. I like the atmosphere.”
The departure of the two assistant coaches has also expanded the duties of the three remaining track and field coaches, who now must divide their time between coaching, tutoring, and recruiting.
“We’re very understaffed and the kids know that,” said Don Strametz, track and field head coach. “Unfortunately, the coaching part is the smallest part of our day.”
Strametz said that as good as the team has been, it can still get better, but only if it acts as a family. Along with assistant coaches Dale Cowper and Avery Anderson, Strametz said the emphasis is equally placed on athletic growth.
“It has always been looked upon as a developmental program for athletes and individuals, he said. There is no such thing as an eight-hour day if you’re a coach,” he said.
Although he wears a different team logo, Fischer said his recruitment promise to help track and field athletes make progress toward their college degrees still stands.
“They don’t want me tampering with former student athletes. So, I send e-mails asking about life, family, and how they’re doing in school, which is the most important thing,” said the former assistant coach Fischer. “I love that an athlete, that has this God-given athletic talent, can get to school and get their degree when they don’t necessarily have the school ability.”
At Oklahoma, Fischer will work under head coach Martin Smith. While Fischer was an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1990s, Smith was an assistant track and field coach.
Fischer said the high cost of living in Southern California partly influenced his decision to coach where he could actually afford to buy a home for his family.
“CSUN built one of the best jump teams in the country, (with) depth in every event,” Fischer said. “But CSUN does not have a salary that can compete with the University of Oklahoma.”
The recruitment and departure of assistant track and field coaches from CSUN is also a mixed blessing, said head coach Strametz.
“I feel good that (schools) would want the people that have spent part of their time here at CSUN, he said. “The pride of the program should be such that any coach can leave here and the program would still be successful.”
Strametz said it is typical for CSUN’s assistant coaches to move on after four or five years because the university cannot match what other Division I schools offer financially.
“Assistant coaches do not qualify for financial bonuses based on team performances,” said Janet Lucas, interim athletic director at CSUN. “Coach Fischer received a wonderful offer that was great for his career.”
One member of the female track and field team did follow Fischer to Oklahoma, but her decision to leave Northridge preceded his talks with Oklahoma, Fischer said. He said the student athlete approached him in early summer seeking advice about transferring to a campus with a larger athletic department.
“I asked her (to) come with me,” said Fischer. “It was hard because I didn’t want to do that to my old team.”
In the absence of Fischer, the success of the team, both on and off the field, has become the responsibility of throws coach Dale Cowper and multi-events coach Avery Anderson.
“Although athletics are typically a recreational activity, they are a little more competitive at the Division I level,” Cowper said. He added that mental discipline is needed to keep graduation the key focus.
“Our goal is to compete well as a team and earn the Big West Championship, but we have to remember that student athletes are students first,” Cowper said.
Cowper said the team currently trains for eight hours a week, but will increase to 20 hours once the season starts in January.
Despite the previous distractions and disruptions, many on the track and field team are anxious to start.
“As long as we move forward and the new coach is learning our strengths and weaknesses, we can fix things,” said Everett Savoy, who is a sprinter. “The new coach is spread a little thin, but he’s making it work.”
Tanisha Cooper, a 400 and 800-meter sprinter, said the new training methods, although different, were well received by the athletes.
“It’s not spread so thin that things can’t get done.” Cooper said. “All of the business gets taken care of. But (the women’s team) has got to get first place this year.”
James Fredrickson, who was a hurdles champion during high school and community college, said it was hard losing the coach who was responsible for bringing him to CSUN.
“As long as you have your teammates to rally around, it’s OK,” Fredrickson said
Strametz said team dedication is precisely what has kept him around since 1979.
“The biggest factor keeping me here is that Northridge is family,” he said
Julio Morales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.