It hasn't taken head coach Pat Tyson long to get Gonzaga University's cross country/track and field programs off and running.
In three short seasons the Bulldogs have become more and more competitive in both cross country and track, as evidenced by the 2010 cross country season when Chris Boyle set a school record for the West Coast Conference Cross Country Championship on his way to a fourth place finish. His time of 25:08 shaved 26 seconds off his 10th-place time of 2009 and broke the Gonzaga record of 25:28 last set by Joe Miller in 2006.
Bulldog athletic director Mike Roth said he got more phone calls endorsing Tyson than he has for any other coaching opening in his Gonzaga tenure.
"From the day this job was open I've had people calling me to endorse Pat for this position," Roth said in announcing Tyson as the first fulltime cross country/track and field coach in Gonzaga history. "He was obviously the people's choice and it didn't take long for him to become our choice. We're excited about the excitement we expect him to bring to the program. His reputation and record speak for itself."
Tyson, a Spokane legend who spent the 2007-08 spring season as head track and field coach at South Eugene, Ore., High, is also looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm going full circle back to Spokane," said the former Mead High cross country head coach and track assistant. "The Pacific Northwest is such a rare place in the history of distance running in America. It's the roots of one of greatest who ever came along in Gerry Lindgren (former Rogers High of Spokane, Washington State University, USA Olympian and international distance standout in the 1960's). You have the Greater Spokane League and the buzz of distance running throughout the Northwest and the West Coast, and here you have GU saying we're ready to connect to this and willing to let this thing grow to the highest level. That is intriguing. That is cool."
He believes Gonzaga can - and will - compete with the likes of West Coast Conference foe University of Portland, which has won every men's team title since the inception of the WCC Cross Country Championships in 1979 and 19 of the last 24 WCC women's titles.
"Gonzaga is a sleeping giant, and I've had a lot of people tell me that. Spokane is fertile ground, has the trails and has the support of the running community. Portland has set the bar and Gonzaga is ready to chase it. It's a cool opportunity and I'm jacked to be a part of it," the effervescent Tyson said upon his hiring.
Tyson joined the Mead staff in 1986 and by the time he had left the Panthers at the end of the 2003-04 school year he had produced 12 Washington State Cross Country team titles, nine individual cross country champions and 17 individual track and field distance champions (1,600 meters and above). Several of his distance runners also dot the All-Time Top 100 List for the state of Washington. He took a leave of absence from Mead in the spring of 2005 and went to the University of Oregon as a volunteer coach, returning to Mead for the 2005-06 season. Tyson spent the 2006-07 school year at the University of Kentucky, overseeing the Wildcats' men's and women's cross country teams and distance runners, then accepted the South Eugene position this past January.
Prior to his 18-year stint at Mead he coached three seasons at Shorecrest High in Seattle where his cross country squads went 31-3 and qualified for the State Meet all three years with titles in 1985 and '86 at Spokane's Hangman Valley Golf Course. He also coached at Shoreline Junior High from 1973-82 while compiling a 68-12 junior high record.
Tyson's distance running legacy has deep roots. He ran cross country and track collegiately at the University of Oregon and was a roommate and teammate of the late Steve Prefontaine who won NCAA titles in both cross country and track. As a Duck he competed in two NCAA Cross Country Championships, finishing 33rd in the 1971 meet and 54th in the 1972 championship while helping Oregon to first and third-place finishes, respectively. He graduated in 1973, leaving as one of the top six runners in Duck history in the outdoor 3-mile and 6-mile.
In addition to building on a strong cross country foundation already in place at Gonzaga - the women won the 1995 WCC team title and the men finished second to Portland for nine straight years from 1987-95 and most recently had runner-up finishes in 2003 and '04 - Tyson will expand the Bulldogs track and field program.
"We will continue to be a distance running Division I collegiate program like Georgetown, Villanova, Iona, Providence, American University, Colorado, Wisconsin, Stanford and Portland," Tyson said. "I don't know if we'll get to the point where we have full-fledged track and field, but that doesn't mean we can't have the elements of track and field."
He also said the Northwest will be his prime recruiting area. "Recruiting will definitely start in the Northwest. We have it. I think I can do it," he said.
The Bulldogs have already made great strides in track as athletes continue to achieve personal bests and long standing school records are in jeopardy. The first of those records to fall came in 2011 when Emily Thomas ran the 5K in 17:15.18, breaking the mark of 17:18.87 set by Jill Semenza in 2005.
Tyson was also involved in working the USA Olympic Team Trials June 27-July 6, 2008, in Eugene, Ore.
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