Dusty Lopez, who coached the Webster University men’s and women’s cross-country teams for the past five seasons and is in his fourth season coaching track and field, has resigned as coach for the cross-country teams, effective immediately. Lopez will finish his tenure by coaching the remainder of the track teams’ seasons.
“‘Business as usual for the rest of the year’ is what I told (the athletes),” Lopez said.
Lopez’s wife, Caitlin, a radiologist, has accepted a full-time position at Huron Valley Radiology in Ann Arbor, Mich., which will begin after she completes her fellowship year at Barnes Jewish Hospital.
“(Caitlin) grew up about 40 minutes from Ann Arbor,” Lopez said. “From the family implications and the professional opportunity, we felt like it was the best move right now for our family.”
Lopez was at the helm when the women’s cross-country team won its first St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title last fall. Director of Athletics Tom Hart said the impact of Lopez’s stability will be missed after he leaves.
“He’s a very solid, dependable coach,” Hart said. “He cares about his students.”
Lopez said the cross-country and track and field athletes were surprised at the announcement. He said the teams will strive to improve in the last handful of meets they have remaining this season.
“The theme we’ve always emphasized has been improvement — self-improvement, school records, camaraderie,” Lopez said. “Rather than any performance goals, they’ve been process goals. That’s the mentality we’re going to take going forward through this year. We want to continue to work hard, improve and raise our expectations.”
Lopez said the radiology position had been offered to his wife at the end of 2011, but they decided to inform Hart of their decision to leave in early 2012. Lopez’s resignation was announced in a press release sent to The Journal from the Webster athletics department on Feb. 21.
“Around the first of the year was when it became pretty clear we were going to accept the offer and move on, and things got pretty well finalized,” Lopez said. “Shortly after that, I felt it was right and appropriate to talk to Tom. At that point, I did bring it up with him (after the holiday break), and we discussed it.”
Taking over as interim head coach for the men’s and women’s cross-country teams is Heather Kelley, who was previously a cross-country assistant coach. Kelley started her time on the team as a volunteer assistant in August 2010 and became an assistant coach in August 2011.
“I know all the team from last year, so I’m looking forward to continuing with that same group of kids,” Kelley said. “I’m looking forward to continue that bond I have with them and also getting the new recruits in and contributing right away.”
Lopez thinks Kelley’s bond with the team will add to her ability as the interim head coach.
“I think it’s really helped having (Kelley’s) perspective around the team,” Lopez said. “In particular, the women’s team has really taken to coach Kelley. She runs with them; she’s around them all the time. They have really benefitted from her presence.”
Hart made the decision to offer the position of interim coach to Kelley and said the goal was to keep the momentum going that the teams have built.
“We don’t just want to run into a four-month hiatus,” Hart said. “To maintain any kind of momentum, we were going to have to look at the coaching staff, and through the feedback I’ve gotten through students and the conversations that Heather and I had, I thought she would be a good person to help us in the short term and potentially long term.”
Lopez said he will miss the excitement of coaching Webster’s teams and working with the student athletes.
“The thing I’ll miss the most is being at practice with the kids,” Lopez said. “Watching them work to get better, seeing the ones who really take to it and put the time and investment in to improve and then watching them improve and watching the light bulb come on over their head as they go, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can really be competitive.’”
While in Michigan, Lopez said “it’s starting to look pretty likely” he will be in a volunteer role at the University of Michigan with its cross-country and track programs.
“They seem amenable to me coming out and helping run the program there,” Lopez said. “They have a relatively new coach, and I think he’s still adjusting to the Big 10, to Michigan and everything else. I’m excited about that obviously. But it’s going to be a very different situation than here, so there will be a big adjustment for me to make as well.
“At least the color scheme stays the same,” Lopez said, laughing.