Walking into his office at Weidenbach Hall, one will be awed by the numerous plaques and trophies that he and his athletes have accumulated over the years. For Michigan women’s cross country coach Mike McGuire, these accomplishments are representative of the success that few other coaches in the nation can attest to. The awards cover his walls and fill his shelves, leaving little room for even a wall clock. They are symbolic of McGuire’s illustrious career, both as an athlete and as a coach.
“I’m competitive by nature, and I (have) a passion to do the best I can for my athletes and to expect the best from them,” McGuire said.
As a young boy from Farmington, McGuire first learned about his athletic talent in junior high school where, one day, he ran a very strong mile. Although he doesn’t remember the exact time, he recalls it being impressive enough that the coaches recognized his potential and encouraged him to pursue the sport.
“I embraced (running) right away,” McGuire said. “It’s a team sport, but I liked the element of making decisions and pushing yourself.”
At Farmington Hills High School, McGuire bloomed quickly under the coaching of Jerry Young, a three time former All-American from Michigan State. He was state runner-up twice in cross country and once in track and field. In 1971, he set a new state record in the two-mile run when he became a state champion.
“I was fortunate that I had good coaching, and I had someone that had the experience to encourage and train me to make that transition to the next level,” McGuire said.
He knew in his freshman year of high school that he would run in college. So when it came time to decide where he was headed, there was no doubt that he would be running at Michigan for Ron Warhurst, who is still coaching the men’s cross country team today. At that time, McGuire was one of the top-ranked recruits in the country. During his college career, he was the Big Ten three-mile champion in 1975 and 1976 and was an All-American in 1974 and 1975.
“He wasn’t afraid to race anybody,” Warhurst said. “He was very stubborn and he didn’t like to lose.”
Shortly after McGuire finished college, his triumphant running days were plagued by injuries, destroying his chances of becoming a professional. He did, however, continue running as an amateur and had quite a bit of success, winning the Detroit Marathon in 1981.
Eventually, he took off his running shoes and decided to take on the coaching profession.
Coaching was something that McGuire envisioned himself doing since the age of 12. He felt that it was time to pass on his knowledge of the sport to a new generation of athletes, just as his coaches had done with him.
McGuire worked as an assistant coach at Kansas before coming to Michigan. After being an assistant for a few more years, McGuire took over as the Wolverines’ head coach in 1992 and his success was almost immediate. The team captured the Big Ten title in his first three seasons (1992 to ’94), a feat that had never been achieved in school history. This past season, the team ended an eight-year drought by upsetting top-ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State, bringing home its fourth Big Ten championship. His notable efforts have helped the Wolverines become one of the best teams in the nation.
Lindsey Gallo, who received All-Big Ten honors this past season for helping the Wolverines win the Big Ten championship, credits McGuire for helping her become one of the best cross country and track runners.
“When he was recruiting me, he had big plans for me,” Gallo said. “He had the same vision for me that I had for myself, and I was excited to come here and try to be the runner that he thought I could be. When you have a coach that sets high expectations for you and really believes in you, it just makes you run better.”
McGuire always emphasizes running as a team, and it has become somewhat of a trademark for Michigan. By running together, the Wolverines have become a more complete and united team, relying on everyone — young and old — to step up and push each other.
“Our motto this past cross country season was, ‘White on rice,'” Gallo said. “He wanted us to run close together and work with each other.”
In his 11 years leading Michigan, the Wolverines have never finished worse than second in the conference with the exception of 1996, when they finished third. The Wolverines have also been to the NCAA Championships in nine of those 11 years. Several of his runners have earned All-American and All-Big Ten honors, and he has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year four times.
“He tries to instill a sense of pride in his athletes,” Warhurst said. “He’s a very intense competitor, and I’m sure that has carried over into his coaching. I’m glad I don’t have to coach against him.”
McGuire is also an assistant with the women’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams. The strengths of these teams is in the middle distance and long distance events, which can be attributed to McGuire. The cross country experience of these runners is a big reason why they’ve been so good. But he credits head coach James Henry for leading both track and field teams to a sweep of the Big Ten titles in the 2002 season.
McGuire believes that coaching is a constant learning experience, and he realizes that a good coach should be smart enough to understand that he or she doesn’t have all the answers.
“There’s something new everyday, and that’s what makes it exciting,” McGuire said. “For me, it’s still exciting and it’s still fun. It’s an interesting sport, and I guess it keeps you young.”
The McGuire File
Since starring at Farmington Hills High School in the early 1970s, Mike McGuire:
*Won the Detroit Marathon in 1981
*Was a two-time All-American
*Captured Big Ten titles in his first three seasons
*Never finished lower than second at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships except when the Wolverines placed third in 1996
*Has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year four times
*Helped Michigan win both the men’s and women’s Big Ten track titles last season