Track and Field coach excels in first season


DePaul Athletics

DePaul track and field assistant coach Geoff Wayton joined the DePaul staff in December.

For most track and field coaches dream of  the glory associated with their athletes zooming across the finish line. A satisfaction that can only be met by the taste of victory that for some often seems to never come, or at least not when you want it to.

For others the glory is in the journey to victory, the process. The relationships made. The shared wins and losses. Most importantly, the practices. When the only competition is your previous run time.

It is coaches like DePaul’s new head of track and field Geoff Wayton who champion this coaching style. It is his various relationships over his decades long career as a coach that have defined him.

“One of the greatest tragedies in coaching is that you see student athletes unfairly through what you see their potential to be,” Wayton said. “You also want them to appreciate the grace of success they just had. That requires a steady and growth mindset.”

Whether it was his mentor, U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association Hall of Famer John McNichols, who initially encouraged Wayton to coach when he was a student athlete. His wife is former Indiana State cross country All-American, Jessica Crowder, or former college teammate and DePaul track and field assistant coach Brandon Murer.

Wayton managed to make an imprint through his athletic and coaching career. Finding the value in being a mentor outside of the at times seemingly endless meters his athletes run.

Even in one of his first coaching jobs as the sprints coach at  his alma mater, Indiana State, Wayton put his care for his athletes above the competitive nature of his job.

“The rest of the staff did not want any part of these young people, and those student athletes treated me very poorly for the first season, but I loved them just the same,” Wayton said. “Those challenging situations are where you learn the most in life. When things are going well, it is easy, you are not learning much. So, I learned, and I learned under both my college coaches John Garland and John McNichols.”

Wayton continued this trend as a graduate assistant, coordinating the NCAA cross country championships. His goal was to recenter the event to cater more to athletes.

“Spectators are important, but athletes are most important,” Wayton jokingly said. “Coaches are a distant second behind.”

In the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many athletic departments around the country began to shut down, Wayton stood strong by his athlete’s side.

“I became hyper focused,” Wayton said. “My student athletes, with their mental health. The best coaching I ever did in my career was in 2020-21. I am not dissatisfied with my student athletes. I am dissatisfied with what I could accomplish there.”

In August 2021, Wayton was contacted by one of his former college teammates and lifelong friend, DePaul cross-country and track and field assistant coach Brandon Murer.

“Brandon was a thrower, and I was a distance runner, which is indicative of the beauty of track and field,” Wayton said. “It is the greatest metaphor for America when done correctly. You have different people, from all diverse backgrounds, different personalities. There is a difference in personality generally between a thrower and a distance runner but they all must compete under the umbrella of one team.”

Murer is not the only sentimental connection that Wayton has made over the years. Wayton has tried to never miss a wedding and tragically on one noted occasion, a funeral.

The student was Emilie Hobbs of Rose-Hulman, who passed away from an undiagnosed heart condition while on a recreational run.

Wayton remembers fondly his introduction to Hobbs as she bolted into his office with adolescent passion in what Wayton called a “dog and pony show” of why she should be on the team.

“We only had four women,” Wayton said. “I needed one more to have a cross country team.”

Her vast improvement was noted when her 6k time eventually surpassed her 5k time from high school. Hobbs eventually became a part of multiple all-time lists for 5000 meter run, distance medley relay, and 10000 meter run.

“Emily’s passing, it solidified this is a co-curricular activity,” Wayton said. “All the things you face in the sport of distance running are going to help you reach your potential eventually in life. To be quite honest with you, she would have workouts that were inexplicably poor. You wonder as a person who is an educator if that was her heart condition. It haunts you. In a positive way it will forever change the way I work with student athletes. I eulogized Emily and when you go through something like that as a coach it just forever changes your outlook on things. You value your time with everybody, every moment, the best you can.”

Coach Wayton continues to blossom in his relationships with student athletes. Even in his brief time at DePaul, his impact has already been imprinted on several student athletes.

“I do not think we would have done as well as we did without his assistance throughout January and February, so I am excited for what the future holds,” senior Shane Knanishu said. “He has already done an excellent job so far and a lot of us trust him a lot. So just building on that relationship and success will work out for a powerful outdoor season.”

According to Knanishu, history seems to be something that he has seen his colleagues rewrite on a regular basis. He hopes that in the next 10 years, all the current top 10 lists are re-written by people Wayton has trained.

The Blue Demons saw success at the Big East Indoor Championships as DePaul athletes shattered school records and took top prizes.

“I was on the distance medley relay, and we placed the best DePaul has ever placed,” junior Nina Amicon said. “We got second and set the school record, which was an incredible experience. I run the 800 mile and I feel like [Coach Wayton’s] training has made me into a well-rounded athlete that gives me confidence on the line.”

Amicon’s work with Wayton was unexpected, as she is a recent transfer student from Roosevelt University and was initially recruited by the previous head coach.

How far Coach Wayton, his staff, and most importantly, his athletes can scale the record books in the remainder of this year’s seasons is still unclear. The potential, according to Wayton, is up to the hardest muscle to train, the mind.

“This sport hurts. It can be uncomfortable, if you make it through the sport of distance running you can make it through anything in life. The answer is no longer if something is good or bad, it’s to keep going. The answer is always to keep going.”