'Boy, How Time Flies'
Feb. 27, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Long before he stepped foot on Wisconsin's campus and took charge of a program that would encounter championship success over the next 25 years, Ed Nuttycombe was participating in his father's neighborhood track meets in Richmond, Va., running sprints in the streets and pole vaulting in the backyard. As he learned from his father, an accomplished football and track and field high school coach, athletics could be both structured and fun, with an emphasis on the latter.
Twenty-five years later, as Nuttycombe prepares this weekend to host the 2008 Big Ten Men's Indoor Track and Field Championships, he is proud to look back at his own accomplished coaching career and the way he went about it.
Success has become an expectation around the UW program over the years, enough to where the current student-athletes feel the pressure to keep the winning tradition alive. The championship success that the Badgers have had under Nuttycombe's watch would make any coach or student-athlete envy.
Combining both the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons over the last quarter century, Nuttycombe has been responsible for an NCAA Championship, 23 Big Ten Championships, 159 All-Americans and 148 Big Ten individual champions. For his efforts, he has earned various Coach of the Year honors on 28 occasions.
Looking back, he is amazed by how fast the time has gone.
""First and foremost, everyone would say the same, 'Boy, how time flies,'" Nuttycombe said. "I have been blessed with having a lot of great athletes, but my coaching staff is what I probably remember most. It is the mainstay of your time."
In a complex sport such as track and field, Nuttycombe is quick to point out that while he has overseen all facets of the program, he certainly does not pretend to be a specialist in every event. Currently he works with Wisconsin's sprint hurdlers, jumpers and multi-event athletes, and is quick to praise the work of his assistants throughout the years.
"My assistants have meant a great deal to the success we have had," he said. "Martin Smith working with the distance runners in the 1980s and 90s was awesome. Mark Napier came in during the early 90s and did an unbelievable job with the field events and then Jerry Schumacher has just done an outstanding job with the distance events."
Nuttycombe also credits the work of his predecessor Dan McClimon, who brought him to Madison in 1980 following a stint as an assistant track coach at Northern Illinois.
"When I came here the cornerstone or the base part of the program was the distance (events) and it was being developed and nurtured by Dan McClimon," Nuttycombe said. "They won the national championship in 1982 in cross country. The object was to take that cornerstone and then develop the rest of the team to the level at which the distance was."
Having taken over as head coach in 1984, Nuttycombe and the Badgers finished third at the conference indoor championships, but captured the league title at Ohio State during the outdoor season - a moment he says he will always treasure. Two years following his first title, Nuttycombe guided Wisconsin to what is referred to as the Big Ten "Triple Crown" - winning the cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field conference titles in the same season.
What is most impressive of Nuttycombe's career is that the Badgers have captured the "Triple Crown" in nine of the last 12 years. It is safe to say the last half of his career in Madison has been his best. The Badgers have won 10 of the last 12 league titles during the indoor season and 10 of the last 13 during the outdoor campaign.
It has been a level of success that has raised expectations throughout Madison.
"You get to a certain level and it obviously helps you recruit the next level of athlete, but more importantly you are able to instill a level of expectations in the team and individuals," he said. "They understand the commitment it takes and I think the athletes now don't want to let down the history of the program."
In 2007, Wisconsin became the first track and field program in conference history to win the national championship, when it did so during the indoor season. Nuttycombe says the significance of the win not only shows the strength of the school's program, but it also proves to recruits across the country that a team from a "great academic and predominately northern conference like the Big Ten can win a national championship."
Asked if the success the Badgers have had over the past dozen years has aided in recruiting, Nuttycombe feels that it has, but admits that it has not made the process an easy one. He says it remains challenging because every other school in the country is trying its best to do what Wisconsin has been doing. It's a never-rest process.
"It's no different than in any other sport, athletes really want to be a part of something special," he said. "You definitely draw on the history though. It's easy to say, 'We are the defending national champions and we would like to talk to you.'"
One of Nuttycombe's individual success stories is recent graduate Joe Detmer. Having walked on to the team early in his career, Nuttycombe helped guide him to a storied college career. Before graduating in the spring of 2007, Detmer became the 2007 Big Ten Indoor champion in the heptathlon, 2007 Big Ten Outdoor champion in the decathlon, and a 2007 NCAA indoor and outdoor All-American.
Detmer attributes his success to the fun and relaxed atmosphere that Nuttycombe has tried to instill over the years.
"I think the thing that was good about it was he was laid back," Detmer said. "He knew we would take care of stuff and we were there to get everything done we could. He knew that if you don't have fun in a sport, you are just going to get burned out."
Detmer said that Nuttycombe always stressed the importance of academics, something his former conference champion took seriously. Detmer was a three-time Academic All-American.
"I will be the first to say that it really starts with not being willing to recruit athletes purely on athleticism," said Nuttycombe. "You need to encourage and recruit athletes that you know are going to work in the classroom. We always talk about the college experience and how it is really the stepping stone toward growing into a responsible adult."
Nuttycombe never gave much thought to becoming a college coach until he was at Virginia Tech going through that very same college experience. He admits he has patterned much of his coaching philosophy after his father, who will be in attendance this weekend as Wisconsin hosts the conference championships.
This past weekend, Nuttycombe has the opportunity to relive several memories from last season as the Badgers raised the national championship banner to the rafters. For a man who has won championship after championship throughout his career, it is interesting to hear that he still has to pinch himself sometimes to make sure this has all actually happened.
When the conference's best converge on Madison this weekend, several know the uphill battle they face in dethroning the Badgers on their home track. For Nuttycombe, he hopes the winning tradition continues.
"I don't think we are going to win every championship every year, but it would be nice to have another," he said. "It sure has been a great run."
And probably a little fun too.