Creating a Culture — Exclusive Interview with Head Coach Grier Gatlin

Southern Oregon University Athletics. Photo Credit Southern Oregon University

Grier Gatlin, SOU’s head coach for track and field and cross country, has a legacy in the making. Gatlin was a former student-athlete here at SOU. He was originally recruited as a basketball player for SOU before he realized that track and field and cross country was where he belonged. He completed all four years of college and graduated from SOU in 1996 and then came back and graduated with a Master’s from SOU in 2008. As for his relationship with athletics and getting involved in the coaching industry, it goes back in time with his family. 

Gatlin comes from a long line of family coaches and parents involved in the sports world. His grandfather Thaine “Tex” Gatlin was inducted into SOU’s hall of fame in 1993. Tex played three different sports for SOU: football, basketball, and baseball. Gatlin’s grandfather coached football in Crescent City. His father was a coach for the College of the Siskiyous for a few years, while his mother was also an athletic director there for a time being. Gatlin’s sister even played college basketball. For Gatlin, he grew up around sports and it was only natural to fall into the world of coaching. 

Gatlin has been the head coach for SOU for over a decade now. This 2021-22 sports season marks Gatlin’s 11th year as the head coach for track and field and cross country. During his time at SOU, Gatlin has been named a few things and contributed to:

  • Cascade Conference Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year seven times
  • CCC Men’s Track and Field Coach of the Year five times
  • 62 men’s All-American performances w/four individual NAIA national titles
  • 26 women’s All-American performances w/one NAIA title
  • 53 men’s individual event CCC titles
  • 37 women’s individual event CCC titles*

In addition to these accomplishments, Gatlin helped coach two-time Olympic Trials Finalist Eric Avila, who was a distance runner for the SOU Raiders.

As the head coach for SOU’s track and field and cross country program, Gatlin best describes his position as a “director of operations.” He is managing workouts and the distance programs for the cross country team and the track and field team. He is also working beside the other track coaches who specialize in certain event fields. As the head coach, Gatlin is also responsible for the logistical side of the sports like booking hotels and reserving buses. But the one aspect that takes the most time is overseeing the recruiting process. Gatlin talked about the recruitment process and said, “it’s sort of keeping an eye out and putting your fingers on the pulse of what’s going on.”

With his excelling career at SOU, Gatlin has faced a few challenges along the way and learned a few lessons as well. One challenge that he, as a coach, and the cross country athletes face is that SOU has the latest return date back to campus. Gatlin said on this, “we are the latest reporting cross country team in all of college that I know of and that’s at every level I know of.” Gatlin explained that our cross country team usually has around two weeks to prepare before their first meet compared to other schools that might have three to four weeks of training on them. The way Gatlin has approached this challenge is by creating a culture. As Gatlin said, “you have to create a culture where the upperclassmen are holding the new people accountable.” But it’s not just achieved by showing up it’s also about, Gatlin added, “creating a fun atmosphere… where people want to do those things.” This winning culture Gatlin has created at SOU can be credited to parts of his own coaching philosophy. 

When asked about his coaching philosophy, Gatlin responded, “my overarching philosophy is we always try to do the next right thing.” Gatlin gave an example relative to even our own academic lives: “is getting to class at 9 the next right thing or is it getting to class at 8:50 the right thing.” When the athletes do that, as Gatlin puts it best, it creates a “ buy-in” culture, where more student-athletes are trying to do the next right thing. 

The next right thing for the cross country athletes has been training and competing all season long for the upcoming Cascade Conference Championships. In the interview, Gatlin gave a brief breakdown of the training the cross country athletes do daily and weekly. “We do harder workouts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays or sometimes we go Tuesday or Friday. And then the other days are going to be called recovery or maintenance runs which are from 35 to 55 minutes runs. It just depends on your age, ability level, event area, and strength. We also lift weights two or three days a week on those hard days,” Gatlin said in his breakdown of the week and what the cross country athletes can expect daily. 

During the interview, the question “What has been your favorite career moment here at SOU” was asked. Gatlin reflected on a time that was more of a small moment but individual success for one of his runners. He spoke, “I had a young person on the team… Who broke 41 minutes for the 10k…I remember her coming off the field and looking at me and saying ‘I broke 41 minutes and then Eric looked at me and said ‘wow, that got me pumped’… Her race made him just as pumped. And I thought that’s pretty cool. You know we’re at that point where it is just as important for everybody to have whatever goal that is and no one was more important than the other.” Then, to add on to this moment, Gatlin brought it back to the idea of creating a culture. He said, “I think when you create an environment where everybody feels like they can do things they never thought they can do and they perpetuate that amongst themselves with a little cajoling from me then that makes me super proud that I could help with that.” 

With that in mind, it’s time for the cross country Raiders to come together and create that winning culture and team selflessness as they take on the Cascade Conference Championships this November 5th in Klamath Falls, OR. The men’s team is preparing this week to take on the 8k course whereas the women’s team is preparing for the 5k course. 

And, the most important interview question and answer: 

M: If you had a time machine, would you travel to the future or back to the past? And why?

G: I’d probably go back because I don’t know what I can fix in the future. 

*Not all accolades listed. For more information, check out Grier Gatlin’s SOU coaching profile. For a complete list of stats, check the SOU Track and Field History page. You can also visit the CCC cross country archives or the CCC track and field archives.

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