QA₂ Max: Bill Miles, Wayzata HS (Minn.) – National Boys XC Coach of the Year
After his Wayzata boys won their second straight Minnesota state title and finished a team-best second at Nike Cross Nationals, Bill Miles was named National Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year by the USTFCCCA. It was a special season for Miles, as perhaps his best team ever dovetailed with his final season as a high school coach. He spoke on the phone with me this week; we covered the tweaks he made to jump thirteen spots in one year, competing in America’s best five-team conference, and what he’ll miss about coaching.
Q: One of my favorite things about running is that it’s so objective; there’s not much that’s up for debate. The results speak for themselves. That said, what does this award mean to you and your program?
A: It’s quite overwhelming, frankly, and humbling at the same time. I realize that it’s only possible because we’ve got great athletes and a tremendous coaching staff. I’m blessed as a high school coach to have six or seven other adults who are coaching our kids with me, and it’s no shock that we’ve started having success as more and more of those guys have come into the program.
In terms of what it means to the program, probably the kids will see it as a validation of their faith in their coaching staff. But beyond that, in the moment, they have to get out for a run today.
It’s more an award that the adults will appreciate.
Q: Speaking of you appreciating it, did it bring any extra meaning to have your team perform so well in your final season? [Miles is retiring from Wayzata after 39 years of coaching]
A: It’s nice to finish with no regrets, and the kids have certainly made that possible for me. On the other hand, I’ve had so many great kids over the years, that I shouldn’t have said “no regrets.” I’m somewhat ambivalent—I know it’s the right time, but I’m going to miss the relationships that I had with the kids.
The idea of us going out with a state title and a high national finish does make it easier to walk away, but I’m still going to miss some parts of the job.
Q: With all of the great teams that you’ve had over the years, did anything stand out about this group as particularly special?
A: They were fast!
We’ve had teams that are incredibly tough, teams that are really close—like most cross country teams, that’s the norm—but four or five years ago, we saw this coming that there was a group of 7th and 8th graders that could really accomplish something. And they really developed.
So, the biggest thing is that this is the most naturally gifted group we’ve had. They’ve worked as hard as our other teams have worked, and they’ve been as close as other teams that we’ve had in the past, and I’m sure that there are a thousand teams in the nation that worked as hard as we did, and were as close as we were. But this is a special group.
Q: You mentioned noticing that talent early on. When you started coaching in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you couldn’t see what high school teams a thousand miles away were doing. But when the season started in August, everyone knew that this Wayzata team was going to be really good. How do you keep a group of nationally recognized teenage boys levelheaded?
A: That was not a problem with this group. If anything, they were keeping us coaches in line. One of the boys printed up wristbands that said “The End in Mind,” and that’s been our philosophy. We want our athletes to be running better later in life, at the end of their high school career, the end of the season, and the end of each race. The end is always in mind.
And last year, as coaches, we blew it. We had the kids ready too early, and we were barely hanging on by our fingernails at nationals. So this year, we were determined to do things differently so that we were ready in November and December, and it worked out for us.
Q: In addition to being ready at the end of the season, in early October, you guys must race in the toughest five-team conference in the United States.
A: There aren’t many five-team conferences in the United States. But yes, we do. And that helps all of us in the conference, and we love it. Edina’s and our kids were posing for pictures together at nationals.
Edina finished ninth at nationals, and third in our conference. Hopkins had a great season and just missed nationals. There are tremendous coaches, and the kids in in the western Minneapolis suburbs and the city itself know that if they want to compete, they need to be running in July. And I’m sure the same thing is going on in Spokane and upstate New York right now.
Kids will rise to the challenge and do what it takes. We’re fortunate in our conference and section in Minnesota that we’ve got other programs that have really motivated coaches and kids.
Q: Is there any temptation to try really hard to beat Edina and Hopkins in early October? Or do you have to pick your spots?
A: Yes and no. Our kids are incredibly competitive, and they want to win every competition that they go to, whether it be tiddlywinks or a race, so in that sense, yes. But our training is geared to run well at the state meet, and that’s really when it begins.
Even when we’re trying to defending our state’s honor at Roy Griak against teams from California or Idaho or wherever, we’re still not going to alter our training. We’re still going to focus on doing things in the proper order so that we’re ready to race well at the end of the year.
Winning the conference is important, but we won’t make any sacrifices that are going to hurt us later. This year, we held out of our top kids with a bad cold. We realized that as tough a kid as he is, he was going to be a huge demand on his body. So we held him out, and if we lost, we lost.
Those are the types of decisions that coaches have to make, and the kids trust us enough so that we can make them.
Q: What tweaks did you make to the system this year or in recent years?
A: Mark Popp, an assistant coach, has brought in a number of flexibility and strength drills that we’ve really incorporated.
Over the last ten years or so, we’ve been doing more and more threshold training, moving away from the hardcore repetition and interval workouts, trying to do a little more of what we see our friends at the collegiate level doing.
This year specifically, the biggest thing was making a point of delaying our training cycles by three weeks. So, each phase was three—occasionally two and a half—weeks than we had done them in other years. Again, the idea was that we didn’t want to have a situation where we were asking our kids to compete against the best runners in the region, state, or country when our kids were past their prime level of fitness.
Q: It certainly all came together at nationals. Can you talk about what that day was like?
A: Under Minnesota state rules, I’m a spectator at that point. I’m a fan, which is not all that different than how it would go normally. It’s not like I’m making a substitution or calling a timeout during the race.
It’s always worrisome when the race goes off and your kids are way at the back of the race. But our kids understand that not getting out really fast works for us. They didn’t panic; I might have, but they kept moving up throughout the race. It speaks to their courage and intelligence that they were able to race that way.
Part of that is that we really loved the course. Soft, rolling terrain, tree-lined golf course: that’s home for us, unlike the previous artificial nature of the course at Portland Meadows.
Watching them move up throughout the race was really exciting. Connor Olson, our top finisher, didn’t get his chip recorded, so the scores posted throughout the race kept showing us stuck back. But the kids were really flying by the end.