RICHMOND, Ky. – After 39 years of unprecedented success, Eastern Kentucky University cross country/track and field head coach Rick Erdmann has announced his retirement, effective June 30.
Erdmann concludes his distinguished career having won 73 Ohio Valley Conference championships and 70 OVC Coach of the Year awards.
He built his program around the simple premise: ‘If better is possible, good is not enough.’
“For nearly four decades, Rick Erdmann has brought national, and often worldwide, recognition to Eastern Kentucky University through the success of his men’s and women’s track and field and cross country teams,” EKU Director of Athletics Stephen Lochmueller said. “The consistent success at the highest levels of NCAA competition, and the success of his student-athletes in global competitions – including the Olympic Games – are a source of great pride for our university. However, the success that his student-athletes have found outside of competition is even more impressive. Very few coaches can match his accomplishments and the level at which he impacted the lives of so many. He is truly a treasure to our department and our university.”
Erdmann’s final season will go down as one of his best. In 2017-18, he led EKU to conference titles in men’s cross country, women’s cross country, men’s indoor track and field (the Colonels’ first since 2008) and men’s outdoor track and field (the Colonels’ first since 1957).
This season, the EKU men recorded their first-ever OVC ‘Triple Crown,’ becoming the first men’s team since 2003-04 to sweep all three conference titles (cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field) in a season.
The women’s cross country team recorded a perfect score of 15 points at the 2017 OVC Championships (the first team to achieve that dominant feat since Samford in 2004), and became the first OVC women’s team ever to advance to the NCAA Cross Country Championships, where the Colonels finished 23rd.
In all, Erdmann has won 31 OVC women’s cross country titles – including 19 straight from 1981 to 1999 and 11 of the last 12 – 23 OVC men’s cross country titles – including the last 12 – nine OVC women’s outdoor track and field titles, four OVC women’s indoor track and field titles, five OVC men’s indoor track and field titles and one OVC men’s outdoor track and field title.
“I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful people and coaching many very talented and successful student-athletes here at EKU,” Erdmann said. “However, all of the championships won and awards achieved do not compare to the feelings of pride I receive watching student-athletes excel in life after graduation. No trophy brings me joy like hearing the news that a former athlete landed their dream job, or got married, or had their first child. Those are the moments that bring me the greatest sense of accomplishment.”
Erdmann’s teams have dominated on a conference level; however, they have also consistently made noise on the national scene. The men’s cross country team, in particular, has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the country (2016) and qualified for the NCAA Championships in five consecutive seasons (2011 to 2015), one of only 10 programs nationally to accomplish that feat during that time frame (BYU, Colorado, Iona, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas and Tulsa).
The 2013 men’s cross country team will go down as one of Erdmann’s finest. The Colonels were ranked as high as No. 11 in the country that fall and won the NCAA Southeast Region for the first time in school history, defeating schools such as Virginia, North Carolina and North Carolina State to advance to the NCAA Championships. Erdmann was voted the NCAA Southeast Region Men’s Coach of the Year, while a school-record six EKU runners earned All-Southeast Region honors.
The Colonels took 15th at the NCAA Championships that season, defeating traditional powers such as Stanford, Michigan and Princeton en route to the highest finish in program history. Senior Soufiane Bouchikhi led the way, placing 26th out of 254 competitors to earn All-America honors.
In all, Erdmann has coached 10 Division I Cross Country All-Americans, the most notable of whom is probably Jacob Korir. Korir ran at the NCAA Championships all four years he was at EKU, finishing seventh overall in 2006 and sixth overall in 2007.
In 2016, Charlotte Imer earned All-America honors by finishing 31st at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. It was the best national finish ever by an EKU woman and the second best national finish ever by an OVC woman.
Colonels have also achieved national success on the track under Erdmann, most recently in the form of Tequan Claitt. Claitt – a former walk-on – earned first-team All-America honors by finishing fifth in the men’s high jump at the 2018 NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas. In 2017, Claitt broke EKU’s high jump record with a leap of 7’5.75″. That was the top jump by an NCAA Division-I athlete and the sixth best jump by an American, at any level, that year.
Claitt’s NCAA performance harkened back to the days of one of Erdmann’s first EKU standouts, Kenny Glover. Glover jumped 7’5″ and finished second in the men’s high jump at the 1981 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Imer earned second-team All-America honors in the women’s 5,000 meters (15:59.3), while Jamaine Coleman earned second-team All-America honors in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase (8:34.1) at the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Ole Hesselbjerg, a native of Denmark, was a three-time first-team All-American in the 3,000-meter steeplechase under Erdmann. He took bronze in the event at the 2014 and 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championships at Historic Hayward Field in Eugene. His EKU personal-best of 8:33.22 is a school record and was the second-fastest time in the country during all of 2015.
In 2008, Korir was less than two seconds from winning Erdmann an NCAA individual title. He finished second in the men’s 5,000 meters at the NCAA Indoor Championships, barely losing to Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Shadrack Songok at the line.
Claitt, Imer, Coleman and Korir are just some of the latest in a long line of EKU track and field All-Americans. Erdmann has produced 35 of them during his storied tenure, consistently sending Colonels to the biggest stage in all of collegiate track and field.
Three of Erdmann’s former athletes have reached the biggest stage in all of sports – the Olympics. Jackie Humphrey won the women’s 100-meter hurdles at the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials and competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Former sprinter Dallas Robinson competed on the men’s U.S. Bobsled team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Hesselbjerg raced in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Before becoming EKU’s head coach in August of 1979, Erdmann spent eight years as the cross country/track and field head coach at Hagerstown Junior College in Maryland. During those eight years, he meticulously built HJC into one of the top junior college programs in the country.
Erdmann’s tenure at the school culminated in his being named the 1978 National Junior College Cross Country Coach of the Year after guiding his team to a second place finish at the National Junior College Championship meet in Champaign, Illinois.
A native of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, Erdmann competed in track as a sprinter at Ashland (Ohio) College, where he graduated in 1965 with undergraduate degrees in physical education and biology. He went on to earn his master’s degree in physical education from Eastern Kentucky in 1966.
A former football player during his high school days in Ligonier, Erdmann accepted the football and track head coaching jobs at Hamden Hall High School in Hamden, Connecticut at the age of 24.
After three years at Hamden (1967-69), Erdmann accepted the football head coaching position at Forbes High School in Kantner, Pennsylvania, where he stayed for two years before moving on to Hagerstown.
Erdmann was one of six people inducted into the Kentucky USA Track and Field/Kentucky Track and Cross Country Association Hall of Fame at the association’s second annual banquet on January 9, 2007.
“I want to thank all the many assistant coaches and staff that I have had the pleasure to work with over the years,” Erdmann said. “The success of these programs was the result of the work and passion of many people.”