New track and field Head Coach Randy Overby has quite the volume of experience under his belt. He most recently was the assistant coach at Capital University, where over his two-year tenure he saw 44 all-conference members and 15 school records. He was a track and field assistant at Ohio State University for four years before that, during which OSU produced 16 new school records, eight NCAA Division I East Regional qualifiers, eight conference champions, 20 All-Americans, six individual national champions and 15 national qualifiers.
Perhaps most impressively, Overby himself was an all-conference track performer when he attended Park University, where he ultimately qualified for the U.S. Indoor Championships, the U.S. Outdoor Championships and the U.S. Olympic trials. Not a bad resume.
Still, from talking to Overby, it would be easy to think that he doesn’t care about all the accolades or where he’s been. Instead, he is focused on the fact that his past has led him to exactly where he is now. And here at Knox, Overby says, is right where he’s supposed to be.
“It’s exciting for me to be a part of an institution that’s looking to mature beyond an academic powerhouse,” Overby said. “I’m right where I should be. I know I’m the right man for the job … I’m just excited to have the opportunity to build a program, to turn around a program with a lot of promise and actualize that promise into some tangible results.”
Overby represents something more, however, than just a qualified coach. His hiring makes him the only African-American coach at Knox, and one of only a handful of minority coaches in the athletics department.
Professor Fred Hord, chair of the Africana Studies department at Knox, noted at the Martin Luther King convocation last month that Overby’s hiring in September was nearly coincident with the extremely diverse freshman class on the track team as well as the bolstering of the track team’s numbers via several African-American multi-sport athletes.
To insinuate that Overby is finding athletes purely based on their race, however, is ludicrous. “I’m just me,” Overby said. “If I’m helping to recruit a more diverse base, that’s great. But it’s not a focus in my eyes … I’m just trying to recruit the best athletes across the board in terms of skill, personality and desire.”
Still, it’s hard to deny that there is some significance to the hiring of Overby. For Hord, Overby’s hiring is important in two major ways. First, his psychology background (his bachelor’s degree is in social psychology) has enabled him to better understand and motivate his players, which has manifested itself into a regimented, intense practice schedule that will hopefully yield results. He seems to have inspired the belief in the team that they can indeed win, says Hord, which is one of the most important ingredients in actually winning.
Second, he provides a presence that will enable a greater range of athletes to feel comfortable on the team.
“Having been a college athlete myself, and having been in this same gym for 27 years, I recognize the potentially positive implications to what an athletic department can do,” Hord said. “The department has received money, a statement of support from Teresa [Amott] and could do a lot of good for a lot of young men and women.”
Overby’s role, thus, seems less pointed. More so, it seems oriented towards the idea of equality and diversity, which is exactly what Knox needs amidst a country-wide struggle for racial equality. Overby does still maintain a role, at least in his eyes.
“My role on campus is to be visible,” Overby said. “[Racial inequality] is not just a problem at Knox, it’s something that’s present across the country. I’m here to assist in a movement, however that movement may take shape. Whether I’m here to enlighten and educate students and athletes or whether I’m just asked to share my personal history, it is my duty and responsibility to do my part.”
It is not just his part, however, and Overby recognizes that. It’s on the shoulders of the entirety of the athletic department, and of the campus at large. He feels, however, that Knox gives him a unique opportunity that other places do not.
“The whole athletic department has been given a platform to stand on, and we’ve been given the opportunity to provide growth,” Overby said. “Teresa [Amott] has essentially allowed the athletic department the ability to bring in more coaches and has facilitated the vision and the opportunity to bring in more and more diverse, student athletes to help this institution grow… Me being a minority coach, I feel like we’ve been allowed to do what we need to do. I don’t need a platform by myself. What I need and have is full support from this program. Whatever needs to be done, I and the others in the program will do it.”
Overby is excited to work at Knox for more than athletic reasons; he is excited also to watch and facilitate the growth of individual members of his team. Growth is important on the track, of course, but Overby hopes to allow for his athletes to develop character and their personalities as well. This is in stark contrast to working at a DI institution, he contends, where “you mostly focus on stabilizing these already incredible athletes and try not to screw them up.”
While it’s tempting to expect a quick turnaround with such a qualified coach, Overby cautions that it will likely not be an overnight change. Recruiting will be key, and Overby’s plan is to build from the ground up.
“Once you build a foundation from within, and achieve that expectation to win, everything else will come,” Overby said. “The process looks to be in really good shape over the next few years, and I’m just excited to get the team performing at its peak potential.”