July 23, 2014
By Lauren Chval
Though the 2014-15 campaign will be Alan Turner’s first season as head coach of track and field and cross country at the University of Notre Dame, it will be his fifth season on the Irish coaching staff. On July 18, Turner became the third Notre Dame assistant coach to move into a head coaching position in the last two years, giving him an advantage of familiarity as he transitions into a new role as head of the program.
Before he met with his student-athletes to tell them the news, Turner said he hoped they would be excited. Under his tutelage, his sprinters and hurdlers have won 18 first-team All-America accolades. He has coached seven Atlantic Coast Conference and 17 BIG EAST Conference champions. There’s no doubt that, in his time at Notre Dame, Turner has pushed his athletes to victory.
“Certainly I hope the sprinters and hurdlers will be excited, because they’ve seen success,” Turner said of his promotion announcement. “But, if you ask the others in the other event groups, I’m engaged with all the kids. So, I’m going to bring a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. We’re going to have a lot of fun. Track is fun. So I think all the kids are really going to enjoy it.”
Turner’s announcement to his team took place in the Joyce Center auditorium, where student-athletes either filed in to sit and listen or called in via a conference call. When he had finished explaining the transition, he asked for questions or comments.
Michelle Brown, a sprinter and recent graduate of Notre Dame, piped up on speakerphone. During her senior season alone, Brown earned both indoor and outdoor All-America status and set a school record in the women’s 400 meters.
“I just want to say that Coach Turner has done such a great job with the sprints group, and I know all of us have full confidence that he’ll be a great leader not only for our group but also for distance and cross country, the jumps and throws,” she said. “He’s really going to take this program to the next level. I think this is a really great move. Just congratulations from all of us.”
Brown is hardly alone in her opinion. Senior Chris Giesting has seen Turner help him achieve personal bests every season at Notre Dame. To Giesting, Turner has preached efficiency and proper mechanics, and that has certainly paid off in a big way. The sprinter earned All-America recognition three times during his junior campaign and was named both the indoor and outdoor ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“I’m very excited to have Coach Turner take the reins for the program going into my senior year,” Giesting says. “I’m looking forward to seeing the impact he’ll have on all of our other event groups. He has been able to inspire and develop a strong core of sprinters, and I’m absolutely positive he’ll be able to inspire the other event groups as well. It’ll be great to see his talents and leadership affect so much more than just one part of the team.”
Even the members of the team who have spent less time with Turner are excited for him to move into his new role. Rising sophomore Harvey Smith saw great success as a freshman in 2014 when he helped the men’s 4×400-meter relay to an eighth-place finish at the Indoor NCAA Championships, qualifying him as an All-American.
“It’s going to be a great transition,” Smith says. “He’s a very good coach, and he’ll put forth as much energy as possible to make sure the program is going in the right direction. He’s improved me tremendously. He pushes me every day, and I’ve already dropped way more time than I thought I would, and I’m only a sophomore.”
Turner credits former head coach Joe Piane, who served as head of the track and field and men’s cross country programs for 39 years, with helping him improve as a coach.
“I learned from Joe when to push certain buttons,” Turner explains. “When to be really firm with athletes and when to back off. When to push them hard and when to ease up. When to be the disciplinarian and when to be that comforting hand. I learned how to just keep options open and how to wear multiple hats as a head coach.”
Certainly this year, Turner will have many more hats to wear. Yet Giesting expresses that, above all else, Turner’s strongest characteristic as a coach is how much he cares. Beyond helping his sprinters and hurdlers to run more efficiently, Notre Dame’s newest head coach is invested in the success of the team overall. In fact, Giesting says that Turner “shows that he is invested in our success just as much as we are.”
“One of the things that sticks out most in my mind about Coach was a simple gesture back at this last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships in New Mexico,” Giesting says. “With our hotel positioned a little farther away from more traditional eateries, it was tough for us competing to get around to decent food places. Knowing this, Coach Turner was always asking and providing rides to more available dining options. He would go out of his way and make sure that we were able to eat where we wanted and at the proper time that we wanted. He said, `It’s not about me being comfortable at these meets, it’s about all of you being comfortable and being ready to compete.’ For me, that stands out as the type of coach he is. It was a simple gesture, but it shows he’ll do whatever he can to put his athletes first.”
It is with this confidence in their coach that Notre Dame track and field and cross country student-athletes look forward to the 2014-15 season. They’re giving every indication that they’ll fulfill Turner’s expectation that they’ll have a lot of fun.