Knox College has employed three head track & field coaches in three years, including an interim coach last year. Current Head Coach Evander Wells is hoping to end that trend and build the program up to more consistent team success.
Wells’ last stop before Knox was at Earlham College in Indiana, where he was an assistant coach. Before that, he was at Morehouse College, a historically black college located in Georgia for three years. Wells has been a coach for nine years and is ready for the challenge of being a head coach. Wells is taking over a program that broke 12 school records and won the conference in the women’s 200m and men’s high jump last year. With that young talent on the team, Wells is looking to improve the team’s success in addition to individual success.
“I want to continue to add to (the present talent), to have more overall team success versus a couple of athletes with individual successes,” Wells said.
Success isn’t new to Wells. He ran track, but not of his own choice. Wells, like many other people, didn’t want to run track because of the immense amount of running the sport requires despite also playing football. He tried to avoid running despite possessing blazing speed. He couldn’t, however, outrun the persistence of the track coach.
“I show up for spring football practice, and the same coach walks over to me. He’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t know I was a football coach, did you?’ I was like, nope. It’s like, all right, get up, run. So that was how I got into running,” Wells said.
Saying that Wells ran track is an understatement; he ran track at the highest level. His office is littered with medals and awards from his competing days.
According to Knox’s press release, Wells was a “four-year member of the Volunteers and a nine-time All-American, as well as an 18-time Southeastern Conference (SEC) finalist. Wells ranks in the top-10 all-time at Tennessee in the 60m, 100m, and 200m dashes. He qualified for six NCAA Championships and was a member of the United States World Junior Team.”
That type of resume is what stands out to Ty Straw, junior, about the former Tennessee Volunteer. “It really opens your eyes because you see that he knows what takes to be an athlete at the highest level possible,” Straw said.
The added benefit of having a former Division I athlete on the coaching staff is that he can demonstrate individual drills himself. “He tries teaching and coaching in that same way. He’ll step on the track with us and do an event or something right there with us to show us how to do it. That really helps, especially since he is one of those high caliber division one people,” Straw said.
Though coaches are evaluated on winning and losing, Wells is focused on building team camaraderie as well. In a way, team chemistry can be related to success. A close-knit team is one that is going to perform well together. He wants the athletes to have a good experience like he had, such as his ability to travel.
“I got to compete in Beijing, made the track team that went to Mexico. I’ve run at meets in China, in the Caribbean islands and several different States,” Wells said.
Traveling to different places is a great, once in a lifetime experience that only few are afforded. However, those teammates that you go on those trips with are important. When you’re a part of a team, your teammates are the people you see everyday. There’s a certain bond that forms and strengthens. You go through struggles that are hard for people not affiliated with the sport to understand. Wells wants that for his student-athletes.
“So that’s one of my big focuses is making sure that everyone on the team has a great experience, that they’re having fun, that they’re enjoying themselves,” Wells said.
Wells has already started that process by getting to know his athletes on a more personal level and adding a little bit of fun to practice.
“This coach has taken more of an approach to energize the players, the athletes not only get to know them but also just making practice fun, making us want to be there and making us feel very connected. Our previous coach didn’t necessarily foster that,” Straw said.
Wells has tried some fun mini-games within the practice and plays music to keep things fresh. The team has throwing contests, jumping events and obstacle courses.
For Straw, who’s running in the 400m this Saturday, the addition of Wells as the official head coach has made quite the difference. It was great for him to have a coach who could develop him and bring stability to the head coaching position.
“Finding out that I’m going to officially have a new guy come in and be the guy that works and develops me and is there the whole time brings a lot more energy and joy to the sport itself,” Straw said.
That joy enhances the experience of the athlete. With indoor track season approaching, it’s time for Wells to show the imprint he has left on the team.