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A Dr. Track Interview with Michael Ford

by Marc R. Grosso Friday, February 8, 2008

On 29 January 2008, the first report of the split between Track and Field coach Clyde Hart and World and Jeremy Wariner, his very high profile athlete who is the 2004 Olympic and 2005 and 2007 World 400 meter dash champion.

This announcement has been met with strong reactions from many within the track and field community. Many, without knowing few, if any, details about the situation, have expressed surprise and feel that this change is a "bad move" for Wariner. Many are from the "if it's not broken ..." mindset.

The next day, 30 January 2008, it was reported that Baylor Associate Track and Field coach Michael Ford would be serving as Wariner's coach.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Mike Ford, and since few know anything about him, the cents of my interview are presented below.

Before we get to the interview, a little background on Coach Ford will help set the stage.

Michael Ford is in his eighth year of coaching at Baylor following three years at the University of Rochester. Mike specializes in the sprints, short hurdles, and relays.

Ford was raised in Rochester, New York and graduated from East High School where he was New York State and Eastern States Champion at 400 meters his senior year. He is a 1997 graduate of Baylor University, majoring in Marketing. At Baylor, Ford was considered the nation's best lead off leg for the 4x400 meter relay in the country. He is a two-time NCAA Champion in as a member of the 4x400 Relay (1995 and 1996) and earned All-America honors six times. He finished second in the Southwestern Conference Championships in the open 400 meter dash (1993 indoor and 1995 outdoors). Ford was a member of the East's 4 x 400 relay team at the 1995 Olympic Festival. His personal best at 400 meters is 45.75. His best relay splits are 45.41 on the lead off leg and 44.7 on the anchor leg.

Now in his eleventh year of collegiate coaching, Ford also coaches Darold Williamson, a member of the 2007 US World Champion 4 x 400 team, Sanjay Ayre, 2007 Jamaica National Champion at 400 meters and was ranked the 10th 400 meter runner for 2007 by Track & Field News, and Reggie Witherspoon, a 2007 graduate of Baylor University. Williamson at the number 12 performance for 2007 at 400 meters (44.68) and Ayre had the number 17 performance (44.98). Witherspoon ran 45.56 (22nd best US performance in 2007) and 20.32 (equal the 25th best performance in the world) in the 400 meters and 200 meters, respectively. This is the training group that Wariner will be joining under the new arrangement.

The Interview:

Dr. Track: When did you start coaching Jeremy Wariner?

Ford: I officially started working with Jeremy in mid-January 2008.

Dr. Track: How has your background and experience prepared you to coach him?

Ford: Honestly, working with Coach Hart since 2000 at Baylor University and assisting him at the 2004 Olympics with Jeremy (400m/4x4) and Darold (4x4), and working with Darold Williamson (4x4) and Sanjay Ayre (400m/4x4) at the 2007 World Championships, the past two seasons have prepared me coach Jeremy this season. Also, going to Europe the last two years has been very helpful as it allowed me to learn about the high level international track and field meets. That allows me to better prepare my athletes.

Dr. Track: How has life changed since you began coaching Jeremy Wariner?

Ford: There have been no major changes. I worked with Jeremy during this college days here at Baylor. Jeremy is good to work with and is very coachable. I've known him since he was 17. Many people don't know that I recruited Jeremy when he was in high school.

Dr. Track: How big a challenge is it to take on the responsibility of coaching Jeremy Wariner?

Ford: Going into it, I knew there would be naysayers. There will be pressure. We are going to stay with the goals of the year that had been established. The main goal is winning two gold medals (400m/4x4) in Beijing.

Dr. Track: How will the training program you develop for Jeremy Wariner differ from how Clyde Hart trained with him?

Ford: The training program we will use this year will NOT differ too much, if at all, from the program used by Coach Hart. I ran for Coach Hart and have been coaching with him for several years, so my training philosophy has been molded by him.

Dr. Track: What do you expect to be the training focus for this year?

Ford: We will continue to do what he has been doing in the past. The focus has always been on speed endurance training. We want to keep making him stronger. Getting ready for the Olympic Trials is the key. The US Olympic Trials are in many ways tougher than the Olympic Games.

We will stay on the plan. We are in the process of planning and setting his racing schedule for the year.

As a coach, it is important to know when to push and reload your athlete. This is the most important job of a coach.

Dr. Track: Are you under contract with Wariner? If not, when do you expect that to happen?

