BOZEMAN — The Montana State Bobcats started their cross country seasons on Friday with both the men's and women's teams ranked fourth in the Big Sky Conference preseason polls.
For coach Lyle Weese, expectations have continued to rise since he took over the the program in 2014. He added head track and field duties prior to the start of last school year, and it's been a whirlwind since for the Dillon native.
Weese competed on the MSU track and cross country teams from 1998-2003. He became a four-time all-American and was inducted in the MSU Hall of Fame in 2014.
Weese sat down with MTN Sports earlier this summer to reflect on his competitive career and what it's been like for him to take over the track and field and cross country programs from legendary Dale Kennedy in this week's Sunday Conversation.
MTN Sports: One year in as the head coach of the track and field program. Just kind of give us a synopsis of how Year 1 went for you.
Lyle Weese: “Well, it was a bit of a whirlwind. Got started hiring coaches in the fall, got right into it, and I thought we just had a really good first year. Obviously probably the highlight were the indoor championships here in Bozeman, where our men and women were both second and really outperformed what we expected that they could do going into that meet, or maybe the general perceptions of the conference, we outperformed those expectations. So that was really great that both the men’s and women’s teams did so well here on our home track.”
MTN Sports: To be a Montana guy leading Montana State programs, what does that mean to you and what does that kind of add to the responsibility for you?
Weese: “Yeah. It means a lot to me, obviously. There’s not anywhere else I’d rather be. Just love being here at Montana State. Yeah, I definitely feel responsibility to continue the standard that’s been set here at Montana State track and field and cross country performance-wise, but then also how our student-athletes have performed in the classroom and the type of individuals we’ve had on the team. It’s a tight-knit group. People get to get together that were on the team 10 years apart, and they automatically feel a bond because they were a part of Montana State track and field.”
MTN Sports: Let’s go back to when you were on the team here. What are some of the memories, the moments maybe that stick out to you when you’re kind of recollecting, looking back on your team as somebody who was competing and not coaching?
Weese: “Yeah, I remember a lot of times spent with the team, just getting to know a lot of my very best friends, people I’m still in contact today. Some highlights are when we hosted the outdoor conference championships here in 2003, performed really well. Winning a conference championship as part of the 2002 MSU cross country team. It feels great being on a conference championship team. Can’t wait for some of the people, some of the student-athletes on our team now to have that feeling and that experience. Then, yeah, our cross country team placed 11th in the NCAA Championships, so that’s definitely a highlight, as well.”
MTN Sports: What led you to Montana State from Dillon?
Weese: “It’s amazing how different a time it was. There was not much in terms of the internet, it was just getting started when I was coming out of high school. There just wasn’t a lot of information, so growing up in Montana, a lot of people, myself, I was looking mostly at Montana schools, and it came down between the University of Montana and Montana State. Coach (Dale) Kennedy really made me feel like he believed in me and that this could be the place for me.”
MTN Sports: I’m glad you mentioned Coach Kennedy. Let’s talk about his legacy and the standard he created here. What are some of the things that you learned from him, that you take from him that he really helped create that respect around here?
Weese: “First thing is how hard he works and how much he put into it. So definitely things, you’re going to have to put in your time, be dedicated, and I think that that’s the first part. Then just how he has treated people and tried to put other people’s best interests in front of his own and really just supported other people.”
MTN Sports: Big footsteps to follow?
Weese: “Yeah, for sure.”
MTN Sports: Going forward, what are some of the things that you’re looking to implement into this program? I know it’s only been the one year on the track side of things as the head coach, but is there something that you’re looking to change or implement going forward?
Weese: “There’s not any one thing that we’re looking to do totally differently, because we’ve had great coaches in the past, and we don’t need to start over, do everything entirely different. I think this last year we probably put more effort and more focus on recruiting than we had in past years, and especially recruiting more as an entire staff together. And I think that that was really helpful with the recruits that we had in with all the coaches, that they could see all the coaches and kind of felt that comfort of, ‘Yeah, there’s this entire support system that’s there for us with the coaching staff.’ I think we’re always going to be making tweaks and adjustments here and there to the schedule. Similar to what we’ve done previously, but just trying to make improvements wherever we can.”
MTN Sports: I know just from talking to some of the high school coaches around that there’s seemingly a little more buzz about the MSU track and field program, cross country program, especially when you look at the distance team on the men’s side and the potential there. Have you noticed that, too, maybe a little more buzz and excitement from your communication out there?
Weese: “Yeah, I think so. Signing a lot of the best in-state recruits definitely, people, the high school coaches, the people in the community, people throughout the state, they know those names, so I think it’s a lot easier for them to identify with those recruits and those student-athletes that we have here on campus. So often those Montana distance runners are just primed to keep improving and really be great collegiate runners.”
MTN Sports: There’s a lot of, not only in that program but across this university, there’s a lot of excitement. How has MSU and Bozeman changed in the 20 years that you’ve been here?
Weese: “It has changed a lot. Just the last couple weeks, I’ve been, for various reasons, just been driving to different areas of Bozeman that I haven’t been in a while. And I’m just shocked at the new buildings, the renovations, the rebuilds, just so much development and so many new things coming to Bozeman. And I think in a lot of ways, we are benefitting from the tide of the university, especially with a lot of in-state recruiting, but also the out-of-state recruiting, too. Just the increase in enrollment, and kind of the positive energy of the university has really helped us as a program.”
MTN Sports: When it comes to this community, what are some of the things that you do for fun around here when you’re not coaching these programs?
Weese: “I don’t run as much as I used to, but I still get out on the trails and run around here quite a bit. So that’s probably where I spend the most. I’ve got two boys, they’re 7 and 5, so they’re getting to where we can go do more outdoor activities. Yeah, we just spend a lot of time outdoors.”