March 16, 2006

'Lou Daddy' Keeps W. Track on Course

Print More

Don’t mind the clutter around Lou Duesing’s office.

Amidst the scattered papers on his desk, sits his women’s track team’s 2006 Heptagonal championship trophy. Adorned on his walls are plaques of his previous All-American athletes. And behind him? The indoor and outdoor Heps trophies.

Duesing says to his visitor that he does not place them there to show off, but rather – “to remember to bring them for the championships,” he chuckles.

It’s amazing that those trophies have not been the home for spider webs and dust balls considering the fact that Duesing’s indoor and outdoor squads have captured the last nine Heps titles over the past five years. So while there are obviously other extremely successful programs at Cornell, Duesing, whether he acknowledges it or not, is in the midst of his own dynasty.

“It all started when he got here,” said assistant coach Rich Bowman, who is in the midst of his 27th season at Cornell. “He brought with him a winning philosophy that got it going. We had not won anything until he walked into the door and then when he came, the light turned on.”

When asked about his coaching philosophy, Duesing leans back in his chair casually. His calm, baritone voice, along with his relatively non-imposing features and blue eyes, make him seem more like a dad, rather than an imposing track coach with 20 Heps titles to his name. Some of his girls, like senior captain Sheeba Ibidunni, call him “Lou Daddy.”

When his kids leave for winter break, he kindly reminds them to practice and train. He reminds his kids that it is flu season, so you should drink a lot of fluid and be careful. He reiterates that they should study hard in school. And the funny thing is that at the end of the day, his own, unique method of interacting with his athletes helps them work hard and achieve.

“He definitely tries to almost parent us, but not so much that he’s involved,” Ibidunni said. “He has this large presence over you and you know what’s expected of you.”

A lot of his philosophy has to do with Lou Daddy’s daddy. Despite not being a professional coach, his father was his football coach before he went to college. Lou Daddy, a defensive back, learned that besides treating your opponents with respect and playing the game as hard as possible, the most important thing is to have fun.

“When you go up to the college level, it doesn’t mean you should not stop having fun,” he said.

He learned from other people throughout his lifetime, but most surprisingly perhaps, he learns from 14 to 18-years old kids. A graduate of Lafayette College in 1969, Lou Daddy, who was actually born in nearby Elmira, N.Y., but spent most of his childhood in Rhode Island, was at one point a history teacher at Montpelier High School in Vermont. While far away from the track, Lou Daddy learned that he loved to interact with kids on a one-to-one basis and he created a mentorship program there.

It was partially because of this that he was attracted to the personal nature of track in comparison to other sports such as football or basketball, where being overly dynamic is sometimes key.

“I’m not a rah-rah kind of guy,” he said.

“Track’s a funny sport,” Bowman said. “Sometimes if you put too much pressure on people, they don’t perform well. If you could get athletes to relax, great things can happen. Maybe some sports you could scream and yell at people, but it doesn’t quite work in track and field.”

Either way, his athletes are comfortable working with him.

“He seems to know what’s right for everyone,” said senior cross country captain Angela Kudla. “I definitely see him as a friend and as a fatherly figure. He’s there not only for advice about running but for Cornell and life.”

Lou Daddy loves Ithaca. When he was driving around looking at graduate schools with his wife, Laura Toy, they were in the middle of Kansas in 1980. It was blistering out, over 100 degrees. Lou Daddy and his wife decided to both make lists of where they’d like to end up eventually. Cornell was on the top of both of their lists.

The rest is history, as they say. His bio in the track and field and cross country media guide is littered with a swath of All-Americans under his eye, and this past week, Lou Daddy won his eighth Regional Coach of the Year award. Things are looking brighter every year, as the Red finished tied for fourth – the second-best program finish ever indoors – at the ECAC tournament two weeks ago.

Lou Daddy is flattered at the praise, which he deflects to his assistant coaches who focus on specific events and interact with the athletes on a more consistent basis. However, if you were looking a track team as an orchestra, Lou Daddy would surely be the conductor.

“He’s had a great career here and one of the great things that he does as a head coach is he really lets his assistants work very easily with their event groups,” Bowman said.

In such a seemingly individually-driven sport, Duesing emphasizes the importance of team. He encourages his girls to go cheer for their teammates and as Kudla notes, “Cornell track is definitely known for having the best cheering squad of all.”

And Lou Daddy makes a substantial attempt to keep up with times. When there’s any report on how to make his team run faster, throw farther, compete harder, Lou Daddy is on it. And he says he feels like time has stopped, because no matter how much older he gets, he will always work with kids who are the same age.

Lou Daddy, who is 59 years old, still runs every morning. He goes five miles and averages, according to his estimate, about 7:30 per mile.

“Not as fast as I used to be,” he chuckles.

During these 30-40 minutes, he said he writes some of his best speeches to his team in his head, with his mind racing about the sport. This past weekend he was in Fayetteville, Ark., watching All-American junior Morgan Uceny place fourth at the NCAA championships in the 800 meters. During his morning jog, he was thinking of what he’d say to her before her final race.

Like his teaching days, he loves interacting with kids and seeing them succeed, whether it’s setting a personal best, winning a Heps title or qualifying for the NCAAs.

Lou Daddy said he can’t see himself doing anything else, can’t stop working with kids, can’t stop being around the track. He keeps on running and knows that there will be a time when his team could not be as successful.

But until then, he keeps on running. Because in the end, it’s all about fun.

Brian Tsao is a Sun Senior Writer. Life of Brain will appear every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Brian Tsao