In 1974, during his first season as men’s cross country coach at Michigan, Ron Warhurst coached now-women’s cross country coach Mike McGuire. McGuire was a tenacious runner who achieved the rare accolade of All-American in his freshman season.
“He was a 118-pound bag of bones,” Warhurst said. “But he could run like the wind. He was extremely aggressive and extremely competitive. He wasn’t afraid of racing anyone, anyplace, anytime.”
McGuire helped lead the Wolverines to three Big Ten titles while an athlete at Michigan. With the help of Warhurst, McGuire replaced Sue Foster as the women’s cross country coach in 1992.
McGuire has had unprecedented success coaching cross country. In his 15 seasons at Michigan, McGuire’s teams have won eight conference championships and have qualified for Nationals every year but two.
“He’s one of the most successful women’s coaches there is,” Warhurst said.
McGuire made an impact from the get-go. He won three Big Ten Championships in his first three seasons.
“Early on, Wisconsin was the benchmark program and we managed to supercede them in the first three years,” McGuire said. “But then they returned the favor the next six years.”
Even with the early success, McGuire admitted that Wisconsin was the established program in the Big Ten.
From 2002-2006, the Wolverines overtook Wisconsin to become the dominant team of the conference, winning five straight Big Ten championships.
“I definitely have a greater appreciation for the last five than the first three (Big Ten titles), especially knowing that the level of competition has increased,” he said.
In the last five years, the Big Ten has slowly become the toughest conference in women’s cross country. Currently, the conference boasts eight teams in the top 30, including No. 9 Michigan.
“The biggest difference in the last couple years is that the depth of the quality in the conference is better than it’s ever been,” McGuire said.
On Oct. 28, Michigan finished third at the Big Ten Championships behind Minnesota and Michigan St.
“In the last several years we’ve been the hunted,” McGuire said. “And next year we’ll be the hunter trying to get that title back.”
McGuire has dedicated his life to cross country, devoting the last 18 years to coaching.
“I wouldn’t say it’s ever difficult,” McGuire said. “It’s tremendously time consuming, but when I’m doing it, (it) doesn’t feel like I’m working. Although there have been a lot of things I’ve missed out on over the years, and there are regrets.”
One of McGuire’s regrets includes missing out on his nieces and nephew’s graduations. He also never married or had children.
But despite a few regrets, McGuire loves his job.
“The environment I work in and the people that I work around, especially the athletes, are things that sustain me and keep me young,” McGuire said. “I enjoy waking up every day and going to work.”
As a coach, McGuire emphasizes the importance of every runner to the team.
McGuire’s dedication to his runners is clear in the story of fifth-year senior Erin Webster. As a freshman and sophomore, Webster struggled to reach her potential as a runner. But in her junior season she broke through, later becoming Big Ten champion as a senior.
“When I wasn’t as successful as a runner I never felt like Mike treated me any differently,” Webster said. “I felt that a large reason why I was able to get better was because he was always there to coach me. His coaching was why I was able to get better, or else I would have probably continued to suck.”
Entering into his 16th season this year, the Wolverines were favorites to win the Big Ten and National Championships. But so far this year, Michigan has struggled against the increasingly competitive conference.
On Saturday, Michigan heads down to Bloomington to for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. The Wolverines need to place in the top two to qualify for Nationals.
“We’re going to go out and race as hard as we can,” McGuire said. “We don’t have to win the meet to qualify, but the competitive nature of it is that we would like to.”
At Regionals, Michigan will compete at the same course where McGuire earned All-America during his freshman season.
“I sometimes kid the girls and tell them that I ran here 34 years ago,” McGuire said. “But it doesn’t feel like 34 years, and Ron would tell you the same thing. It goes fast when you’re having fun.”