Alonzo Webb smiled broadly when the comparison was made, his distinctive green eyes gleaming to reveal a man who sees himself as more than a head coach. After all, such a title is too narrow, too pedestrian for a 50-year-old man with 33 years’ experience in track and field and a bachelor’s degree in art.
No, Alonzo Webb is more than a head coach. He is a sculptor and an improviser, with a creative mind perfectly suited to bring out the best in his student athletes. For him, coaching track is not an occupation; it is an artistic medium in and of itself.
“I see my teams as a body of work, the same way a sculptor would see a block of clay,” says Webb, a native of Pittsburgh who took over Pitt’s men’s and women’s squads in August 2002 after coaching at Kent State in Ohio. “I look at them as malleable, shaping them over the season into a piece of fine art.”
This year, the Panthers made marked strides, most notably the women’s team, which captured its second consecutive Eastern College Athletic Conference outdoor meet to go along with impressive runner-up showings at the Big East Conference indoor and outdoor championships.
“In terms of performance, both teams are farther ahead than I thought they’d be,” says Webb, who graduated from Western Michigan University in 1979 with an emphasis on photography and art history. “We’ve come to a level as a program where our athletes expect to do well. Before, they wanted to try to do well. Now they expect it, and it’s starting to show every time they step on the track.”
Perhaps no athlete embodied that newfound confidence more this season than 400-meter hurdler and relay specialist Janine Jones, a senior from Newport News, Va., who missed most of her junior year after tendons in her right hip were torn during her sophomore year. Jones, an All-American in the 800 meters and standout on the team during her first two years, overcame injury, asthma, and self-doubt in 2003-04: Under Webb’s guidance, she won the ECAC 400-meter hurdles and anchored the 4x400-meter relay team in June at the NCAA outdoor championships in Austin, Texas.
“Coach was there for me when I struggled and felt worthless to the team,” says Jones, a runner and occasional model with statuesque looks, who earned her electrical engineering degree in April. “I’ve never been a person who accepts being beaten, and his confidence in me helped, so that by the outdoor season this year, I finally started getting things back together on the track.”
Webb, named as the Mondo Outdoor Mid-Atlantic District Women’s Coach of the Year by the United States Track Association for the second year in a row, sees his teams’ futures in an artistic light.
“We’re a work in progress, building one year on top of the next,” he says. “I want us to be a complete program in all events, and I’m not settling for anything less than our best.”
Links to external Web sites are offered for informational purposes only and the information there is not guaranteed or endorsed by the University of Pittsburgh or its affiliates.