UNCG Track and Field head coach Chad Pearson has been running for a long time, but that was not always the case. For most of his childhood, he played baseball, until a cousin of his started taking him to road races in his sophomore year of high school.
“From there, I found out that I was at least pretty decent at it,” Coach Pearson said. “I had never ran cross country or track for my school. I had always played baseball. I decided to go out for cross country that fall and from there it just kind of took off, no pun intended.”
“Took off” might be a bit of an understatement. Pearson, a friendly and well-spoken man, went on to join the cross country and track and field team at NC State, where he was three-time All-America, as well as Academic All-America. Those accomplishments are still important to him today.
“It’s a reflection of our values here, not only within this program but the entire athletic department, with athletics and academics going hand in hand… You know, ‘student athlete.’ It’s student first and athlete second… It’s understanding the sacrifices that come with being a Division I student athlete.”
Pearson, now in his fifth year as head coach, has his feet squarely under him, but that was also not always the case. After former UNCG head coach Linh Nguyen left to coach Toledo, he secured his role as the interim head coach for a program that, at that point, had been officially recognized for just three years.
“They took [the interim] tag off after one season and I’ve been here ever since. I think there’s been some growing pains, like any young head coach, some on the job training. [It’s about] reminding myself that while I would like to be perfect, that’s not possible. There’s going to be things… that come up that I don’t have the best answers for, but that’s learning.”
Coach Pearson got plenty of on the job training, thanks in no small part to Paul Chelimo, who was twice an All-American at UNCG and finished second in the 2012 and 2013 NCAA 5000-meter race. While Chelimo left the program after being suspended for undisclosed reasons, Pearson enjoyed coaching the 2016 Olympic silver medalist.
“Chelimo is every coach’s dream, in terms of having someone with that ability level. When developing workouts, there’s always the question of ‘well, do you think the athlete can handle this workout?’ You want to test them, but at the same time, you don’t want to make it overwhelming. With that guy, that was never the case. Anything you ever threw at that guy, hands down, he was going to knock it out of the park.”
Five years into his tenure, UNCG Track and Field finds itself in rebuilding mode after enjoying a period of success over the past few years.
“The big thing I’ve seen recently is that we’re a very young team. Last year, we brought in ten freshmen for the women, so there’s a lot of growing pains… Our men’s team, I believe, for the conference championships in 2017, I think five of our top seven were freshmen. More or less, I think it’s a matter of them understanding just how competitive Division I is.”
In addition to a talented freshman class, the 2018 class is shaping up nicely, as well. “So far, we’ve done a pretty good job of recruiting for next year,” Coach Pearson said. “Especially on the men’s side… We’ve got about eight guys coming in right now and I think, of those eight, there’s some special guys in that group. Same for the women. We have four coming in currently. There’s always progression, always development that has to take place.”
With the season just now getting underway, UNCG has only participated in four meets this year; there are still many unanswered questions that Pearson wants to answer. “The early season meets are important, but we haven’t gotten to the meaty part of the season yet… that’s when I think we’ll see which events our student athletes will focus on throughout the rest of this season… Workouts right now are very important. I do feel positive… There are a few individuals I could see helping us at the conference level.”
UNCG Track and Field will be back in action on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 at the Camel City Invitational in Winston-Salem.