Kelly Phillips has much in common with Bob Braman.Phillips, head coach for USF’s track and field and cross country teams, is primarily a cross country coach, as is her predecessor, Braman. Both Phillips and Braman made multiple NCAA appearances and won multiple conference coach-of-the-year awards with the Bulls.
And, as of Friday, Phillips will share another distinction with Braman – former USF head coach.
Phillips’ final day at USF comes almost a year to the day (June 30) when Braman ended his 17-year stint with the Bulls to coach at Florida State. Phillips, who is expecting her second child in August, cited financial concerns, and especially the prohibitive cost of day care, as the main reasons for her departure.
The three-time Conference USA and South Region Coach of the Year, Phillips relocates to New Hampshire this weekend and will spend a year away from coaching.
Phillips’ resignation left the head coach and cross country coach positions available. The head coaching reins will be taken over by long-time assistant Greg Thiel, while former USF distance runner Heather Curtiss will coach the men’s and women’s cross country teams, starting in the fall.
Assistant Athletics Director in charge of sports medicine, Barry Clements, oversees the track and field and cross country teams. According to Associate Athletics Director Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy, Clements was in charge of assessing the head coaching candidates, including Thiel and other members of the close-knit track and field community who had heard of the vacancies.
“And he determined that Greg had put in a lot of years here, he’s been very dependable, he’s been a good fund-raiser, as well as a very good coach,” Sparks-McGlinchy said.
Following that review and the approval of senior administration, Thiel was named interim head coach for the upcoming season. Phillips said Thiel’s experience and knowledge of different events will make him a success.
“Actually he brings everything to the table,” Phillips said. “He’s been here forever. He’s been here for 10 years, probably should have been the head coach before I was.
“He knows all (events) – sprints, jumps, distance. He knows it all.”
Thiel began assisting the USF program in the 1990-91 season. He remained a part-time assistant for eight years, during which he ran a business, Spray Crete Industries Inc., which specialized in resurfacing concrete areas like driveways and pool decks. But Thiel sold the business three years ago to become a full-time assistant, though his expertise later came in handy.
“When we needed a pole vault runway, he went out there and dug the hole, poured the concrete and made it happen,” Phillips said.Thiel said his business acumen will also help the program in terms of fund-raising efforts. The program hosts a series of road races, the proceeds from which are used to subsidize travel expenses, equipment, scholarships and more coaches’ hirings.
“You tend to look at things more from a business perspective in some aspects, than you do just as a coach. I think that that will help us on the financial side,” Thiel said.
Thiel said he wants the Bulls’ main fund-raising source to eventually be donations of cash and kind.
“This year is going to be a little tough with the transition and everything that’s going on,” he said. “But next summer, our big task is going to be that we’re going to go out, beating doors, asking for money.”
One of Thiel’s first duties was to find an assistant to replace Phillips. And he only had to look to the occupant of the desk next to his – Curtiss, who had worked there since Dec. 1999 as an administrative assistant.
Based on Thiel’s recommendation to Clements and senior administration’s approval, Curtiss will coach the cross country teams.
“You lose a lot when you lose a Kelly Phillips – her experience and coaching,” Thiel said. “However, Heather’s background is very similar and Heather’s been fortunate to have been coached under … three or four different coaches.
“So she’s seen a lot of different styles and that’s going to be a big benefit if she can bring that to the table.”
Curtiss attended USF from 1993-97, running cross country and track for Braman and Phillips. She continued studying in Argentina from March to Nov. 1999, before returning to USF, and has been accepted to a Ph.D. program in school psychology beginning in the fall.
Curtiss said she will build on the foundation laid by her former coaches.
“Since I am a product of this program, I pretty much have the same philosophy as Kelly,” Curtiss said. “I don’t emphasize real high mileage – a lot of trail running, a lot of good, intense workouts but no junk miles or anything like that.”
Curtiss added that her familiarity with USF will be an asset.”I think it’s going to be a good thing for the athletes. Most of them already know me and like me and are comfortable with me,” she said. “And good for the program from the standpoint that I’ve been on the inside and I know what it takes to keep this program running.”
Sophomore cross country runner Cori Kill said she considered transferring when Phillips announced she was leaving, but the appointment of Curtiss convinced Kill to stay.
“When I heard that Heather was going to be the coach, it calmed me because I trust her with my training,” Kill said.
Kill predicts that Curtiss will inherit C-USA Coach of the Year status from Phillips. She said Curtiss has the necessary attributes to fill Phillips’ shoes.
“She’s extremely responsible and she’s also extremely intelligent,” Kill said. “She has a broad perspective of coaching.”
Braman also endorsed the appointment of his former pupil.”Certainly, she’s shown over the years a great deal of loyalty and (camaraderie),” Braman said. “Very, very sweet girl and has a long background with USF. So I’m sure she’ll do just fine.”
Braman said Curtiss will benefit from sharing the philosophies of himself and Phillips, but he said the main asset for Curtiss will be another member of the USF coaching staff.
“She’s going to have Don Marsh, who’s in the Michigan High School Coaching Hall of Fame, who’s an assistant coach,” Braman said. “Don’s a great distance coach and Don will be an excellent mentor for Heather as a young coach.”
Thiel and Curtiss do not foresee a big drop-off in the Bulls’ fortunes next year, despite the loss of some top athletes. Thiel said the squad has been bolstered by a number of outstanding recruits, especially on the women’s side.
“Do I see us falling off at all? No. I see us actually getting better,” Thiel said. “We lose Kerine (Black, five-time All-American) and (she’s) huge to lose, but we replace her with a lot of quality numbers.”
Thiel added that he will bring stability to the head coaching ranks, and will not be deterred by the relative lack of financial reward. According to Sparks-McGlinchy, Phillips earned at or near the median salary for C-USA head track and field coaches, $35,200, which is the range Thiel would likely earn.
But Thiel noted that he took a substantial pay cut when he sold Spray Crete to coach full-time.
“I’m in it because I love it and it’s what I enjoy doing,” Thiel said. “I’m one of (the few) people that get to wake up in the morning, whistling going to work, and can’t wait to get in, hate to leave. That’s probably one percent of the workforce out there.”