This feature on one of our finest coaches in North America is part of a series I challenged David Hunter on last fall. He has taken the challenge admirably and this is another example of the fine coaching that we have in the good old U.S. of A.
I really like Coach Holloway’s positive approach to coaching and encouragement of his staff and athletes. I also like how Mr. Hunter used the word, “ecumenical”.
Leading The Way…
Roars From The Mouse
Outspoken Mike Holloway Leads Gators To Championships
Discussion about the storied track & field program at the University of Florida often evokes memories of the tremendous legacy the SEC powerhouse has in the sprints, the hurdles, and the jumps. But Florida head coach Michael “Mouse” Holloway prefers to see Florida’s success as a more ecumenical accomplishment. “I think it is a positive any time you are being successful in any areas. And when people talk to me about our success in the sprints, the hurdles, and the jumps, I always tell them that we don’t discriminate against throwers or distance runners,” explains Holloway. “We’ve had good distance runners here. We had Cory McGee who was the NCAA runner-up two years in a row. Stipe Zunic [2015 NCAA indoor titlist] was an excellent champion in the shot put. Mark Parrish was an All-American last year in the steeple. And Evelien Dekkers  and Fawn Miller  both won recent NCAA javelin titles,” he offers. “So it is true that we have had more success overall in the sprints. And obviously our jumps program has been lights out here lately. But we’ve had a lot of success in the throws and the middle distances also.”
The coach they call “Mouse” and his charges have been riding quite a wave of track & field success. But it has been a surf that Holloway and his most able coaching staff have whipped up – the perfect tsunami of focused, labor-intensive recruiting; skilled coaching; and – finally – top flight in-the-moment performances by the talented Gator athletes they have selected and prepared. These ingredients have allowed the 56 year old head coach and his staff to compile a prodigious record of success: 5 NCAA men’s team titles; a combined 9 SEC team championships; 7 different athletes who went on to capture either Olympic or World Championship medals or both; and multiple Coach of the Year honors.
With no tolerance for complacency, Coach Holloway brings a relentless approach to his goal of driving Florida’s program to an even higher level. “Our goal is always to be the best team in the country. I think that starts with recruiting with a focus – not just by me, but by my staff and our support staff and everybody around us. We have a worldwide recruiting net. If there is anyone that we sense will help our program – as long as they’re athletic, a person of good moral character, and will be a good student – we reach out all over the world to find the student athlete who will fit our needs here at the University of Florida,” he notes. “And I think the big thing is understanding the difference between building a program and sustaining a program. I think you always need to be building a program. The moment you start trying to sustain something, I think you get stagnant; you’re just trying to be the same. And I’m always striving to get better,” states Holloway, who served as head coach of Team USA’s 2013 world championship squad. “I have no interest in just being good. I want to be great. I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘perfect.’ So we just keep plugging away. We just keep working to get better every year.”
In the quest to “get better,” Coach Holloway employs several metrics. “We try to evaluate what we did the year before with each athlete, with each coach. We try to evaluate our performance at the conference and the national level to see if we can do things better in those areas. I think the biggest thing obviously is we always have to evaluate our recruiting and see if we are bringing in the right athletes each year,” he explains. “If there is an athlete out there that doesn’t fit our program and what we’re trying to do, I’m not going to jump at the chance. It has to be somebody of quality. We’re always looking for the athlete who can help us continue the ride that we’re on. Because the moment I just start signing quarter milers just because I think I’m the best quarter mile coach in the world, we’re out. I can’t be that arrogant. I have to understand as a coach that I better coach the better child out there. So I better keep recruiting kids.” So are you the best quarter mile coach in the world? “Well, you know, …. I’m not ever going to openly say that I am the best quarter mile coach in the world,” admits Holloway, laughing. “But I’ll borrow a quote from Bum Phillips when he was talking about Earl Campbell: ‘I may not be in a class by myself, but it doesn’t take long to call the role.’ Let’s put it that way.”
With Holloway’s proclaimed focus on producing the best collegiate track & field team every year, it comes as no surprise that the Florida head coach has definite views on the newly-instituted schedule of the national championship gathering. “If it were it my choice, I am not sure I would have proposed the new format. I am not sure I would run the meet the way they’re running it,” admits Holloway as he reflects on the new gender-separated championship agenda. “But I think like anything else in life, we’re resistant to change. We’re creatures of habit. We’ve changed the format of the meet several times over the last 10 years. And no matter what they do, the young people show up and they run fast. So I’m not really concerned with the format. I think it will be even better this year because everybody has more time to prepare for it and we know what we’re doing. Last year, it was kind of put on our plate late. So I think we’ll be fine.”
