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Iowa men's track getting the right people on the bus

BY TORK MASON | APRIL 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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Transfers in college track and field may not get the same level of fanfare as those in college football or basketball, but they've given a boost to the Iowa men's track and field team.

Six of the team's 49 members transferred to Iowa from another NCAA program: Justin Austin, Jeff Herron, Dan Davis, Kyle Slaymaker, Ryan Weir, and Nick Kuczwara. Three of those athletes are key scorers for the Hawkeyes.

Head coach Larry Wieczorek said he doesn't typically have as many transfers on his team at the same time, but he admitted they bring a critical attribute for early success.

"They bring experience, and they're a little bit older," he said. "I personally wouldn't want to give a scholarship to a [transfer] who couldn't come right in and have an impact."

The group seems to have met Wieczorek's expectations.

Austin holds school records in the indoor 60- and 200-meters in addition to the outdoor 100- and 200-meters. Herron broke the school record in the high jump on April 7 at the Battle on the Bayou, and Davis is one of the Big Ten's top hurdlers.

Why an athlete decides to leave a school varies with the individual.

Austin said he left Kentucky because he didn't want to be much more than four hours away from his son in Milwaukee. Herron said he wasn't progressing at Texas-San Antonio and wanted to push his limits.

"I waited it out through all of indoor season [at Texas-San Antonio]," Herron said. "Then in the outdoor season, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to get any better [there]."

Davis was a national champion at Division-III Washington-St. Louis in the 110-meter high hurdles. But Wieczorek said Davis wanted to see how he stacked up against the nation's best.

"I think his reasoning was, 'I really would like to test myself against the very best,' " Wieczorek said. "Division-III is very good competition, but I think he wanted to test himself against the Division-I competition — the Big Ten-level competition."

One of the greatest risks with taking on transfers is the potential for bringing in a malcontent who is leaving his old team for the wrong reasons. Wieczorek said that's something coaches have to be aware of.

"Sometimes, you're a little leery about a transfer, too," he said. "Did they have a problem [at their previous school], or do they come with a lot of baggage? I don't think every transfer necessarily works out. Maybe he's just the type of person who's going to be unhappy wherever he goes."

Wieczorek said he talks with an athlete's previous coaches and other people who can provide insight in the athlete's character. He said he relies more on those opinions than what he gets in brief conversations with the athletes themselves, because "everyone is putting their best foot forward."

He can't really know someone until he has spent a year or two with them, he said.

Wieczorek uses a philosophy he found in a book called Good to Great to help guide the program, and he said the group of transfers on the team are an example of that philosophy at work.

"I use an analogy of a bus," he said. "You've got to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. And right now, we've got a lot of the right people on the bus. And over the last five or six years, we've gotten some of the wrong people out of the program and off the bus."

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