Dan Graber had never even heard of Webster University before he applied for the open track and field/cross country coaching position on the NCAA open market website. Now, just a month into his first head coaching position he says he already sees a team that can win the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
One of the first things Graber said he learned about Webster’s young running teams was the absence of a consistent head coach. He believes that to be one thing that has held the Gorlok track and field and cross country programs back.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I can be for at least 10 years. I want to build something,” Graber said. “I’ve never wanted to go to a place that is just going to go to nationals and win conference right away. Not that we can’t do that.”
The first year head coach has a philosophy that he will ensure his runners follow.
“You’re always a student first, and your sport should enhance your academic and college experience,” Graber said. “(Your sport) shouldn’t consume your life or take away from academics.”
Graber wants his runners look forward to practice as a chance to relax from the academic pressure, but not to “goof off.” Graber said his time on Heidelberg University’s (Oh.) cross country team was used to help balance his college life. Using that strategy he became the only three-time Academic All-American runner in Heidelberg school history.
That reputation of academics first, shaped his coaching career at Centre College (Ky.).
Centre’s 2011 men’s cross country team earned the highest GPA of all D-III teams in the nation while Graber was assistant coach. That same year the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named Graber, South/Southeast Assistant Track and Field Coach of the Year.
“When you get a coaches award like that I think it is something to really emphasize,” Graber said. “It says more about the fact that you have talented and hard working athletes than that you’re doing something that no other coach is doing. Athletes make you look good.”
For five seasons Graber assisted Centre’s men and women’s teamsduring track and field season, specializing in middle distance, hurdles and pole vault. He was a part of six different Southern Athletic Conference Championships across the four sports.
Graber plans to build the Gorlok program up the same way Centre’s 15 year Head Coach, Lisa Owens did.
“I would be in recruiting meetings with Lisa and she would explain how this team started from nothing,” Graber said. “But throughout the year we got one or two recruits that were a bit better. Then she can say ‘I built this from that’.”
Graber parted with his wife Jillian and eight-month old son Jamie who still live in Kentucky. Graber said one of the last things he was able to see before heading to St. Louis was his son crawl for the first time. Jamie motors through their home wearing a shirt that reads, “I can crawl faster than you can run.”
Graber said it is difficult to live and work so far away from his newborn. He said it is a challenge for him to prioritize his life just as he challenges his runners.
“I expect their academics to come first, then their running,” Graber said. “I put my family first, then this is my next responsibility, and is a very close second to build these programs to something special.”