Prior to my senior year of high school, I attended the Luther College Distance Running Camp. It's where I fell in love with Luther College and ultimately decided to run for the Norse. Dee Brown was heading into his senior year at Luther College and worked at the camp. I remembered him as a bandana-wearing, high energy guy, who was passionate about cross country and brought an infectious joy to running.
Dee came back to Luther College during my final couple of years of college and worked as an assistant coach with the distance runners. Dee is now the head cross country coach at Iowa Central Community College, in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. Since taking the reigns at Iowa Central, the Tritons have won three national championships on the men's side and six on the women's side. He was profiled in Runner's World back in November, "Is This the Toughest Job in College Running?"
Coach Dee Brown was gracious enough to discuss running at the junior college level.
Congrats on an amazing 2017, the Tritons hosted the NJCAA Cross Country Championships and won both the men’s and women’s National Championship. You’ve built a junior college powerhouse since arriving at Iowa Central, what do you attribute your success to?
A lot of hard work, and hard-working assistants. I have a great administration to work under here and that is a large part of why I am still here 14 years later. You won’t find that just anywhere. Our administration wants us to be successful and will do whatever they can within their power to support our athletic programs and coaches.
Looking at the Triton’s cross country roster you have runners from Peru, Kenya, Spain, Israel and Poland. How do you convince these kids to come to Ft. Dodge, Iowa and run for Iowa Central Community College? Also how difficult is it for the international kids to adjust and how do you assist them during that transition?
Some kids I find via recruiting services, others I find through coaches in those countries that I know or coaches at Universities in the United States. If an athlete is not an NCAA qualifier, those schools will often reach out to a Junior College to help place them with the hopes of getting them back in two years.
I can’t even imagine how hard the transition is. I know if I had to go to a foreign country, only speak and hear their language, eat their food, be expected to go to school and learn and then train at a high level, it would be very overwhelming. Especially if the training environment is vastly different from their own country, which it often is. For the students that arrive in August it is much easier. We report about 3 weeks early and do some team bonding activities, so that helps them orient to their environment and get to know people much easier. However , Kenyan student arriving in January. WOW! SHOCK!! That is a tough transition but these kids are tough, they are resilient and driven to do well.
Having coached a lot of talented foreign runners, how is their mindset different than say a typical runner you pull from an Iowa high school?
A student-athlete coming from another country is making a HUGE commitment. They are all-in compared to your typical local student who can probably go home any time they want, do some laundry, get a free meal etc. So those kids coming from afar definitely have a different mindset. They know they are in for the long haul. They have a job to do (school) and they are going to get it done. They are very highly motivated and willing to take risks to accomplish their goals.
Can you tell us how recruiting works at the junior college level? How many scholarships are you working with on the mens and womens side? Also how do you target athletes that you recruit, I’m assuming that a lot of high school runners don’t have much interest in going the junior college route, at least initially?
That’s a huge question with lots of parts. Recruiting at the Junior College level is different than anywhere else because it is non-stop. 75% of my team is brand new every year. We get a lot of kids that come in for our traditional 2 year programs, but many come in for 1 year programs, or started somewhere else and come here to finish up for a multitude of reasons. Students from our local area can feasibly have a year of college done with dual credit through their high schools so they only need 1 year here before moving on.
At the NJCAA you are allotted 10 men’s and 10 women’s scholarships for xc. In Track you have 20 men and 20 women. HOWEVER, a scholarship is defined differently and by each school. I have a certain budget, and I can divide it up however I need for those 10 people. That doesn’t mean I have anywhere near 10 full scholarships. Not possible. I would bet most junior colleges in the NJCAA, at least in cross country, would be lucky to offer 2-3 full rides. There is probably only a small handful with that ability. Most junior colleges are probably giving a thousand dollars or so per athlete and likely not even giving out 10 scholarships total per year.
I target anyone with interest and I target people with a high talent level.
We get referrals from Division I Universities who are recruiting athletes that are non-qualifiers, perhaps a low ACT/SAT score, missing core requirements or GPA, or an international student with a low TOEFL score.
There are 3 big reasons students choose a junior college like Iowa Central. (1) Cost. We are far cheaper than any other in-state option or private college. (2) Academics. Smaller class sizes, more 1-1 attention, greater safety net with more people looking out for them or guiding them through their academic career. (3) Athletics. They want to use us as a stepping stone to get to the next level. Perhaps they didn’t get the offers or looks they wanted out of high school. Now they have 1-2 more years to mature, have big meet experience and exposure right away. We take athletes to big meets all over the Midwest and US. They get to see a lot of campuses and a lot of coaches see them. This high degree of visibility, plus knowing they are “college tested” makes them very desirable recuits.
The NJCAA also has a half marathon which is rather unique, I’m thinking only NAIA schools also offer the half marathon is that correct? Can you tell us a about the half marathon race, is it separate from the Cross Country Championships? I know when I was 18 or 19, I would have never considered running a half marathon, do you have to nudge a few kids to run that distance or are they volunteering?
