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No break in sight as Floreal takes over UK track

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Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart introduced Edrick Floreal as the head coach of UK track and field and cross country on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart introduced Edrick Floreal as the head coach of UK track and field and cross country on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Edrick Floreal thought he was heading to a two-week "vacation" before he really got down to business at his new job. Kentucky's recently named head track and field and cross country coach would serve as Team USA's coach for jumps and combined events, where he assumed he would rub shoulders with some of the world's best athletes in a relaxed environment.

He turned out to be half-right.

Six of his athletes won medals at the Olympics - including Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee, who took gold and silver in the decathlon - but Floreal had to do a lot more than just hold a stopwatch. Floreal was a two-time Olympian himself in 1988 and 1992, so his athletes trusted him. And relied on him. A lot.

"The guys really wanted me to be involved and they wanted to have no responsibility," Floreal said. "That's what they told me: 'We want you to do everything. You've been there, you've been to the Olympics, you've competed so we trust. We want you to tell us what time to be at the track. We want you to meet us at the bus.' "

After two weeks of 15-hour days on his supposed vacation, Floreal was likely ready for a break, but he's getting no such thing. Eighteen days before the Opening Ceremonies in London, Floreal was named the coach at UK. Four days after the Closing Ceremonies, he was at a press conference being introduced to the media and fans by his new boss.

"I'm not sure he knows what time zone he's in right now," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. "But we're glad he's in ours."

He had a chance to begin to cobble together a staff and get to know his new athletes, but the real work begins now, along with the process of moving his family into a new home, though he admits his wife - LaVonna Martin-Floreal - will lead that charge.

With the success Floreal was having in his old job, not many would have figured he, his wife and his four children would be moving anytime soon. In 2011, Floreal led both the Cardinal men and women to top-15 national outdoor finishes. His six-year head-coaching tenure saw more than 50 athletes earn 142 All-American honors. Floreal was also a four-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year, the 2009 West Regional Indoor Coach of the Year and the 2006 West Regional Outdoor Coach of the Year.

He had built a consistent winner, a program that succeeded both on the track and off, but a three-year stretch as an assistant had always stuck with him. From 1996-98, Floreal served under his predecessor, Don Weber, at UK. More than a decade later, the lure of coaching in Lexington had always remained in the back of his mind, and his wife - the 1992 silver medalist in the 100-meter hurdles - sensed it too.

"A long, long time ago, my wife asked me, we were sitting having dinner and she said, 'You know what? Would you go back to UK?' " Floreal said. "And I said, 'Oh, in a heartbeat.' "

Earlier this summer, Barnhart put Floreal's off-handed answer to the test, initiating a conversation about succeeding Don Weber at UK at the Olympic Trials in Portland, Ore.

"When I came back from the Olympic Trials, I said, 'Remember that heartbeat thing we talked about a long time ago?' " Floreal said. "She was like, 'Yeah.' 'We'll that's going to happen.' We sort of chuckled and she knew right away. She said, 'I've already found a house.' "

However, the ultimate decision was not so easy. Floreal had built relationships with administrators, in the community and, most importantly, with his pupils, so telling them of his plans was difficult.

"If it wasn't tough, I wouldn't be able to coach," Floreal said. "It's tough to look at an 18-year old in the face and say your coach, your mentor, your friend and the person that's been sort of leading your way has to go somewhere else and be someone else's mentor."

It was what he saw in Kentucky, what he thought the track program could become that made him willing to turn to the next page in his career.

"Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder...In my eyes, what I see here, what I see that this place has to offer, I'm not going to try to explain it to anybody else because nobody else can understand," Floreal said. "That's for me. It's what I'm into. It's what I'm after and this place has what I look for. That's all I care about."

Not everyone may share his opinion, but he doesn't care. He knows his new assistants - Hakon DeVries, Jason Dunn and Andrew Ninow, all of whom come from Stanford - do, he knows Barnhart does and he knows his Wildcats eventually will. He wants to help the young people he works with grow in every facet of life. He wants to make lasting impacts on their future.

"I want to mentor young people enough to make an impact that when they grow older and they've got kids, hopefully their middle name can be Edrick," said Floreal.

If Floreal's charismatic performance on Thursday is any indication, getting current athletes and future recruits to buy in will be no issue. Media in attendance commented that Floreal's question-and-answer session was the early favorite for UK press conference of the year, saying even John Calipari would have a tough task in outdoing Floreal's combination of thoughtful answers and amusing one-liners.

He was at once self-deprecating in pointing out his wife's superior athletic accomplishments and supremely confident in speaking about the future, and engaging from start to finish.

"I typically shoot from the hip so what you hear is what you get," Floreal said. "Maybe I need to filter a little bit more."

That honesty was on display as Floreal offered his appraisal of where the program is now and where he wants it to go. He is adamant in his belief that UK track and field is a sleeping giant, that Lexington is "a logical place for great athletes to come," but he also knows there will be growing pains. The discipline and training habits he will demand of his athletes may come as a shock in the short term and the results may not come overnight, but he has a vision.

"Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad," Floreal said, quoting a saying on his office door. "A lot of people are going to think I'm mad, but I have a tune in my head and I can hear it. By the time I'm done, people here will hear that too."

Floreal expects to compete at a high level and he's not talking in terms of rebuilding. He plans to hit the ground running and not stop anytime soon. He wouldn't be here if he didn't think Kentucky couldn't compete at the highest level.

"I'm not interested in participating if I don't have a chance to win," Floreal said. "That's not a game I want to play. I truly believe I have a chance to win here and we're going to find a way to do it. I can't say when, but I can tell you it's going to be as soon as possible."

With plenty of work ahead and barely two weeks before the start of the cross country season, it might be a while before Floreal gets that vacation.

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This is a big plus for UK athletics. Edric and family are dedicated to all aspects of track and field with a proven history of success. Grade school, high school, college and Olympic athletic triumphs for all members of the family are scattered across their resume. It reads like a Who's Who of Sports and UK will reap the benefits of that history.
Happy Days Are Here Again ! GO CATS !!!

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  • Jack Walker: This is a big plus for UK athletics. Edric and family are dedicated to all aspects of track and field read more