PITTSBURG — Long before confetti fell inside the Robert W. Plaster Center in celebration of the his team winning the national championship, Pittsburg State track & field head coach was putting in the hours to build an elite program.
Throughout his journey at PSU which started in 1985, Jewett has led the Gorillas to a combined two national championships and 41 conference championships between cross country and track & field, while garnering 38 MIAA Coach of the Year awards and three National Coach of the Year awards between both sports.
“I dreamed about this kind of success from the beginning,” Jewett said. “You just never stop growing and learning as a coach. You never want to get comfortable, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that. I also think I do a pretty good job of evaluating coaching talent and hiring good coaches for the staff. I’m thankful to the administration which allows us to hire them because it’s really important.”
The coaching process began in 1986 when he started as head coach of the women’s cross country team, which he built from the ground up.
“I was very fortunate to get a graduate assistant coaching position,” Jewett said. “After I graduated, I went out to the real world for a very brief time, but stayed here because I gained a higher step on the ladder. I was fortunate to be here when PSU resurrected a women’s cross country program and I decided to throw my hat in the ring. Then in the series of a few years, I was the head coach of men’s and women’s track & field teams. I didn’t want to leave because I knew I was in one of the best places in the country. The grass is not always greener.”
32 years later, the women’s cross country team has won 10 MIAA titles with 12 national championship appearances, while the men’s team — which he started coaching in 1989 — has five national championship appearances.
“Building a cross country and track & field program is a bit of a challenge,” Jewett said. “Some institutions really emphasis cross country and those athletes help them in track. Others emphasis track and just field a cross country team. We don’t like to sacrifice one for the other, which makes it challenging to do well in both. I try to balance, but I’m with the distance runners probably more than any other group because I’m the head cross country coach as well. I just try to balance that and give some attention to all groups.”
After a year of serving as the women’s cross country coach, Jewett took over as the men’s and women’s track & field head coach.
“It’s challenging to coach two sports, but you get used to it,” Jewett said. “We have competition in the fall, winter and spring. I don’t think many other coaches are in that situation. You don’t really have much down time other than a couple weeks in July, but that’s what I signed up for. On the flip side, I get to enjoy three championship seasons, which is a lot of fun.”
Jewett has led each track & field team to a national championship and 16 conference championships.
“It takes a lot of perseverance,” Jewett said. “Coaching at the college these days is a challenge. It’s not always fun and games. There are challenges, setbacks and frustration. Just like perseverance is important for the student-athletes, it’s also important for us coaches as well and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
Although his title is coach, Jewett attributes a lot of his success to his staff’s ability to find talent.
“Recruiting is a lot of work,” Jewett said. “It’s hard to get out and see talent first hand because we’re competing most of the time and can’t do much of it. But, there are phone calls, letters and social media to some extent, which all help. Recruiting is 95% rejection, so you have to understand that going in. Everybody wants the good athletes, so it just takes a lot of hard work. Your character shows extra in your recruiting. At least here, we’re up front and tell kids that this is how it’s going to be. Sometimes that bites you, but that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
“Resources also come into play,” Jewett said. “We have things some other schools don’t and they sometimes have things we don’t. We just have to keep our eye on using our resources to the fullest by maximizing the things we do have and not worrying about the things we don’t. We have some great recruiters. I believe coach [Kyle] Rutledge is one of the best recruiters in the country, and that's one of the reasons he’s here. Coach [Brian] Mantooth also does a great job. Recruiting is just hard work and it’s not always fun. It’s fun when a kid commits to the program, but there’s a lot of hard work leading up to that.”
Now with a second national championship trophy on display at Pittsburg State, Jewett said it’s time to refocus on getting the next one.
“Right now, we’re just focused on the next competition and next championship,” he said. “I rarely think further ahead than the next championship, other than recruiting.”
Regardless of what comes next, Jewett said he’s had the time of his life coaching at Pittsburg State.
“It has certainly been a thrilling roller coaster ride,” Jewett said. “As one of my coaching friends from Missouri Southern said, ‘I’d much rather be on a roller coaster than a merry go-round,’ and it has certainly been wonderful and thrilling.”
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.