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Passion for job key to Weber's run, All-Americans

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Thumbnail image for weber.jpgTrack and field head coach Don Weber knows a thing or two about longevity. After all, he's been coaching longer than all but one Southeastern Conference track coach and coached through six different presidents. 

In a day and age in college athletics where instability and coaching changes are the norm, Weber is a rare breed. Despite coaching the northern-most school in the nation's toughest league, Weber has put together a career rich of gaudy statistics and almost unbelievable numbers as he enters his 27th season at UK.

In total, Weber has guided seven Wildcats to 11 NCAA individual national championships, coached 109 SEC individual champions, one cross country national team championship and seven SEC team titles in cross country. The most eye-popping number is 215, the number of All-Americans that have passed through UK's doors under the watch of Weber.

To put that number in perspective, there have been 75 All-American's all time in the history of UK basketball and football, combined. Although it's easier to be granted All-America status in track and cross country (top eight American-born finishers at nationals are tabbed All-Americans), it is still a testament to Weber's sustained success.

"Over the years and being exposed to more kids, most of what I know and believe about what we do, training and competing, to a great degree, I've learned from the kids that I've coached," Weber said. "I've had some great teachers."

Weber might not take full credit for his athlete's success over the years, but there's something to be said about a coach who has stayed at a school for as long as Weber has and to have produced as many All-Americans.

The fuel behind the numbers, the longevity and the success has been an unwavering passion. Weber wants to be the UK track and field and cross country coach at his alma mater just as much as he did two-and-a-half decades ago.

"Every day I would check the Courier-journal hoping, wishing to read in the paper that the UK track coach retired or resigned because that's where I wanted to coach," Weber said. "Over a period of time of waiting and looking, it happened. I was very fortunate that the guy who got the job when that coach quit was an assistant coach here when I was an athlete. He coached here from 1978 to 1984 and then I got elevated. There was never any other place that I was interested in coaching."

Ever since becoming the head coach in 1984, Weber has coached his athletes to believe in his model, a system that starts and ends with the athlete themselves.

"It has to be personal," Weber said. "You have to want to do this for really good reasons, not just because there is a status connected to athletes. There have been a lot of athletes that I've known that really enjoy the process of improvement. You want to foster an environment where you tell the athlete that this is their thing, this is your skill and we want to assist you to do that, rather than them thinking that they work for us and that this is their job." 

Weber has achieved success despite what UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has admitted to be below-average facilities. After years of an aging outdoor track facility, UK has agreed to build a new outdoor track, the initial phases of which are expected to begin shortly.
A pleased Weber said the future facility will only help build on the number of All-Americans the program has produced and improve recruiting.

"I think it's huge," Weber said. "It will be another indication that track and field is important at the University of Kentucky. Facilities, regardless of the sport, are significant to high school kids. It just leaves the impression of that's something that I want to be a part of."

Even with current facility's state, Weber's teams have continued to roll right along.

The women's cross country team have gotten off to a fast start to the 2010 season, led by sophomore Chelsea Oswald. The Cats have posted three straight top-10 finishes to begin the season, including a team championship at the Iona College Meet of Champions.

In Oswald's two meets this year, she captured the individual championship at Iona College Meet of Champions and placed second in the San Francisco Invitational. When Oswald didn't race last week in the Great Louisville Invitational, the team finished in ninth.

"She's one of our key runners," Weber said. "Not only is she a talented, gifted runner but the thing that distinguishes her is the thing that distinguishes every other accomplished athlete we've ever had - how motivated she is, how interested she is in maximizing her talents. And yet, we've got other runners that might not be as gifted but their accomplishment, motivation and success and how that's going contribute to their best performance and how that's going contribute to if their three, four or five for us is just as appreciated and important."

The men's cross country team hasn't fared quite as well, dropping out of the Southeast Region rankings this past week, but the Cats did win the San Francisco Invitational. The men's team is paced by Luis Orta, who won the individual championship in San Francisco and followed it up with a fifth-place posting at the Iona meet.

Important meets dot the future schedule, including the SEC Cross Country Championships on Nov. 1 and the NCAA Southeast Regionals on Nov. 13. In leading up to those two meets, Weber said the next few weeks will be about handling their own business.

"When I think about the SEC meet that is coming up and every SEC meet and every championship meet we've ever been to, I've never drawn out the meet and compared what other teams are doing from week to week," Weber said. "I've always just thought that our job responsibility is to be as good as we can be on race day. If we do that, most of the time, we'll be pretty satisfied with the end result."

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