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New coach brings refreshing enthusiasm to Mean Green cross country program

New coach brings refreshing enthusiasm to Mean Green cross country program

At 26 years old, Kevin Williams has been named the cross country coach for the University of North Texas. Madison Gore

New coach brings refreshing enthusiasm to Mean Green cross country program
August 30
11:22 2017

When former North Texas cross country coach Stefanie Slekis was hired in 2013, she was the youngest head coach in the Mean Green athletic department at just 25 years old.

Her successor Kevin Williams, who was hired Aug. 10, has taken over the role as the school’s youngest active head coach. Williams, 27, is just a few years removed from his college graduation at the University of Oklahoma – but he hasn’t taken any shortcuts on what’s been a quick, but winding, road to his first head coaching job.

After an illustrious high school career in Denver that included seven state championships as a runner, Williams made three consecutive All-Big 12 teams at OU. He was a second team All-American selection in the 5,000-meter run as a senior in 2013.

He spent the last two years as an assistant coach at the University of Portland before moving across the country to Denton for his first head coaching gig.

“Coaching is a hard industry to get into,” Williams said. “You have to go where the opportunities arise. I was lucky enough to get on the staff in Portland and had a great set up there, but I thought North Texas had a really good opportunity to do some good things in cross country.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Williams was in the shoes of the athletes he is now hoping to lead to the top of Conference USA. His ability to relate to the team is part of what has made the transition a smooth one.

“He’s pretty laid back and willing to work with the team,” senior Rick Nally said. “He’s a bit younger, so he understands what it’s like to be in college, and he’s willing to work with us a lot more. The fact that he kind of gets us helps a lot.”

While some runners described Williams as leaning towards a more laid back approach through these first few weeks, the young coach knows he’ll be able to turn up the heat when necessary. He credited his experience around a variety of coaches in helping to develop his unique style.

“I was lucky to have a couple different mentors,” Williams said. “My college coach was serious all the time – I call it old school approach. Then at Portland, both coaches I worked under were the opposite approach – more hands off, putting the accountability on the athlete. I think I’m somewhere in the middle”

No matter where Williams sits on that spectrum, one thing is clear – hard work is the biggest key to the program he hopes to build over the next few years.

With its early hours typically beginning before 6 a.m., cross country can be a taxing sport both physically and mentally. Williams has already set in motion a more involved coaching plan aimed at long-term improvement rather than a short-term overhaul that sometimes risks burning out runners.

“He is a strong believer in a lot of hard work,” junior Susannah Lynch said. “His whole coaching approach is a gradual improvement from freshman year to senior year, so it’s not piling on the mileage and expecting results.”

While Williams was able to draw from several different mentors in developing his approach, the coaches at Portland seem to have influenced his career the most. At a school of about 4,200 students with around 80 track athletes, Williams was forced to do the dirty work because there were so few hands available.

The experience only made him that much more versatile as a coach.

“It was about learning how to do everything with less,” Williams said. “I was lucky I got experience doing a lot of different things because we didn’t have the staff of everybody else. Being in that environment really helped me take that mindset to a place like UNT that does have a lot of resources.”

Williams will look to take advantage of those resources as he aims to return the cross country program to the success it’s seen in the past. The men’s team won the C-USA title in 2014 in the same year the women finished third, but both teams have failed to return to those heights in recent years.

While his teams have yet to get going in the regular season, one of Williams’ most influential mentors have little doubt in his ability to turn things around – and fast.

“He has the enthusiasm, the knowledge and the experience of an athlete himself,” Portland coach Robert Conner said. “He has everything you want in a head coach. He’s going to be at a very high level, if people want to work hard they’re going to be successful, guaranteed.”

Featured Image: At 27 years old, Kevin Williams has been named the cross country coach for UNT. Madison Gore

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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