I believe the NAIA offers a marathon in conjunction with their national track meet. The Half Marathon championship is typically the week after the XC Championship. Everyone on your eligible roster may compete. You score a 5 person team, with your top 3 as scorers, last 2 as pushers. Scholarship kids are typically (for me) required to do it, I’ll nudge some, but others can choose. It is a fun event, many want to at least give it a try. Our long runs throughout the season prepare them for the rigors of the race. Our men will build up to 15 mile long runs whereas our women will max out around 12 to 13 miles on Sunday mornings.
Do you know how many junior colleges offer cross country and are the numbers of junior colleges that offer the sport increasing, staying steady or dropping in numbers?
There were 111 colleges last year in the NJCAA Division I that offered men’s and/or women’s cross country. Every year we lose a few and gain a few. It has been steadily growing since I started here 14 years ago. There were about 62 NJCAA Division III programs this past year as well.
Walk us through a typical week of Triton training. How many miles per week will your top mens and womens runners run? Do you incorporate any strength or mobility work within the program?
Sunday Long run.
Monday off / Team Meeting
Tuesday Hardest day of week. Early season hill repeats, mid season becomes race pace repeats of 800, 1k, 1 mile, 2k.
Wednesday recovery run
Thursday moderate work out with a tempo run or speed day
Friday usually running the race course if it is a race weekend.
Everyone is very different. Depends what you did in high school, if you are a frosh or soph with me. On average a typical varsity freshman guy could get up to 50-65 miles for their max volume whereas a female would get up to 40-45 miles.
We do core every day for about the first 3 weeks, then once school begins we are in the weight room at least 2-3 days per week either doing circuit training, Olympic lifts, or medicine ball drills. We also add in hurdle drills.
What’s your overall take on youth running in America? The talent that is coming out of the youth levels, especially on the girls side has been incredible of late, taking special note of Katelyn Tuohy’s 5K time. What are teams doing right and what could they do to improve?
Tough question, I don’t do what everyone else is doing. My only opinion is to let the young kids be young kids, have fun and not run them year round. Let them play other sports, encourage them to be multi-sport athletes. Enjoy their youth. There is no need to specialize, you have a long road ahead of you.
Coaching at junior college is different in that you only have the athletes for two years. The better runners that you have coached, are most of them going on to four year colleges and how do you get involved when schools start to recruit your athletes?
The vast majority of our kids go to four year schools to continue running. I get a few kids every year that come here just to say they gave college running a try because they know after Iowa Central they are going down the road to the state university where they will ‘just be a student’. That’s fine with me. I am glad I can provide them that experience. Often times I will surprise those kids and find schools that ARE interested in them and will offer them a small scholarship to continue their running career. That is always in the back of my mind. I love to see kids continuing to run after they graduate. Like I said earlier, we go to lots of big meets and I have lots of connections with coaches around the US that respect our program. After a meet weekend it is not unusual for me to get multiple emails, texts and phone calls about so-and-so. What is he doing next year? When is she graduating? Etc.
I have an individual meeting with each athlete in the fall when they arrive every year to talk about running and academic goals. Sometimes they will help narrow their search geographically or by academic major. Then I can weed out some of these recruiting calls. Otherwise I just forward those messages on to them and if they are interested in hearing more either they or I will contact the coach to get them connected.
I always tell them, I work hard to get them here, if we are the right fit, but I work just as hard to get rid of them and find them a good home somewhere else.
At Luther College, I think it’s fair to say you weren’t setting any records or contending for any individual titles but everyone always thought highly of you as the team guy, motivator, captain. You graduated with a degree in Computer Science, but when did you realize that coaching was your true passion?
I went to college to major in something where I could make a lot of money. I was young and didn’t know any better. I never considered what would make me happy. After I graduated, strike that, immediately after my last track and field competition while on my cool down…. I felt a void. It was a huge void, like I just lost a dear family member. It was hard to reconcile that such an important chapter of my life had just come to an end. I moved to Minneapolis to start my ‘high paying job’ and was lucky to enough to get involved in the Northwest Run Club where I could work with and coach adult 5k/10k runners. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it helped ease the pain of not having my teammates in my everyday life anymore. I did that for 6 months until I was given the opportunity to use my computer science degree and assistant coach back at Luther. I jumped at the opportunity.
I went to work an hour early so I could get off work an hour early for practice. I did that for a couple years but it helped me realize my passion was in coaching, not computers. At that point I knew I needed to go back to school. I looked for some graduate programs in coaching or physical education. I found an amazing MS in Physical Education program at Springfield College in MA. I moved out there earned my degree and found my way back to Luther teaching full-time in the Management Information Systems program as well as assistant coaching.
I did that for 2 more years until I realized I wanted to be a head coach. I basically packed up all my belongings and my family and lived in the basement of one of our family members for six months until the opportunity at Iowa Central came along. It was love at first sight. I planned to be here for about 5 years and BAM! 14 years later and still having fun at it.