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During his reign of success as the University of Iowa wrestling coach, Dan Gable once issued a “never satisfied” mantra heading into a new season.
It was on the media guide. Posters were made with those two words.
It appears Joey Woody has taken the same attitude in building the Hawkeye men’s track and field program into the best in the Big Ten and, maybe, one of the best in the country.
This is not Gable’s standard of excellence in wrestling — 21 Big Ten titles and 15 NCAA championships in 21 years — but Iowa enters Day 1 of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., in a position not seen in modern times.
Iowa has won the last two contested outdoor Big Ten meets and finished first and second in the last two conference indoor meets. Ranked 15th nationally now, the Hawkeyes are talking about a Top 10 finish this weekend, something unheard of in Iowa City for almost 90 years.
“We have been talking about it for years,” Woody said of the goal. “We expect to be a Top 10 team consistently and we need to make sure everybody has the mindset to go out and execute.”
Good coaches — and good men — have led this program for years, but none have reached this level.
Mike Jay of Iowa City, maybe best known as the voice of the Drake Relays, knows as much about track and field as anyone in this country. They call him the “Track Guy” for good reason.
He’s watched Woody go from an outstanding high school athlete at Iowa City High, to an NCAA champion at UNI and a world-class professional hurdler and runner.
He’s not surprised by Woody’s success as a coach.
“He’ll work 20 hours a day if he has to, or more,” Jay said.
Jay said Woody’s success starts with a real “love for the sport” and a support system — on his staff and at home — that sets him apart from others who have tried to create a consistent winner at Iowa.
“He absolutely lives and loves the sport,” said Jay, who is at historic Hayward Field this week as one of three championship announcers.
Woody, Jay said, learned that love of track from the late John Raffensperger, who coached Woody at City High and later coached with him at Iowa.
Raffensperger will always hold a special place in Woody’s heart — and many others’.
“There was nobody better to surround yourself with than Raff,” Jay said.
Jay has emceed the Iowa track and field banquet and seen first-hand how Woody and his coaches and athletes interact. Woody has built a complete program — the Hawks have sprinters, throwers, distance runners, hurdlers and multi athletes at the NCAAs — by getting athletes from Iowa and across the country.
And he’s made them all feel at home.
“It’s a great family atmosphere ... it’s just awesome,” Jay said.
And, of course, he’s not satisfied with where the program is right now. He’s enjoying the ride, but it’s not close to its final destination.
“This is the best team in the history of our program, in my opinion, based on what we’ve done,” Woody said. But ...
“I think we’re still scratching the surface. We are always thinking about the next event and the next meet ...
“As good as we are I think we can be even better next year, but we have to set a precedent that we want to be Big Ten champs year in and year out, but we also need to take that step at the national championships and I think this is the year to do that.”
That’s not an easy sell when you have athletes in a variety of events from a variety of places. But Woody is getting it done.
“It takes a special coach at any level to get the kids to believe that,” Jay said.
Woody has shown he’s a special coach.
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