When Director of Athletics Tom Hart informed Kelly Parsley he was selected as Webster University’s cross-country and track and field coach, Parsley was ecstatic about where he’d be going. He was also saddened about what he’d be leaving behind.
Parsley would be headed for St. Louis, an unfamiliar city located more than 600 miles from his home in Pittsburgh. Parsley grew up in Pittsburgh as the youngest of nine children and returned there two and a half years ago to be closer to his parents. His mother had half her colon removed because of cancer. His father is in a wheelchair and has “a little dementia,” as Parsley describes it.
While in Pittsburgh, Parsley helped establish Vincentian Academy as a force in Pennsylvania high school cross-country and track. His boys cross-country squad was picked to win the state meet later this year, making his decision to apply for the open position at Webster all the more difficult.
But ultimately, Parsley accepted Hart’s invitation because he liked what Webster had to offer and he wanted to coach collegiately on a full-time basis.
“Really, coaching defines me,” Parsley said. “When I wake up in the morning, it’s what I think about. It’s what I want to do. In Pittsburgh, though I was coaching at a high school — which was very rewarding, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had — I really wanted to be a full-time coach.
Parsley, who has 12 years of coaching experience, beat out approximately 130 applicants to become the second head coach in Webster track and field history. The women’s cross-country program was established in 1990 and won its first St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship last year. Dusty Lopez began coaching the men’s cross-country program as well as the men’s and women’s track and field programs in 2008.
Lopez resigned from his coaching posts in February. He moved with his family to Ann Arbor, Mich., once the spring track season concluded.
Hart said Parsley shined throughout the lengthy interview process, which included an email interview, a phone interview and an evaluation by a search committee comprised of administrators, coaches and student athletes. Three final candidates were brought to Webster for a visit. Parsley visited the university on June 4 and got the congratulatory phone call from Hart on June 11.
“Coach Parsley’s energy and his knowledge of not only the Webster situation, but the Division-III landscape, as it is in cross-country and track and field, lent itself to us believing he’s going to be able to hit the ground running, no pun intended, and build the program up while utilizing his energy and people skills to help attract additional runners,” Hart said.
Parsley said Hart was “great during the interview process,” which was one of the main reasons Parsley felt comfortable taking the job at Webster.
“I love the sport — it’s really what I want to do,” Parsley said. “I’ve given up a lot to just coach. I’ve given up a lot of money. I’ve given up a lot of time with my family. And I don’t regret those decisions, but I think (Hart) knew he was going to get someone that was really going to spend a lot of time recruiting and developing relationships with students.”
Recruiting and relationship developing have been two hallmarks of Parsley’s coaching career. He began coaching as an assistant at D-III Swarthmore College (Pa.). After two seasons there, Parsley started cross-country and club track programs from scratch at Goldey-Beacom College (Del.). Parsley spent five years at Goldey-Beacom and helped the school transition from NAIA to NCAA Division-II status.
Parsley’s final collegiate coaching job prior to Webster was a four-year stint at D-III Lake Forest College (Ill.). After coaching at Lake Forest College, Parsley returned to Pittsburgh to coach at Vincentian. He arrived in St. Louis on July 21 and is looking forward to the opportunity Webster provides.
“I’m really competitive. I like to win or at least be in a situation where I can bring in kids that could put me in that situation,” Parsley said. “I feel like Webster, being such a great athletic school, and having Tom, who’s really supportive as an athletic director, I could really bring in kids, be competitive and do really well here.”
One of the first things Parsley did after he landed the Webster job was hire assistant coach Scottie Barnes. Heather Kelley will resume her role as an assistant coach for Webster’s cross-country teams. Kelley won’t coach the Gorloks’ track teams, though, as she was recently named coach of the Webster Groves High School girls track team. James Crowe will help coach the track teams as a voluntary assistant.
Parsley also has reached out to all the returning cross-country and track athletes to begin building relationships with them. That move went over well with Daniel Henkey, a senior cross-country and track athlete.
“(Parsley) is well experienced. He’s coached at a couple other schools and he seems very dedicated to the team and to the program,” Henkey said. “… He’s planning a lot of big things, team-bonding things, so he really wants this program to take off.”
Parsley has some short-term goals in mind for his programs, like hosting a meet next year and establishing a Webster cross-country/track and field camp. But Parsley’s biggest objective for the coming years is to recruit quality student athletes to Webster.
“The great thing about track and field is you can have 20 kids on your team or 150,” Parsley said. “Right now, we’re not even at 15. We need to build a program.”
His first chance to coach that program at a meet will be Sept. 1, when Webster’s cross-country squads compete in the Washington University Early Bird. The track and field season begins Jan. 21. Parsley is excited to create a team atmosphere at Webster.
“A lot of people think cross-country and track are individual sports,” Parsley said. “I really want to coach my team as a team. It’s important for me to develop the team as a group and as a whole and try to come up with some great experiences.”