Feb. 3, 2015
Note: This is the second in a series of five features profiling the assistant coaches of the University of Notre Dame track & field program.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Notre Dame assistant cross country coach. Notre Dame middle distance and steeplechase track coach. Notre Dame track & field and cross country recruiting coordinator.
And he’s only in his mid-20s.
Sean Carlson is the youngest coach on the University of Notre Dame track & field coaching staff and is, perhaps, the most positive.
Carlson started his collegiate track and field career as a team captain and All-American at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, running under long-time coach Al Carius. There, Carlson helped the cross country squad capture a Division III national championship in 2009 after a runner-up finish in 2008. In 2009 he won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin individual championship after placing first at the conference meet. In 2010, the track and field squad claimed both the NCAA indoor and outdoor crowns.
“My college experience and my college coach is what influenced me to coach,” Carlson said. “Al Carius is a really influential person.”
Upon graduation, Carlson worked as a volunteer assistant track coach for seven months at his alma mater before moving on to become cross country coach and head distance coach for track at Saint Charles North High School in Saint Charles, Illinois.
Fortunately for Carlson, Carius knew Notre Dame’s legendary and fellow long-time head coach Joe Piane. Knowing Carlson wanted to get into coaching, Carius called Piane on his behalf.
And the rest, as Carlson put it, is history.
“It was awesome. Joe Piane gave me a great, huge opportunity and I’m still thankful,” Carlson said. “I owe him a lot for getting me started in this profession. I’m lucky to have those two coaches as my mentors because those are the two best coaches in the NCAA.”
Carlson came to Notre Dame as a volunteer assistant in August 2011 before moving up to interim assistant cross country and track & field coach starting November 2011. He had the interim tag removed by Piane on July 1, 2012.
“Coach Piane had given [Carlson] a few athletes to work with, and I told Sean to continue and I would slowly give him more and more athletes,” current head coach Alan Turner said. “I think Sean is going to be a great coach. He wants to be. He’s a go-getter, and we need people like that especially on the recruiting trail.”
Carlson played a heavy role in recruiting since his first year coaching the Irish.
“Sean and I have talked thousands of times about coaching philosophy, lifting, nutrition, recruiting,” Turner said. “Sean has been our recruiting coordinator the past two years and he’s done a phenomenal job.”
Carlson knows what he wants and goes out and gets it.
“Notre Dame is obviously one of the top schools academically in the country and athletically in the country, so we start at the top of the list in terms of best athletes in the country and then we find out who are the athletes who are the best students in the country,” he said.
As one can imagine, that pool tends to get really small really quick.
“The expectation here is to compete for national titles and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to recruit men and women who have that same philosophy,” Carlson explained. “It’s one thing to be a great student or a great athlete, it’s another to have the mentality to be successful. There are three keys we look for. Notre Dame is a unique school and it fits certain people very well and we want to find the kids who want to be at Notre Dame. We don’t want to sell something fake, we want them to love Notre Dame.”
During his first full-time year with the Irish in 2012-13, Carlson helped the women’s track & field team to a pair of BIG EAST Championships, the men’s squad to a pair of second place finishes and the cross country teams to top-30 finishes (W: 15th, M: 28th) at the NCAA Championships.
And it only has been getting better from there. Carlson has helped coach standouts such as Alexa Aragon, a four-time All-American and Notre Dame record-holder in the steeplechase, and current cross country runner Molly Seidel, who this past season became the first Irish woman to earn cross country All-American status since 2009.
This year in track, Carlson stated that the team has a young, talented women’s middle distance group that’s expected to be one of the top recruiting classes in the nation and score big points in competition.
“There is a big adjustment from high school to college in terms of the quality of racing and competition. A big part of my job is adjusting them smoothly so they can be successful even in their freshman year,” he said.
Heavily influenced by his former mentors, Carlson’s motto this year is to be the best person you can be every day because “if you do that, you’ll be pretty good by the end of the year.”
“Some of the most important things are to get the student-athletes to believe in themselves, to believe in their capabilities. They wouldn’t be at Notre Dame if they didn’t have some God-given talent to be successful at this level,” Carlson said. “I’m a big fan of positive energy and positive momentum. They’re already hard enough on themselves; you don’t need to yell at them.
“I think you need to continue to give them confidence through their training and what we talk about. It’s important for us to create a good environment for them.”
Above all, Carlson is proud of his runners and proud of the place he calls home right now.
“Here, we get to deal with great kids,” he said. “You can’t ever get mad at them because they are good people outside of the track. There are not many places where you get to deal with the best student-athletes. And we are more than just athletics and academics. We have the faith and community service, we are just a real well-rounded school and that reflects on our real well-rounded kids.”
Carlson plans to continue to have a well-rounded team, in cross country and indoor and outdoor track & field, on both sides.
“We have great new leadership, young staff who are all aggressive in terms of recruiting and we want to contribute,” he said. “Joe Piane did a great job of creating a tradition and good culture and now we want to take it to the next level.”
By Staci Gasser