Ford: No, not yet. I expect it to happen by the end of this week or early next week. Honestly, the contract will get done soon; at the moment we just preparing for Jeremy's upcoming meets down under.

Dr. Track: In the short term - this year - the major focus is the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Have any longer term goals been discussed? If so, what are they?

Ford: Everything is pretty much new, so we have not had the opportunity to discuss it. We want to remain number one in the world and win the Olympic Gold medal. Jeremy will run some 200's like last year. I know he wants to lower his personal best times in the 200m and the 400m this season. The world record in the 400m is a longer-term goal.

Dr. Track: How closely do you work with Wariner's agent, Michael Johnson, regarding Wariner's training and racing schedule?

Ford: We will all sit down to discuss Jeremy's racing schedule for 2008. Michael Johnson does NOT get involved with the training program. He will keep me informed about the travel and racing schedule so that the training program can be adjusted as needed. Michael does advise Jeremy on some of the mental aspects of racing and high level competition. I think it is a great thing that Jeremy gets advice from the greatest 400 meter runner ever. Other than that, he leaves everything else to the coach.

Dr. Track: How well defined is Warnier's racing schedule for2008?

Ford: The racing schedule has not been set yet. Michael Johnson is working on it now. We expect that the race schedule will be similar to previous years. Jeremy will probably run some relays in March and some open races in April.

Dr. Track: Where will Warnier train this year? Are the Baylor facilities still available to him?

Ford: Yes, the Baylor facilities are still available to him. So, he will continue to train at Baylor.

I met with Todd Harbour (Baylor Head Coach), Clyde Hart, and Tom Hill (the Faculty representative fro Track and Field) to discuss this. Everyone is OK with Jeremy continuing to train at Baylor. So, nothing will change from previous years.

Dr. Track: Does or will he have any training partners?

Ford: Yes. He will be joining the three other athletes I train: Darold Williamson, Sanjay Ayre, and Reggie Witherspoon.

Dr. Track: Reports are that Warnier will be going to Australia soon. How long will he stay there? What races is he scheduled to run?

Ford: Jeremy leaves for Australia on February 11th and will return on February 22nd. He will be running the 200 meter dash at the Sydney Grand Prix meet on February 16th and the 400 meter dash at the IAAF World Athletics tour meet in Melbourne on February 22nd.

Dr. Track: There are many track and field fans here in the US that would love to watch Jeremy compete. Where will he compete in the US this year?

Ford: This year, Jeremy will probably compete at the Texas Southern Relays, Texas Relays, the Michael Johnson Classic, and the Texas Arlington meet in March, the Drake relays or Penn Relays, and the Adidas Track Classic in Carson, California before the US Olympic trials. These are the meets he ran last year. You can check out his website for upcoming races.

Dr. Track: Will you be traveling with him when he competes prior to the US Olympic Trials? Do your Baylor responsibilities allow for this?

Ford: This has not been discussed. I expect to travel with him during "off weekends" - the weeks that Baylor does not have a meet.

Dr. Track: Will you be with him during the summer racing season in Europe prior to the Olympic Games?

Ford: Yes. I will attend as many meets as I can get to. This includes all of the major meets in Europe. When there is a conflict and I need to attend the meet of one of my other athletes, Deon Minor will help out with Jeremy. At this level, the primary role of the coach is the daily training program. The athletes don't need much at the meets.

Dr. Track: How many races do you expect him to run prior to the Olympic Games?

Ford: I'm not sure. Other than the US Olympic Trials, nothing else has been set.

Dr. Track: Does he plan to compete in the IAAF Golden League Meets in 2008?

Ford: Again, I'm not sure, but more than likely yes. Super Grand Prix and Grand Prix meets will probably be on his schedule too.

Dr. Track: Will he run only the 400m this year? If not, what other events will he run and how often?

Ford: The 400 meter dash is the main focus in 2008. Jeremy wants to run some 200 meter races as well.

Dr. Track: Any final comments?

Ford: Jeremy's decision to change coaches as generated a large number of comments on the Internet, on television, and in the newspapers. It is viewed as a major change in his training program and many expect this to have a negative effect on his performance. If the change had resulted in changing coaching styles then this would have been a bad decision. But, since my coaching style is very similar to Coach Hart's, the amount of change is not as great as people are expecting. He will be training on the same facilities he used in the past and will be in a training group that he knows well. This should reduce or eliminate any of the negatives that people from the "its not broken ..." contingent are expecting or projecting.

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