Farrell No Run-of-the-Mill Coach : Cross-country: Quiet leader has put Thousand Oaks' boys', girls' teams at the forefront of programs in the state.


Anyone who has been to a high school cross-country meet at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut has seen it happen.

After the first mile--as the field heads up the initial hill on the three-mile course--most coaches head toward the base of "poop-out" hill, just before the two-mile mark.

The steep incline is regarded as the make-or-break portion of the course, so it is there that coaches congregate to urge on their charges.

Thousand Oaks High Coach Jack Farrell rarely ventures to that point, however. Fact is, he says little to his runners during a race.

He usually sits back and observes the proceedings before congratulating his proteges after a job well done.

"I've always felt that by the time race day rolls around, the kids should be ready to roll," Farrell says. "If you've prepared them properly, they should be ready to race. There's very little you can say to them during a race that is going to change things."

Though Farrell's style is unconventional, it's highly effective.

The Thousand Oaks boys have won six Southern Section major-division titles since 1980--no other team has won more than two--and the Lancers swept the boys' and girls' Division I titles in last Saturday's section finals.

That feat made Thousand Oaks the first program to win both major-division section titles in the same year. The Lancers are favored to become the first program to sweep the Division I titles when the state championships are held at Fresno's Woodward Park on Saturday.

"I have never worked with an easier group of kids than I'm working with right now," Farrell said. "It's a team with a very low whine factor. I've spent seasons with kids trying to barter workouts with them, but this team, boys and girls, top to bottom, doesn't do anything to try and change the workouts."

Many factors--ranging from a strong local youth program, to training in ideal weather conditions, to competing in one of the strongest high school cross-country counties in the nation--have been attributed to Thousand Oaks' success, but the 49-year-old Farrell has also played a major role.

His importance was painfully obvious after he stepped down from coaching after the 1988 cross-country season to pursue an administrative career.

Jim Dunlap, an assistant under Farrell in 1988 and the top runner on the 1979 Lancer squad that finished second in the Southern Section 4-A Division championships, was left in charge of the program.

But Don Goetzinger, then a teacher at Thousand Oaks and a former area youth coach, took over the boys' team in 1990 and Dunlap coached the girls. Friction between the coaches caused both programs to suffer. Neither the boys' nor girls' teams advanced past the league finals in 1990.

Team members were demoralized. Some kids cut workouts and others parked their cars at points along a training route, where they would hop in and drive back to school instead of completing the run. But the thing that made Farrell cringe was kids saying, "we (stink)."

"It's one thing to leave a school and move on and hear about the program that you coached falling on hard times," he said. "But it's completely different watching it happen right in front of your eyes. It's much harder to deal with."

Luckily for Thousand Oaks, Farrell wanted to return to coaching and teaching English after two years at the administrative level.

He missed the excitement of meets during his absence, felt too far removed from students and grew tired of being a trouble-shooter.

"Some people love that, management by crisis and problem solving, but I'm not one of them," said Farrell, who resides in Thousand Oaks with his wife Kathi and two step-daughters. "I like to take tasks from beginning to end and be done with it. You can do that in the classroom and you can do that on the athletic field. . . . My life is very sequential and I like that, but administration is not like that at all. I hated it."

Thousand Oaks' fortunes have improved since Farrell's return.

The boys placed sixth in the 1991 Southern Section Division I championships and have won three consecutive titles. They are the defending state Division I champions and are ranked third in The Harrier magazine's national poll.

The girls placed sixth in last year's state Division I finals and won their first section title last week.

Because of its winning tradition, Thousand Oaks has gained a reputation as a high-mileage program whose runners are sometimes overtrained.

Farrell concedes that stereotype might have had some validity in the past--his boys' teams ran as many as 80 miles a week between 1979-85--but he's made major alterations to his training regimen since returning to coaching.

The Lancers no longer run twice a day, their weekly mileage rarely exceeds 50 and they no longer alternate hard training days with easy ones. Rather, team members train at what Farrell calls a "comfortably fast" pace every day.

"Ten years ago, I thought more was better," Farrell said. "My feeling was that if some team was running 60 miles a week and beating us, we needed to run 70. . . . But I concluded that a lot of that mileage was garbage mileage done to boost up the weekly total. We don't have any junk miles anymore. Everything is high quality stuff."

Lower mileage is not the only alteration Farrell has made in his coaching methodology over the years. His approach to mentally preparing his team for a meet has also changed.

When Farrell, a 1963 graduate of Notre Dame High, took over the cross-country program at Thousand Oaks in 1975, he was as rah-rah as most coaches. Pep talks were a mainstay of his repertoire. But that changed in 1977 after his varsity boys' team performed poorly in a meet against Newbury Park.

Before the race, Farrell delivered a speech he said would have "made Knute Rockne proud." But after his team lost, he was fuming. He was so furious, he didn't give a word of advice to the team before the Ventura County championships the following week.

The Lancers won.

"I realized then that pep talks might do more good for coaches than for runners," Farrell said. "I haven't given a pep talk since."

Several days preceding a race, Farrell goes over the layout of the course and the recommended way to run it.

The early preparation not only puts Farrell at ease, allowing him to stay calm during races, but it has a soothing effect on his runners.

"I know that we always felt relaxed before races," Dunlap said. "We were never nervous. Some of that might have been because we knew we were good, but some of that was also because of him. . . . He broke the races down into separate parts so that once you were out there, you knew exactly what you were supposed to do."

Keith O'Doherty, the top runner on this year's team, says that Farrell's approach is particularly helpful in major meets.

"He tries to not put too much emphasis on the big races," O'Doherty said. "He doesn't hype up the big races. He views every race as important and that keeps you from getting nervous."

Jeff Fischer, the No. 2 runner on this year's team, did not start running until he was a freshman at Thousand Oaks, so high-decibel coaches seem like oddities to him.

"It's different for me to see other coaches out there on the course yelling and screaming at their kids," he said. "(Farrell) pretty much lets us go out there and do our own thing."

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