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Cross-country coach values style of past mentors

BY SEAN MORGAN | NOVEMBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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For the countless athletes coached by Larry Wieczorek throughout his 23 years at the helm of Iowa cross-country, one resounding quality rings true in their memories of running for the Black and Gold.

Wieczorek cares about his runners, whether they finish first or last.

“He really shows what a coach can do for an athlete,” said Micah VanDenend, who Wieczorek coached to an individual Big Ten championship and later hired as director of cross-country operations. “He showed me that a coach can be a great mentor to an athlete and a great friend.”

This coaching trait is something Wieczorek has tried to bestow on not only his two assistants — VanDenend and Iowa assistant coach Tad Hulst — but his runners as well.

“He has always proven that if you show that you care about your runners, it will get them to perform their best for you,” VanDenend said. “He cares for them, not what they have done for him.”

But this philosophy wasn’t a novel one brought to Iowa by Wieczorek.

His high-school coach, Bob Tolsan, and his college coach, Francis X. Cretzmeyer, had such a profound influence on Wieczorek that he still measures himself to three leadership standards he took from them: understanding your sport, caring about your athletes on a human level, and not being set in your ways.

“They were truly two high-class gentlemen,” Wieczorek said. “They were caring, competent, and knowledgeable men.”

After being recruited by Cretzmeyer out of Proviso West High School in Chicago, Wieczorek became a four-time All-American runner for the Hawkeyes in the late 1960s — which earned him a spot in Iowa’s National Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.

Though Wieczorek’s running background is more than sufficient, he still feels as though he can learn more about the sport he has dedicated much of his life to.

Members of the Iowa running community respect the 34-year-coach for striving to maximize his running IQ each year. Part of this mission requires Wieczorek to be open to new ideas, something most coaches his age aren’t necessarily known for.

“Any ideas that I have brought with me from my own running experience, he’s always been willing to incorporate them into practice,” Hulst said. “He’s not a guy who is going to stick to one thing and keep doing it over and over. He’s constantly learning.”

Cretzmeyer took over as the head cross-country coach at Iowa in 1948. When he retired from coaching in 1977, he left a prestigious imprint on both the Iowa cross-country and track programs.

With the Hawkeyes, Cretzmeyer coached seven NCAA champions, 22 All-Americans, and 146 Big Ten champions.

Wieczorek was a star on Iowa’s last Big Ten championship team, one coached to victory by Cretzmeyer in 1967.

For Wieczorek, the accolades and victories are not the most difficult challenges to meet.

“I haven’t reached the level of class and dignity [Cretzmeyer] set,” Wieczorek said. “But I’m striving. If there is ever a day where I feel like I’m not meeting his standards as a person, either in coaching or in my personal life, then I know I need to check myself.”


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