The analogy is more appropriate to track and field than it is to cross country, but the baton is being passed to another generation now in the Evanston boys cross country program.
Donald Michelin Jr. will succeed his father as the new head boys cross country coach at ETHS following the approval of his hiring Monday night at the District 202 Board of Education meeting.
The younger Michelin will take charge of the program and the role reversal will find Don Michelin Sr. serving as an assistant coach for the Wildkits. Michelin Sr. will continue as the head boys track coach, with his son still in an assistant’s role.
“Coach Michelin Jr. is already beloved by our runners, because they know he is passionate about running and cares about their success as runners and as people,” said Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino. “He’s a Wildkit through and through and we are looking forward to watching him put his paw print on ETHS boys cross country in the years to come.”
The decision marks the end of a second stint as the boys cross country coach for the elder Michelin. Michelin led the program from 1985 to 2003, stepped aside due to his duties as principal at Haven Middle School, then took over again in 2009 and served a dual role as both the head cross country and boys track coach.
Michelin Sr. said that wearing two hats as a head coach meant he wasn’t able to focus on just one responsibility, and that was one of the reasons he urged his son to succeed him.
“The simplest way to put this is that back when I was only an assistant coach in track, that’s when we had the most success in cross country,” said Michelin Sr., who guided the Kits to a fourth place finish at the Illinois High School Association state finals in 1999. “Unfortunately, with both positions, cross country had to take a back seat to track over the past few years. I followed in the footsteps of some great track coaches, like Bob Trevarthen and Ron Helberg and the late, great Willie May, and the pressure of maintaining that program at the highest level took up all of my attention.
“These guys (cross country runners returning) are really Donald’s guys and the distance guys and the jumpers will be the ones who lead us next year in track. I think this move will help both programs, and I think I’m putting the cross country team in a better situation. I think Donald will do a great job.
“My long range plan as a coach was to coach my grandsons (Julion and Sacrad), and now it’s his time to coach his son and his nephew. It’s still the family business.”
The new head coach will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Wildkits begin their workouts in August for the fall season. Six of the top seven runners, including sectional qualifiers Julion Michelin, Logan Singer, Max Ebeling and James Moran, are expected back and a promising group of incoming freshmen will pump more depth into a program that had one of its best turnouts ever last year.
Donald Michelin Jr. is a 1990 ETHS grad who ran both cross country and track during his high school years. A successful realtor who runs a rental agency along with his wife, he worked as an assistant at ETHS from 1999 to 2003, moved to the southern part of the city of Chicago, and then rejoined the program in 2013.
“When I came back to Evanston I didn’t think I’d have time for coaching,” said the younger Michelin. “But my second year back here, Coach asked me if I wanted to do it and I was pretty well-grounded in my business by then. So I said yes. I had the chance to watch the current group of seniors grow and develop, and I think one of my strengths is that I’m really good with kids.
“One thing I have seen in the program over the years is that some of these guys act like cross country isn’t their main sport, and that’s a mindset I want to change. Now the guys coming in as freshman are thinking of cross country as their main sport, and that’s the mindset we need.”
Michelin Jr. plans to promote a “pack” mentality in an effort to help the program take the next step. The Wildkits have qualified individual runners to State in recent years, but haven’t enjoyed much postseason success as a team.
“It seems like over the past 10 years my Dad has always had one or two good guys,” said Michelin Jr. “Last year we had five guys who were all about the same, although maybe Logan (Singer, a senior-to-be) was a little bit better than the others at times. What I want to promote with this group is running together as a pack. That will be our strategy, at least early in the season, because we’ll need that if we want to succeed in the conference and the regional.
They’ll do better if they get a chance to grow together.
“I want to keep the numbers growing in the program and I want to keep the younger runners together. I’m not big on moving young guys up to the varsity right away. I’d rather have the sophomores run sophomore races and let the varsity runners run together at their level, unless we have a chance to be in the top five (in the team standings) at a particular meet.
“I’m really not looking to win any invitationals during the season, though. I really want to win the conference and get some guys Downstate. I know what they need to do, and I want them to peak in the postseason. I’m really excited because I know what they can do.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.