August 25, 2015

Former Olympian Durant Hired as Head Coach of Cornell Men’s Track and Field

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It’s a Friday morning, and Adrian Durant sits at his desk discussing logistics with a pair of assistant coaches. The imminent arrival of a new crop of freshmen brings scores of new tasks for the coaches. Since he was promoted to head coach of the men’s cross country and track and field teams, Durant has been a busy man.

Eventually the other coaches leave, and Durant works at his computer, responding to a few emails. He looks up, ready to begin, when his phone rings. Durant briefly speaks with the caller before hanging up. Finally, he leans back in his chair, enjoying a rare moment of quiet.

“It’s not like you have a grace period,” Durant said about the transition into the new head coaching position. “It’s almost instant. It’s like — okay you’re head coach, this form is due yesterday. You just have to jump straight into it.”

The new job brings its share of challenges, but if anyone can handle the job, it’s Durant. To tackle the new workload, he says he’s going to rely heavily on his assistant coaches this year; he looks to Zeb Lang for the distance runners and Megan Johnson for the throwers. Durant also said his counterpart in women’s track and field, Rich Bowman, along with the associate women’s head coach, Artie Smith, have also been huge assets in making the transition.

“They’ve been supportive, and they’ve helped me through the process,” he said of his fellow coaches. “I’m able to lean on them and count on them any time I have questions about how something goes until I really get a handle on it and learn how to go through it. I’m definitely not alone, which makes it a lot easier.”

One of the biggest reasons Durant got into coaching was for the opportunity to watch his student athletes achieve. And under Durant, his student-athletes have done just that. As the coach of the sprinters, Durant found success coaching his athletes in the very same events that he used to participate in as a collegiate and professional sprinter. In just three years, the list of Cornell sprinters who have broken records or won their respective events under Durant is too long to list.

“The key factor is whether or not the athletes believe that they can compete with anyone,” Durant said about his ability to get his student-athletes to perform at their best. “Once they have bought in to the belief that they are capable of running, jumping, and throwing against anyone in country, then you get performances that are reflective of those beliefs.”

A former Olympic sprinter for the US Virgin Islands, Durant cites his own experience, both as an athlete and as an individual, as the source for his coaching philosophy, which revolves mainly around his student athletes’ self-confidence.

“I wholeheartedly believe in these guys: in their talents, abilities and potential,” he said. “My whole purpose is to help them believe in themselves. Once that happens, anything becomes possible.”

Originally a walk-on at South Carolina, Durant eventually became an All-American in the 4x400m. At 19, he competed for the USVI Olympic Team in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He continued to compete on the international stage for several years after college, before he got into coaching, first as a volunteer for the University of Illinois and later with Florida A&M. This year marks his third year at Cornell.

Durant is just 30 years old, and his team is similarly young. Most of last year’s team is returning and, and with second place finishes in the outdoor, indoor and cross country championships, Durant says he has a lot of faith in this year’s squad to break records and climb back to the top of the Ivy League. Given that Cornell will also host the indoor championship meet, a big year may be in store for the Red.

When asked about his goals for the season, Durant’s answer is blunt and to the point: he plans on winning everything.

“We have an amazing group of guys, maybe the most talented group we’ve ever had at Cornell,” Durant said. “I’m lucky enough to have inherited the leadership of this group, and I do not intend to let this opportunity at accomplishing something historic go to waste.”