Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus
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Alumni Highlight- Dan Zierfuss
Courtesy: Jason Haynes
“One step at a time.” This is what sport management alumus Dan Zierfuss, M.S. (2009) had to say about the road to success. Throughout his career, Zierfuss has seen what it takes to be successful in the world of college coaching. In his eyes, one has to achieve small successes first and build upon them, before working towards larger and loftier goals.
Dan Zierfuss and fellow sport management alum Patrick Irwin, M.S. (2009) were hired at Knox College as the co-head track coaches in 2007, and Zierfuss has since been named the head coach for cross country and track. At the time, the Knox men's and women's track teams had experienced several years at the bottom of the conference, and it was up to Zierfuss and Irwin to rebuild the program from scratch. Zierfuss was only 23 at the time, and he claims that accepting a head coaching position at such a young age was one of the biggest risks he has taken in his career. Up until that point, he had only held part-time assistant positions at Carroll University and Beloit College.
When asked about his first year as a coach, Zierfuss claimed it was a “trial by fire.” As an inexperienced head coach at a school he did not know much about, Zierfuss was left to learn many aspects of the job on his own. Zierfuss quickly learned that coaching a college team was not a typical 9 to 5 job. In fact, one of the most important aspects of college coaching, recruiting, typically cannot be done until practice is over, as that is the time prospective recruits are most likely to answer a phone call. Recruiting for a highly selective liberal arts school was another challenge that Zierfuss discovered within his first year of coaching. Zierfuss soon realized that he was not just recruiting athletes, but was recruiting true student-athletes.
Despite these early difficulties, Zierfuss has seen a relatively good amount of success on the track during his short career. In Zierfuss' time at Knox, the program has had 13 new school records, 12 All-Midwest Conference performers, and 3 Midwest Conference Event Champions. One of his most memorable moments as a coach thus far was when the 2009 Knox women's track team had their best finish as a team since 1996.
Zierfuss had already taken his position at Knox when he began the sport management program at WIU, but even so, he claimed that his experience in the program was indispensable to his growth as a coach. For one, learning the basics of facility and event management was a huge help, as Knox has had to host at least one Midwest Conference Championship Meet in every year of Ziefuss' tenure. Professional contacts Zierfuss made during his time at WIU have been another great resource. Two of his previous assistant coaches were individuals that Zierfuss met at WIU.
For anyone looking to get into a career in sports, Zierfuss offered this advice; “Never stop learning. I've never stopped learning. Learn as much as you can from anyone, even if you think it might not be something that applies to you.”
Zierfuss also said that he had to lower his expectations for success in his first year. “You have to achieve small success before you get to big success. It has to be one step at a time.”