Russ Jewett doesn't fit the stereotype of a collegiate coach.
Slender and soft-spoken, in the off-season he can often be found in a small office on the second floor of the Weede Physical Education Building.
It’s not until you sit down across from him and begin to talk that you realize you’re in the presence of an intense competitor.
Russ, or Coach Jewett as he is known around campus, has led the university’s men’s and women’s cross country and track & field programs for the past 30 years. During that time his teams have earned 34 conference championships and made 15 appearances in the NCAA Division II Championships.
When asked about the program’s incredible accomplishments, Jewett quickly credits his predecessors.
“My coach used to talk about standing on the shoulders of giants,” explained Jewett. “And it’s so true. Doc Weede, Prentice Gudgen, David Suenram … they provided the foundation that has allowed our program to be so successful.”
Success may be an understatement.
Gorilla track & field student-athletes have earned NCAA Division II All-America honors on 214 occasions during Jewett’s tenure, including 24 individual event national champions in both sports.
It’s because of this success that it is so surprising to discover that coaching was not Jewett’s first choice after his time on the track team at Pittsburg State.
“I graduated with a computer science degree and spent a short time in the computer field after graduation,” said Jewett. “But my head coach at Pitt had such a profound experience on me, almost like a second father, that it didn’t take me long to come back and commit to exploring collegiate coaching. There was really was no looking back after that.”
The life of a coach can be difficult with late nights and long hours on the road. Jewett said balancing family and work is almost impossible if you don’t have support at home.
“I wouldn’t have lasted as a coach without my awesome wife, Janice, and the understanding of my kids,” he said. “For me to feel good about being a coach, I have to feel good about being a father and a husband. I feel like I fall short of that sometimes but I always keep trying.”
Jewett has been honored as MIAA Coach of the Year 30 times since PSU joined the league in 1989. It’s a reflection of the respect he has earned from both his peers and student-athletes.
As for what the future holds, Jewett says he doesn’t plan to put away the coaching whistle just yet.
“I don’t have plans to quit anytime soon,” he said with a smile. “For me, the future is about how we can recruit the best athletes and build the best facilities. I’m having too much fun to walk away now.”
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