Holloway – who heads up the track & field programs for both the men and the women in Gainesville – is untroubled by athletes in multiple events facing same-day doubles. “Our athletes have been doing this since they were little kids. If you go to a high school state meet, they have all of the events on the same day. And if you go to high school state meets around the country, some of them are combined and some are single gender meets,” explains Holloway. But the Florida coach does detect a new format bias that he believes works against sprint doublers. “For me, I think the biggest disadvantage in my opinion is the fact that between the finals of, say, the 100m and the 200m you have about 45 minutes. But you have 2 days between the 10K and the 5K. I’m not sure that’s fair. But the bottom line is that it is much easier to double in the distances than it is to double in the sprints at the nationals.”
And the Gator leader has distinct opinions on the current string of NCAA championship hostings in Eugene as well as the corresponding impact on the home team. “It’s a great facility. They have great crowds there,” declares Holloway about the historic Hayward Field facility and its inhabitants. “But obviously anybody with a brain knows that anytime anyone – I don’t care who it is – is at home, there is a home field advantage. So we’re not going to pretend there is no home field advantage for Oregon. But I don’t want to talk about Hayward Field in terms of home field advantage. Oregon coaches are doing a phenomenal job. Robert Johnson and his staff – they don’t win that track meet because the meet is at Hayward Field. They win that meet because they have talented athletes and they are coaching their butts off. So I don’t want to talk about Hayward Field being this great advantage for Oregon, because I don’t want to take away for the fact that Oregon staff is doing a great job. At the end of the day, would I like to see the meet move around? Absolutely. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that’s the only reason that they win. Because it’s not. If the national meet is in Eugene, Oregon, all those qualifiers [from Oregon] that ran in Eugene had to go to Austin, Texas to qualify. Do I think it would be fair to move the meet around? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I’m not screaming about this home field advantage thing. They’re just a really good program coached by really good coaches.”
Holloway disputes the notion that Hayward Field is the only venue that can draw a sizeable and knowledgeable crowd. “I would challenge that,” retorts Holloway without hesitation. “I remember being in Austin, Texas in 2004 which had the NCAA and they packed the place for the final in a bigger stadium. I remember it being in Sacramento in a much bigger stadium and that place was packed. Eugene is not the only place that can put on a big meet. It is a little cozier because of the smaller stands and the Eugene fans do pack it,” recalls Holloway. “But I think you’d get a good crowd anywhere if you market it properly. I think the biggest problem you have with track and field is that there are very few casual track and field fans. You have the casual basketball fan, the casual football fan, the casual soccer fan. But most of the track and field fans are the athletes’ parents and the people competing in the meet.”
When reminded of Omar Craddock’s laughter-evoking mixed zone proclamation at last summer’s USATF nationals that U of F really should change its name to the “The University of Flight”, the Head Gator responds with equal playfulness. “I think Omar would have great opposition from the great sprinters who have gone to school here,” Holloway declares. “Nothing against him, Christian, Will, and MD [Marquis Dendy], but I think Dennis Mitchell, John Capel, Bernard Williams, Tony McQuay – and the list goes on and on – are great sprinters who have come through here and would have great resistance to that. I think they [the jumpers] have done a great job and I hope that continues. Obviously, that makes us better. But we’ve heard the “University of Flight” – and it’s great. We’ve even been asked to look at an elite program. And we’ve also been called ‘400 Meter U.'” And Coach Holloway adds, “But I’ve always said to our athletes that we want to be ‘Sprint/Hurdle/Jump/Relay/Throws/and Distance University.’ And we want to do it all.”
The University of Florida head coach has no qualms about this nickname – Mouse – and how it earned it. “I’ve had that since I was about 12 years old,” Mouse explains. “I was a 7th grader and I was a tiny kid. It took me forever to grow. I was a real quiet kid. I might have been about 5’1″ and weighed about 70-80 pounds soaking wet. And my junior high school track coach said it looked like I was scooting across the floor when I ran so he called me Mouse. It’s a little corny, but it’s true,” proclaims Holloway with a laugh. “And that name has followed me everywhere I’ve gone. I would say the majority of people in the world know me as Coach Mouse.” What Mike Holloway neglects to add is they also know Coach Mouse as one of the most successful head coaches in collegiate track & field history.