July 18, 2011
Williams announces personnel moves
After guiding the Vanderbilt women's cross country squad to its finest season in program history, Steve Keith will add head coaching responsibilities of the Commodore track and field team to his duties.
Keith assumed the new head coaching position on July 13. The promotion was announced by Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor David Williams II.
Keith, 52, replaces D'Andre Hill as the team's track and field head coach. Hill resigned in early July, with plans to move with her family to Japan.
For Keith, a former Vanderbilt runner who served the last five years mentoring Commodore cross country and distance runners, the promotion represents a dream opportunity.
"I very much view this as a dream position," Keith said. "This university and its track and field and cross country programs mean a great deal to me. I'm just extremely appreciative to the vice chancellor and the administration for providing this tremendous opportunity.
"We plan to methodically build the track and field program just as we have developed cross country. We are positioned to compete for conference championships in cross country next year. This (track and field) program will be driven by the middle distance and distance events, but we will also focus on the jumps, sprints, hurdles and combined events as we strengthen our track and field effort," Keith added.
Two current coaches, cross country-distance mentor Rhonda Riley and jumps-combined events assistant Clark Humphreys, will continue in their roles. Riley will also become recruiting coordinator for the entire program.
Keith will hire a third assistant coach to enhance the women's corps of sprinters and hurdlers.
"Rhonda and Clark are excellent coaches and proven here at Vanderbilt," Keith said. "Rhonda has done a great job recruiting in cross country and distances. Our strong results this year are definitely a by-product of her contributions. Clark's athletes have performed well this year, with his (pole) vaulters breaking indoor and outdoor school records and two first-year high jumpers approaching SEC championship levels."
Keith, a 1981 graduate of Vanderbilt and native of St. Louis, is coming off guiding a banner year for Vanderbilt cross country and distance running. Third place team finishes at the 2010 SEC Cross Country Championships and NCAA South Regionals represent the best results in school history. Its top NCAA regional finisher, sophomore Jordan White, became just the second Commodore female to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Since Keith returned to his alma mater in August 2006 after spending more than 20 years coaching top-flight athletes at three other universities, the Commodore distance program has shown steady progress. Besides consecutive years with strong finishes at the SEC and NCAA level, the cross country squad has featured All-SEC performers in White, recent graduate Rita Jorgensen and four SEC All-Freshman team recipients. In track, 14 distance runners have raced in NCAA Championship level, including four this spring in distances of 800 meters, 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters.
Under Keith, the Vanderbilt track all-time lists continue to be rewritten with 73 top-10 performances (35 indoor and 38 outdoor) from the 800 through the 10,000. Several new school standards have been established from 800 meters to 10,000 meters. In 2011, nearly every meet produced new personal bests for members of Keith's distance corps.
As a Vanderbilt cross country letterwinner from 1977-81, Keith understands that success as a Commodore rides on maintaining the delicate balance of excellence on the track and in the classroom. Off the field, Keith's student-athletes have enjoyed plenty of success in the classroom.
In 2011, both the men's and women's cross country teams earned Academic All-America recognition for the fifth consecutive year, with the women's team compiling a 3.44 GPA for the 2010 fall semester. The men were right behind their female counterparts, posting a 3.37 GPA.
Before arriving at Vanderbilt, Keith enjoyed major college coaching experience at Alabama, Texas-El Paso and Georgia Tech.
Keith served five years as head women's cross country coach at the University of Alabama before returning to Nashville. He mentored three Crimson Tide distance runners to All-SEC honors.
Prior to taking the Alabama position, Keith directed one of the nation's leading distance teams at Texas-El Paso. Mentoring both UTEP men and women, Keith's runners included a pair of NCAA national individual champions and 22 All-America recipients. His top UTEP pupils included Svetlana Badrankova, Jim Svenoy, Carlos Suarez and Bashar Ibrahim.
Badrankova was an elite half-miler, capturing the NCAA women's 800 meters in 2001. Badrankova remains one of the fastest collegiate runners ever at 800 meters, with a personal best of 2:00.9. Svenoy, a Norwegian, won the 1995 NCAA 3,000-meter steeplechase and was a two-time Olympic finalist in the event. Svenoy's winning NCAA effort of 8:21 in the steeplechase still ranks among the all-time Top 10 collegiate runners. Suarez and Ibrahim were All-American middle distance runners, both running sub-4:00 miles.
At Georgia Tech, Keith mentored four All-Americans, including 1,500-meter standout Alan Drosky. Besides Drosky, the other Georgia Tech All-American recipients were steeplechaser Eric Smith, 5,000-meter runner Karen Hoffman, and 800-meter runner Shellie O'Neal.
Keith started his collegiate coaching career at Emory University, serving as distance coach from 1983 to 1986. In his three years there, the men's team qualified for NCAA D-III Cross Country Nationals finishing 20th, 19th and 17th with two individual All-Americans.