New coach sets sights high

Sean Ammerman

Arriving halfway into the cross country season has given new coach Bill Lawson a lot to deal with.

It has now been almost two months since athletic director Laing Kennedy named him head coach of track and field at Kent State.

At the time, the department was down three of its coaches and behind on recruiting, he said, making him very busy the past month.

He recently solved one of the coaching vacancies, naming former Olympian Mark Croghan as his assistant and cross country coach.

Lawson’s office has been filled with possible recruits during his month-long stay at Kent. And if he’s not busy at practices, one might run into him trying to find his way around campus.

“It’s been exciting,” he said. “Fifteen hour days feel like six hour days to me.”

Yet Lawson said he is up to the challenge and making the Flashes competitors at the national level is his mission. He wants to build on the system already in place but improve recruiting, he said.

“This thing wasn’t broken,” he said. “This is a good program. The other coaches before me have done a wonderful job – they were MAC champions.”

Lawson admits taking the team to a national level is no easy task. And before he can do that he said must first gain the trust of athletes and staff – tough to do when you arrive mid-season.

“I need to get to know them on a personal level,” Lawson said, “not just their athletic level, so I can find out what makes those individual people go.”

Lawson is replacing five-time Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year Wendel McRaven, who resigned last June to become a coach at Illinois.

Before accepting what was his first head coaching job, Lawson was associate head coach at Northern Iowa and most recently an assistant coach at Oregon. His reputation there grew as a decathlon mentor after he coached his players to four straight Pacific-10 titles in that event. Being a part of the staff that took the Ducks from the bottom of the Pac-10 conference to winning two conference championships was a deciding factor in hiring him, Kennedy said.

“He brings a very successful background,” Kennedy said. “To me, that makes a statement for Kent State track and field, a national statement.”

One of the main attractions for accepting the position here he said, was the chance to return to the Midwest.

Growing up in Carthage, Ill., Lawson ran track and field and said he was strongly influenced by his own coaches. Getting involved with coaching, he said, was a way for him to stay active in the sport and to affect athletes the same way he had been.

“You continue to grow older and hopefully wiser as you go along, but the athletes as they come in every year are still going to be 18 years old,” he said. “You’re able to stay energetic, be around the young people.”

Becoming the head coach of his own program has been a goal of Lawson’s for some time. Knowing that head coaching jobs are hard to come by, he said he knew he would accept the job if he had the opportunity. Now that he is here, Lawson said he is motivated and compelled to continue the Kent State’s track and field success.

“I don’t think everyone who has a job can say they truly look forward to going to work everyday as I do,” he said.

Contact cross country reporter Sean Ammerman at [email protected].