Fox carries Syracuse to national prominence after tenure at Auburn


first_img Published on September 3, 2014 at 12:20 am Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidman To the left of Chris Fox’s desk sits a pair of orange and blue running shoes.While those colors are the same for the past two schools he’s coached at, the cultures and focuses of each are polar opposites.After leading the Auburn cross-country team from 2001–04 and being part of the Tigers’ track and field coaching staff during that time, Fox took the head coaching job at Syracuse, a school that puts an emphasis on long distance due to weather and tradition. He’s adapted to the shift from a Southern school to a Northeastern one, and with it, built the Orange into a national cross-country powerhouse.Fox and his coaching staff have focused their recruiting to suit Syracuse’s establishedcross-country prowess. Combined with his long-distance expertise from his professional running career, Fox has transformed himself as a coach. The Orange was once a back-of-the-pack Big East program, but now is in the national discussion heading into Fox’s 10th season at Syracuse.“I certainly learned a lot (from my own running), but as I mature as a coach, I think less autobiographically and more try to be in tune with each individual,” Fox said. “It definitely is an assistance (having run long distance). I’m learning every year too.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAt Auburn, Fox was a runner first, setting school records in the indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter races, while holding top-five ranks in the 3,000- and 10,000-meter runs.But as a coach at his alma mater, Fox worked with top-of-the-line short-distance runners, such as 2004 Olympian Sherridan Kirk from Trinidad and Tobago, rather than elite cross-country ones.Upon coming to Syracuse in 2005, Fox took over a program with a culture that enabled him to mold it around his area of knowledge. To this day, though, Fox is adapting to the fact that coaching in a sport you excelled at doesn’t necessarily correlate to success since each runner learns differently.“I was able to bring a lot of lessons I learned (at Auburn) from the entire program to (Syracuse), and probably learned a lot of what I wanted to do with the program,” Fox said. “Up here, distance running is a lot more important in the Northeast than it is in the Southeast.”His vision upon arriving at Syracuse was to create a top-20 program and after a 10th-place finish for the men in Fox’s Big East tournament debut, the men rebounded to receive national votes for the first time in program history in 2006.The Orange was on the map and had built what Fox called a “nice base” to attract higher-profile cross-country recruits.“I would say for the most part, we really see what kids can do in cross-country in terms of recruiting,” SU assistant coach Adam Smith said. “I think the focus may be a little bit more on the top-end distance kids, rather than maybe some middle-distance kids like other programs tend to do.“Here at Syracuse, our focus is distance-based.”Part of what allowed the Orange to attract top recruits, Smith said, was the temperature. Both Fox and Smith formerly coached at the University of North Carolina, where Smith said the cross-country team was restricted to practicing before 6 a.m. because of the blistering daytime heat.Fox also added that Southern schools are immersed in what he called a “football culture,” so tradition draws the focus away from lesser-heralded sports such as cross-country — which isn’t the case at Syracuse.With increased training options because of the weather and more emphasis on the sport, along with Fox’s plan to build the cross-country program, recruits started to buy in.“Coach Fox had been there for a couple years before I got to Syracuse. By that point, the team was still up-and-coming,” 2013 SU graduate and cross-country runner Robert Molke said. “Being part of something that was so up-and-coming and trying to establish itself was a lot more enticing than joining an already established program.”After three straight years of middle-of-the-pack finishes in the Big East tournament for both the men and women, Fox guided both teams to their best-ever conference championship finishes in 2009 — the men finished first, the women third.It was a culmination of what Fox called a “gradual-ness” over his first four years with SU, and proof that his vision was materializing into reality.“There is definitely a focus on cross-country at Syracuse,” 2013 SU graduate and cross-country runner Griff Graves said. “(Director of Athletics) Darryl Gross asked Fox to develop a conference championship team and a team that will contend on a national level every year. And that is what Fox and (Associate Head Coach Brian) Bell have done.”In the wake of 10th- and 22nd-place finishes in the 2013 NCAA championships from the men and women, respectively, Fox has his cross-country teams on the brink of national supremacy.“The long-term goal here is always to be a national champion and that’s really what brings us to work every day,” Fox said. “We’re really happy to be a great conference team and we’re working really hard to be a great nationals team.”Coming up on the decade mark of Fox’s tenure at Syracuse, the identity of the cross-country program is in stark contrast to when he took over.After adapting his coaching focus to build the Orange, leading it to a peak in 2013, SU is riding its best-ever season into a 2014 season with national championship aspirations.“We don’t want to lose a conference championship and I think that’s our goal every year,” Smith said. “We’ve now kind of put ourselves in the discussion for a run at the NCAA championship in the next two years.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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