Holloway has built Florida’s track and field program into a power

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Mike Holloway
Florida track and field coach Mike Holloway leads program to another SEC title. [Tim Casey/UAA Communications]

The national coach of the year slipped quietly up the back stairs to the back door and into his back office at the Lemerand Center on a perfect Gainesville morning. Mike Holloway could not be more out of the way tucked into his little corner of the world.

In a way, his office location could not be any better for a coach who doesn’t seek even the afterglow of the limelight

“It’s just kind of who I am,” Holloway said. “I’m not the guy who is making a lot of noise. I just quietly go about doing my job.”

The Florida track and field coach is two weeks removed from another national title for the men’s team. That was his seventh national title and Florida has finished in the top two in 19 of the 30 men’s indoor and outdoor NCAA meets under Holloway.

It truly is a hidden dynasty.

At a school where football is king and everyone else is fighting for table scraps, the track and field teams often go hungry when it comes to fan enthusiasm and media coverage.

The latest national track and field title in a season where Florida reached a New Year’s Day bowl game, an Elite Eight in basketball, both baseball’s and softball’s College World Series and won a national title in women’s tennis, well, you could almost hear a collective shrug in the Gator Nation.

“Do I think the kids deserve a little more? Absolutely,” Holloway said. “But it’s not my job. Would I like to open the paper and see this big spread on track and field? Who wouldn’t? But it’s a football town.

“We have to function in the society we live in. I don’t worry about the community as much as I worry about my community of friends.”

That was part of Holloway’s appeal back in 2003 when then athletic director Jeremy Foley chose the UF assistant to be his new head coach. Holloway wasn’t that far removed from being the head coach at Buchholz High when he was handed the keys to the program.

“I saw a guy who would work hard and I thought he deserved a chance,” Foley said.

And that’s pretty much what Holloway said to Foley when he was promoted.

“I told Jeremy, ‘Thanks for giving me a chance. I’m not going to let you down.’ ”

Then he went to his office, called his mom and felt a huge weight on his shoulders.

“It’s funny. The only person who ever mentioned I wanted to be a college coach is my mom,” he said. “But after I called her I felt overwhelmed. One minute I’m an assistant coach going into a meeting and the next minute I’m the head coach at Florida.”

So Holloway did what he knows — go to work.

After all, college track and field isn’t that much different than every other sport. It comes down to recruiting, developing and motivating.

And he has done them all with both the men and the women (who finished fifth in the NCAAs this year).

“Him coming into my life was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” said Kyra Jefferson, who set the collegiate record in the 200 meters two weeks ago. “He has a God-given gift to pull the best out of anyone.”

On a campus full of high-profile and highly-paid coaches, nobody has been better than Holloway at getting his athletes to believe in themselves.

Sometimes, it takes a symbolic show of force.

“He has this baseball bat in his office,” said senior sprinter Nick Uruburu. “You know it’s going to be a hard day’s work when he comes out wielding it.

“The thing about him is how much he cares about you. Not just the great athletes, but every single athlete.”

The results tell the story of a coach who knows what he’s doing and a staff that can tell you which page it’s on. It doesn’t matter if you or I notice the numbers.

The only one that matters is the one at the end of the season and for each of the last two that number for the men has been “one.”

As in first place.

And with another national title in his pocket, you should have seen the celebration that night in Eugene, Ore.

“I got some rest and coached the women the next day,” Holloway said. “And then I got on the plane that night and tried to figure out how to score 55 to 60 points next year.

“I’m not a big celebratory guy. I’ve always believed if you carry success or failures too long, they will bog you down a little bit and you will become irrelevant.”

The 57-year-old Holloway is hardly irrelevant in the world of track and field. Instead, he is one of the most respected coaches in the business.

His success is based on a philosophy of coaching to the strengths of the staff and coaching the athlete instead of the event. But, as it is with anything, it comes down to recruiting.

“Recruiting is a big deal for us,” Holloway said. “If we don’t recruit the right athletes, it doesn’t matter how good coaches we think we are. It’s getting the right athletes and then coaching them up.”

And so he gets to a moment like this recently, standing still while he let it all unfold in front of him, his breathing heavy and his mouth dry while he tried to …

Oh, wait. That was while he was bowling.

“I love to bowl,” Holloway said. “Two or three times a week. As long as I remember I’m supposed to have fun. But recently, I was a couple of balls away from a perfect game. I had to check my breathing, stepped with the wrong foot and had to start over.

“I told a friend that I’ve seen a lot of great things in my life, but I’ve never been so nervous.”

He didn’t get the perfect game.

“Left the head pin of all things,” he said.

Everything else, he can pretty much check off.

— Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.