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Tracking Down Talent
Stern Believes Goodwill Trip To Emerald Isle Will Restore Pipeline For 'Nova Men's Program
by Kevin Mulligan, Daily News Sports Writer
The sight of Marty Stern in Ireland was cause for celebration among the Villanova alumni living on the Emerald Isle. So, even though the Wildcats' new men's track coach meant business - and nothing but - there still was time for a trip to a famed Irish pub.
"I went to a pub with (1972 Villanova grad) Donal Walsh, and he's like legendary over there . . . for uh, more than running the 2-mile," Stern said. ''But I stopped drinking years ago. All I had was a glass of wine at dinner one night. Donal didn't hassle me; he just looked at me a little weird."
|"Uncle Marty" Stern|
Stern, who has run the increasingly successful women's track program at Villanova since 1984, added the men's post June 3, succeeding Dr. Charles Jenkins. He returned last Tuesday from his five-day tour of Ireland.
His mission: to mend fences, make friends, and re-establish the Irish Pipeline that helped the legendary Jumbo Elliott put Villanova's track program on the map.
The Irish connection faded during the nine-year Jenkins era, with Arkansas and Providence, both coached by Irish natives, becoming major players in recruiting Ireland's premier runners.
The day Stern was hired, he set the renewal of the Irish tradition at Villanova as a priority item on his
first-year calendar. Twenty Irish runners have passed through the 'Nova program, including 11 Olympians.
"When Ted (Aceto, athletic director) told me I had the job, the first thing I decided I wanted to do was go to Ireland," Stern said. "The first or second day as men's coach, I made arrangements. I didn't even know what I wanted to do in Ireland. I just knew that the head men's coach at Villanova, at least once during his years, should go there. And I could think of no better time to go than as soon as possible.
"The main thing I wanted to do was not really recruit people, per se. The idea, of course, is to end up doing that. I just wanted to go there, meet people and say, 'Hello, my name's Uncle Marty and here I am, a little Jewish guy from West Philadelphia. Here's what I'm like and what my program will be like.' "
Stern, it turned out, laid a lot more groundwork than he ever could have imagined.
Consider all that Stern, the two-time national women's Coach of the Year, crammed into his five days:
* He drove from Shannon to Cork for the Irish National Championship meet, which featured Villanova's Sonia O'Sullivan posting the fourth-fastest 5,000 meters in the world, and Ireland's national record. He also visited Villanova senior-to-be Aidan O'Regan and his family in Cork. Stern's trooper of a wife, Sharon, did all the driving, often despite a blazing toothache that required root canal work upon their return.
* He visited Villanova freshman-to-be Emer Molloy, the national school girl 1,500-meter champion in Ballymahon in County Longford, whom Stern recruited this year.
* He made a four-hour trip to Dublin, where Stern was hosted by legendary Ron Delany, the 1956 Olympic mile champion as a Villanovan, Noel Carroll (Villanova '65) and Jimmy Reardon, who, together with Cummin Clancy and John Barry, started Elliott's Irish Pipeline in 1948 (Class of '53).
* He held a press conference that was arranged by Delany, the most famous Irish athlete ever, that was attended by the country's nine national newspapers and several TV and radio stations.
"I just told them what I'm going to do," he said. "Not once did I allude to athletes I'm trying to recruit, or ask for any help. I talked about Sonia, Vicki Huber, the old ones, Delany, Carroll, Marty Liquori, and what we're going to be about at Villanova. And I reminded them that Villanova was started by the Augustinians from Ireland, and (laughing) that they've been my best friends for years.
|Charlie Jenkins and Marcus O'Sullivan|
* Delany, Ireland's Babe Ruth, also paved the way for Stern to meet with the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Frank Fahey, the country's minister of sport. (Delany, in 1956, is Ireland's last athlete to win an Olympic medal in track.)
"The mayor received us at tea time, and he had on his uniform with all the medals on it," Stern said. "We had tea and cookies and talked about track and life in general. The minister wanted to know how the athletes might improve themselves and bring some medals to Ireland.
"He asked, 'How can we get some men like Sonia, or more women, how does that happen?' " Stern said. "And Delany said, 'Coaches like Uncle Marty make it happen.' I just said, 'Genetics is doing a pretty good job, because your Irishmen can run pretty well.' "
As a result of meeting Fahey, Stern will return to Ireland as the government's guest in December to run a series of clinics for coaches. Plans also are under way for an Irish coach to study under Stern and board at Villanova during this winter's indoor season.
Stern also revealed that he has received a "handshake" commitment from two of Ireland's premier male runners to attend Villanova in September 1991. NCAA rules prevented Stern from discussing recruits. He met their coaches at Ireland's version of an AAU track meet.
"I never try to pursuade someone to go to Villanova as women's coach, and I'm never going to do that with the men," Stern said. "What I do is say, 'This is our program, this is me, and this is what we've done. Now if you want to come here . . . '
"With the Irish, though, it's a little different, because you don't even want to persuade them to leave Ireland.
That would be an awful thing, and a 53-year-old man can probably talk an 18-year-old kid into almost anything. At least I know I can. So I don't want to use that weapon . . . (smiling) except on occasion . . . like when other 53-year- old men are telling the 18-year-old to leave and come to their school.
"But, seriously, I'll never talk a kid into leaving Ireland. I only wanted to talk to the people who've already made that decision. They've decided they want to leave Ireland and come to America for an education and to run.
"If it gets to a point where it's between Arkansas, Providence and Villanova . . . maybe then I'll use my talents of persuasion, but not until then."
The purpose of Stern's trip was simply to lay tracks. That he made ties that could lead to a couple top-flight runners attending Villanova next year was unexpected. It also looks like the start of something.
Something big again for Villanova's men's track team.
"I consider it one of the most important trips in the history of the program at Villanova," Stern said. "The point was to tell people over there that we're back. If the program is as successful as the trip was, we're back. The glory days are back.
"But we just don't want every Irish kid who can run fast. They have to be a gentleman, they have to be able to relate to me, communicate with each other. I'm not in any battle with the Arkansases and Providences and East Tennessee States to get the most Irish kids. I just want to win the NCAAs. It doesn't matter to me who's on the team, whether they're from Kenya or 52nd Street.
"But I think that Irish kids . . . there's a lot of talent in Ireland, and they really belong at Villanova.
"And I came back feeling that the high-quality kid, academically and athletically, we're gonna get that kid now, where we really weren't the last few years. The Delanys, the Carrolls, the (Frank) Murphys, the Walshes, we're gonna get him now.
"Because a good foundation is down now, and I feel real good about it. I just went over there to meet people. I never dreamed it could be so successful."