Previewing the Outdoor Season with Coach Clayton
Jerry Clayton

March 27, 2014

First-year head coach Jerry Clayton discusses the positive changes that he's seen since taking over the program in July and breaks down some outdoor events that play to U-M's strengths, as well as the Wolverines' 2014 outdoor schedule.

On positives that he saw come out of the indoor season ... "There were a lot of positives -- obviously our team finish was not one of those, but looking at the athletes and what we were trying to get them to do, there were several positives. In terms of the Big Ten Championships, only a small group was going to earn the right to travel to that meet so that was one goal they were striving to attain, which quite a few did. When we got to the meet, the way we tried to attack it positively to move forward as a program was to change the attitude to where we were reaching our best performances in the championship meets. We had a lot of personal bests and that's all you can really ask from the athletes at this point. The thing were trying to instill in them moving forward is that the postseason is really what we're focusing on and the regular season is what prepares us to do well in those meets."

On the different outdoor events that benefit the team's strengths ... "There is no question that we're a team that is more aligned with the outdoor events. We want to get to where our distance group is the strength of our program -- that has kind of been the tradition here and we want to get back to that in track and field, in addition to our success in cross country. The way our current distance runners are constructed within the program, there's no question that the 5,000m, 10,000m, and 3,000m steeplechase play to our strengths.

Secondly, when we move outdoors, we add some new field events. We add one of our athletes, who redshirted indoors and will be competing outdoors, Patrick Cochran. He is a triple jumper so that should help us in the jumps. Also, I believe that we're stronger in the hammer throw than we are in the weight throw, which is actually the opposite for a lot of the other throwers in the conference. The throwers at the top of the conference are good at both, but when you start looking at positions 4-8, the dynamic changes and I think that's where we're a little stronger in the hammer than in the weight. The addition of the discus should help, but we're going to need some guys to step up in the area. Hopefully we can get Cody Riffle back in the shot put. That hurt us a lot indoors, although Derek (Sievers) did step up for us. We need Derek to continue to improve and we need to get Cody back from injury. So far Stephen Burke, is looking very good in his training with the javelin, but we'll see as we move into the season. The javelin is another event where I think we can score at the conference level.

When you look at the sprint events, I think our hurdlers are better at 110m than they are at 60m. Erick Gavin and Herman Washington did an outstanding job at the indoor conference meet, but we're hoping they can maintain where they finished indoors or move up a little bit due to the longer distance. We add the 400m hurdles, where Troy Sneller will help us. He ran the 600m indoors, but excels more in the 400m hurdles. He helped us in the distance medley relay, which scored and contributed for us indoors."

On starting the outdoor season with a split squad ... "We've divided into two groups and are actually following the same protocol that the women are doing. Raleigh Relays is a good place for the distance runners, but I felt that with that type of travel, there can be chances of some weather situations there. I figured that with the power events, we would try to go a little further south, so that's why we divided the team up. It's always a challenge with the weather outdoors. We'll go down and start the season and see where we're at. These meets in the end of March and beginning of April are just to see where we're at and make the transition to outdoors. The way I'm used to training the athletes is that we should have good marks this time of year and we obviously want to do well, but it's not like we're setting up solely for these two meets. The triangular meet at Virginia can be a very fun situation for the student athletes. Then we have a weekend off, followed by two competition weekends in a row, and then we start to get into some of our more challenging competitions and start preparations for the championship season. All these regular-season meets are practice meets to prepare us for Big Tens and then the preliminary rounds and nationals. Everyone knows they have to step it up, especially after we test the waters in these first two meets. Then they'll really have to focus in on performances that will earn them the opportunity to compete in postseason."

On athletes competing in different events early in the season ... "We do a lot of that, especially in the first few meets. We're coming off indoors, we've gone back into a new training base, and we have to do things in these first few meets to prepare us for the Big Ten and preliminary rounds. We have guys run different events, for example, the hurdlers may run some 200's to work on their strength and they may run more races than they will later in the year. Also in the throwing events, they made do more events than they normally would, especially at the triangular meet. We're preparing them for the championship phase with all of these early competitions."

On how training has been going now that he's been here since July ... "Train is going quite well. There is a lot of teaching going on and we're asking them to take in a lot of information. In my particular area, I've implemented a lot of stuff, but I have not really gotten them into the thick of what my program is, as far as training goes. We've moved in a positive direction in the last few weeks with some of the things we're doing. Our athletes have responded well, but things take longer because you have to spend a lot more time teaching them what you're trying to do and why. Once we develop our program, the upperclassmen can help the younger group, where now, I have to teach everybody. It's more time consuming now, so you can't always get everything implemented that you would ideally like. But it is what it is, and this is the way it has to be right now in our transition. We want them to learn the things we're doing correctly, to not only help them this year, but in the future development of the program. We really want to set the stage for what our expectations are in practice situations. And then as we move to the meets, we want them to get used to our expectations are as far as preparing for the competition, and other logistics like how they interact with friends and family while they're at the meet. During indoors I addressed some of our expectations, which may be a little different than what they're used to, as far as what's acceptable for them to do on the day of competition. It's a whole learning process."

On changes in the culture of the program ... "Things are going very well. We've made a lot of changes academically and they've responded quite well. I feel the team has responded very positively in so many areas. The feedback I've gotten from support staff -- academics, strength and conditioning, athletic medicine -- has been positive. It still may not be exactly to my expectations, because some of the things they're reporting that are going well and moving in a positive direction are things I expect already. It seems like a lot of them are coming up and asking questions about things like nutrition and sleep. The Sleep for Success seminar that we had on campus was an excellent thing for me and I conveyed some of that information to them. A lot of them are working closely with the nutritionist, and we expect that, but a lot of them are doing it on their own, which is great."

On keeping athletes healthy for the entire year ... "That's always a challenge, especially in the distance area since they're in their third season with cross country and indoor. That's why we do what we do with our selection of meets, who we run and who we don't run, and we have some weekends off. We do that to try to help keep them in a healthy state. Right now most of the team is pretty healthy. Probably the biggest thing we've struggled with is getting Cody (Riffle) back. He's essential to the program in a lot of ways, not just in his performance, but in his leadership as a captain. Unfortunately injuries happen and it's something every team deals with to some extent. When you're trying to perform at such a high level, you're more susceptible because you're putting your body under more strain. He's hanging in there and staying positive. Most of the team has been pretty healthy besides the normal wear-and-tear type things. And that's part of the art of coaching -- we need to listen and make adjustments and try to figure out what's really going on. I've been pleased with our athletes' work ethic and attitude in that regard."