NCAA Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday. 6K women's race, 10 a.m. MST; 10K men's race, 11 a.m. MST.
Where: Tom Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Ky.
Online: A live webcast of the championships will be broadcast from 10 a.m. MST until the conclusion of the awards ceremony on NCAA.com.
Ask Mark Wetmore about the background that shaped his character, that helped mold the man who rapidly is building a resume equal, if not superior, to any NCAA cross country coach in the sport's history, and the response is almost predictable.
The University of Colorado's running guru will sigh almost inaudibly and encapsulate the first 21 or so years of his life with an unrevealing response of, "Born in New York, went to school in New Jersey."
Wetmore will say it tersely, yet with a knowing smirk in his eye that lets you know that while there are no hard feelings, the background questions will stop right there.
The reaction isn't one of a man ashamed of his past. Far from it. Instead, it merely is another manifestation of perhaps the most humble of leaders in all of college sports. Few coaches are as decorated and successful as Wetmore, whose CU men's team will seek a historic third consecutive team championship Saturday at the NCAA finals.
Fewer still have ever taken the mantra of "It's about the team" to such extreme levels.
"I think that's the difference between him and lot of other coaches — his approach to it is honest and straightforward," said assistant coach Billy Nelson, a two-time All-American for Wetmore in 2002 and 2003. "He cares about his athletes. He wants his athletes to be successful in the classroom, and he wants his athletes to be successful on the track without running them into the ground.
"When I was here as a runner we knew it was his job and he did it all day long. But I think the thought process that really goes into each athlete's individual training on our team...I think that's what I've picked up as a staff member. The amount of effort that goes into each individual person's workout."
Now in his 24th season overall at CU and his 21st as the head coach, there probably isn't an honor that hasn't been won by Wetmore or his teams.
A successful three-peat bid by the men's team this weekend would give Wetmore his eighth overall national team title, with the men's teams having won previously in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2013 and 2014 and the women's program claiming national championships in 2000 and 2004. Wetmore is the only cross country coach in NCAA history to win men's and women's team titles in addition to men's and women's individual titles at the same school.
So respected is Wetmore that he was named the Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Century, despite having joined the league just five years ago.
Wetmore has won the NCAA women's Coach of the Year honor twice (2000, 2004) and the men's award three times (2006, 2013, 2014). He credits no singular key turning point in elevating the status of his CU program from great to legendary, instead describing it as the perfect storm of influence and opportunity.
"It's no one athlete or no one recruiting class," Wetmore said. "The coaches are important, but it takes more than one. Boulder is a great town, but it's also a town where one can be distracted from the disciplines of this trade. It's a confluence of all those factors — the team buying into the culture, the coaches creating the culture, the coaches getting along. The athletes having room for each other's egos in a town that's welcoming to our sport. We're blessed to have them come together."
Focus on athletes
The hardware from Wetmore's run at CU could fill several trophy cases, not that anyone would get that impression visiting the cross country offices. What perhaps sets Wetmore apart from even the most decorated of his peers is his insistence on keeping the focus on the athletes and their accomplishments.
Not a single one of Wetmore's honors adorn the walls of his office. Neither is there a single team picture — not even a group shot of his Buffs celebrating around a national championship trophy — marring the perfect drab of those walls.
While many coaches are quick to deflect glory upon his or her athletes, Wetmore takes that approach to another level. Careful observers will note he refuses to pose in front of a camera even for something as simple as an in-house mug shot for internal CU media purposes.
"We know that that's him," Nelson said. "It's not about him. All that he wants is his name in the media guide as the coach. You could have a huge bio on each member of the team, and then at the end there's no picture, it just says, 'Head coach: Mark Wetmore.' That's really all he wants.
"How many coaches do not go on the podium when a team wins an NCAA championship in any sport? It's not because Mark thinks that's him and he has to stick to it. He just really doesn't want the limelight."
A quiet leader, Wetmore's words speak volumes when he voices his opinion — "His personality, he's strict at times, so everyone really respects him when he has something to say," according to senior Pierce Murphy — while also balancing a tough guy, East Coast swagger with the pensive thoughtfulness of a man who earned a degree in English from Rutgers.
In recent interviews Wetmore used military metaphors (for instance, "We need all our chambers loaded this weekend") while also invoking Rembrandt and Picasso when talking about some of his past championship teams.
If the Buffs bring home a third straight men's team title this weekend, consider it another masterpiece destined to not decorate Wetmore's walls.
"Three in a row is not done often. Most of the time when a team has won two and is aspiring for three, it doesn't happen," Wetmore said. "We happen to have a roster of veteran people defending the title. So that's an advantage. They've run well this season and they know that they're not unbeatable. You're pretty beatable when you think you're unbeatable. They've stayed humble and have kept each other in control."