After a 23-year coaching career at Geneseo, cross country head coach and track and field assistant coach Mike Woods will retire at the end of the spring 2015 track season. During Woods’ nearly quarter century-long tenure, the Knights have earned dozens of SUNYAC Championships and national honors, including the school’s first and only team National Championship with the 2005 women’s cross country team. Woods has also received 28 SUNYAC Coach of the Year distinctions.
Woods’ role in cross country at Geneseo began long before he assumed the head coaching position in 1992. He joined the school’s first intercollegiate cross country program when he was a freshman in 1964. After an athletic career that spanned both high school and college, Woods noted, “It was just a natural offshoot for me to want to coach.”
Following graduation, he taught English at York Central School for 33 years where he established and coached its first cross country team. Woods retired from coaching high school cross country after 21 years in order to make more time for his children, but was almost immediately encouraged to apply for the open head coach position at his alma mater. At first, Woods said no to the job, but his children encouraged him to pursue his passion for coaching at the collegiate level.
In his first year, Woods faced the task of changing the team’s culture, encouraging the athletes to strive for excellence. He soon began taking “the best athletes to the best meets … all the meets where we’d get our butts kicked.” Woods has consistently motivated the Knights to face Division I teams at highly competitive meets like the Penn Relays, where they compete every year.
“There’s a certain level of excellence at Geneseo that’s expected in the classroom and I expect that same level from the athletes,” Woods said. “There’s a definite connection between the classroom and competing here.”
Both of his closest colleagues—track and field head coach Chris Popovici ’06 and assistant cross country and track and field coach Dan Moore ’06—said that the dedication to athletics Woods inspired in them while they ran for the Knights motivated them to work as coaches post-graduation. This dedication is defined by Woods’ emphasis on the word “believe” as a key concept of the team.
“He instilled that in us as athletes and then as coaches to pass the message along to the current athletes—to get them to believe in themselves, to believe in the training, believe in the program,” Moore said.
Popovici added that Woods’ legacy will remain fundamental for the team after his retirement.
“It’s a program that he’s built and it’s still building,” he said. “It’s still strong. It’s not going to crumble; he’s built such a culture and an infrastructure here amongst the current athletes. Campaigning so hard to have alumni back in the program coaching has maintained that legacy and that culture that’s been created.”
Following his retirement, Woods will continue to be involved with the cross country and track teams as a volunteer, but he also looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren, reading and returning to teaching.
Current team members noted that they will miss his encouragement and insight.
“He’s more than just your coach, he’s your biggest fan,” senior Joanna Castrogivanni said.
Senior Sean Fischer added, “He’s been probably the biggest motivator for me to do anything while at college. He can just push on the things that you care about the most until you’re willing to sacrifice for your whole team.”
Woods said that above all, he has striven to instill a passion in the hundreds of athletes he’s coached both for running and for teamwork.
“That’s my philosophy: try to make it fun for them and try to make it an enjoyable experience,” he said. “I’m not a yeller and a screamer, I’m just a supporter and that seems to work pretty well.”