A profile of iconic mentor Jack Daniels, aka “the world’s best (running) coach”

This feature appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of Cross Country Journal

JACK DANIELS RETIRED?
By Ed Odeven

It’s June 20, 2005. Jack Daniels isn’t ready for retirement. He’s ready for a new challenge. And so, the day after an interview with this correspondent, he was to meet with movers at his upstate New York home.

The next destination: Flagstaff, Arizona. It is here where Dr. Daniels, formerly the cross country coach at State University of New York at Cortland, will begin his new job, July 1st, as the head coach for the U.S. Distance Running Program at Northern Arizona University’s Center for High Altitude Training. He will also spearhead the Center’s Community Olympic Development Program.

In short, Daniels’ decades of experience as a world-renowned coach, author, and consultant (to Jim Ryun, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Ken Martin, among others) will be put to use in a new locale. And for the man who’s been called “the world’s best coach,” by Runner’s World Magazine, it’s his goal to help elite-level athletes maximize their training and help promising athletes blossom under his tutelage.

“I’m really excited about it,” the septuagenarian says. “There are several things I hope to accomplish. One os being able to help relocate athletes that want to come here and train. Another is to get something going to really expand what is available for all the people in the community, whether it’s old kids, young kids, or adults who want to get fitter and involved in running. I’m really interesting in seeing what we can do.

“My whole life has been geared around fitness,” he continues. “I’m really kind of disappointed with how unfit we are as a nation. I guess I’d like to see Flagstaff take the lead and make a genuine commitment to fitness, so they could say this is the fittest community in the United States. All we’ve got to do is go out and do something.”

For his entire life, Daniels has been a go-getter. As a high school student in Redwood City, California, Daniels was eager to participate in the school’s athletic programs. “Looking back on those days, we were just extremely fit at out high school,” he says.

Six years after Daniels graduate from Sequoia High School, classmates Tim Goran and Bob Cooper were representing the United States in diving and water polo, respectively. And Daniels was a member of the 1956 and 1960 USA Olympic squads as a heptathlete. He won a silver medal in his first Olympiad even though he was originally selected as an alternate (a teammate broke his leg in a horseback riding accident, sending Jack to the Olympics.)

Being a two-time Olympian opened doors for Daniels. He studied in Sweden, did research on high altitude training in Mexico City in the 1960s and later spent a years as a consultant to the Peruvian national team.

Over the years, Daniels’ philosophy has been guided by the belief that everybody deserves an opportunity. “This is another opportunity,” he says of his efforts to establish the program in Arizona, including outreach to Native American tribes in the area. “The ability is up to individuals and parents. You have to make the opportunity available to as many people as you can. The final ingredient is direction and hopefully we can offer that to anybody who is interested.”

Daniels commended organizations such as Wings of America and individuals like Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, whom he’s known since 1960, for their efforts in promoting running for Native Americans. “I think there is a lot that can be done,” he admits, “and they are doing a lot right now.”

His future efforts will include education young people and their parents about running and the benefits of fitness. “I’m sure most of them already know about that,” he says, “but need a little boost or confirmation.”

Nowadays, Daniels runs 20-30 minutes every day. “Some days I’ll go a little more,” he says. “Haven’t missed a day in six years.” It’s this commitment to running that goes well beyond his doctorate in exercise physiology and his book, “Daniels’ Running Formula.”

Sean Anthony, the Center’s assistant director, said, “The hiring of Dr. Daniels provides us great leverage in increasing the success of distance running for USA Track and Field. He will be a considerable resource person for Northern Arizona University as a whole, and his presence will likely provide some interesting opportunities for faculty and students in such areas as biology and exercise science.”

Daniels will be a featured speaker July 28 during the altitude center’s Distance Coaching Classic, a two-day seminar for coaches to hear about high altitude training, racing theory, overtraining, sports nutrition, sports psychology and other key topics.

In the Grand Canyon State, Daniels plans to build a strong base of core runners for the short term, but hopes in the long run to have a core group here in Flagstaff for training during most of the year.

Among the athletes who have already expressed an interested in training at Flagstaff are:

Magdalena Louis, 5th in Olympic Trials in 2004.

Heather Tanner.

Amy Begley, a 5,000-meter runner.

Peter Gilmore, who was recently selected to run for the U.S. in August at the World Marathon Championships in Helsinki.

“And there are several others. We’ll see after nationals coming up,” he says. “We’ll be talking to some of the athletes.”

“In all my years of altitude research and training distance runners, I can’t imagine a better place for this type of program. The weather and the environment are ideal, facilities are outstanding, and there is a group of individuals involved and they are very experienced and successful in working with elite and emerging athletes. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I hope I am able to help increase interest and success in running and in exercise in general.”

Under Daniels’ tutelage, Cortland runners captured seven NCAA Division III national championships, 24 individual national titles and more than 110 All-American awards.

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