Rich Degnan Named National Coach of the Year


Originally posted in the NBNI post meet program, page 20.

Success Through “Jedi Mind Tricks” on Long Island
Rich Degnan - Mike Byrnes Coach of the Year
By Steve Underwood

Those that have benefitted from the coaching acumen of veteran Long Island mentor Rich Degnan might think he’s been coaching most or all of his adult life. Not quite true. The NSAF 2019 Mike Byrnes Coach of the Year says his own college coach had a little bit different advice regarding a career choice. “He said I should be a bar owner, which I successfully did from 1983-1996,” he says. But he was inspired in the mid-1990s to return to the sport, first as an official then as a CYO coach, and then “eventually working towards where I am today.”

Where he is today is a coach with tremendous success at four Long Island high schools – previously Bay Shore and Lawrence, plus C.W. Post University. He’s been the chair of USATF Long Island Track and Field since 2007 and In 2003 helped create the Armory Prep Program – which is now grown to a nationally recognized mentoring vehicle for high school athletes to become college students.

His motivation? “I have dedicated myself to repaying all the people and the gifts that track and field has given me and eventually my family,” he says. “My coaching philosophy has been to coach the 40-yearold in my athletes so that when they are 40 they can look back on their time on my track teams and smile … knowing it was great and that their success, like mine, can be traced back to the day they put that too big singlet over their skinny shoulders and joined the island of misfit toys – which is a track team.”

Another of Coach Degnan’s favorite cultural references is that he says his talents lie in using “Jedi mind tricks” and “making people turn what they once thought was impossible into reality.

“My athletes and students all believe in paying the gifts they received from the sport of track and field forward into society. They respect the sport and all that it can offer. It gives me great satisfaction to hear of the adventures and successes of those that once competed for me. So far my efforts have produced 24 coaches who now teach their athletes to pay their gifts forward and live life looking to achieve the impossible.

“Perhaps my greatest talent is that I have been able surrounding myself with great coaches, athletes and people who – despite my efforts – make me look good.”

Coach Degnan was a youth trackster when he first encountered the late Michael Byrnes in 1969, long before Byrnes founded the NSAF with Jim Spier. “He saw my junior high track shirt and invited me to join the Long Island AC and compete in summer meets at Wantagh High School,” he remembers. “Today I continue those weekly summer meets for the USATF but mostly because of Mike.”

A 1975 grad of Holy Trinity HS in Hicksville, NY, Degnan was a 5-time All-American, ranked in the top 10 U.S. in five events, and went on to compete at U. of Nebraska. During his first coaching gig at Bay Shore from 1998-2003, his teams were unbeaten in dual meets, produced 29 state champs and all-state athletes, and set numerous records.

He moved on in 2004 to direct track and field at C.W. Post University, where in four years he had 22 conference champions, 11 NCAA qualifiers and whose athletes included Olympian racewalker Maria Mitcha. Since 2007, he’s been head boys coach at Massapequa High School in New York where his teams have dominated competition and produced 69 college track and field athletes, 21 of which have become team captains. He’s been director of operations at the Running School (2000-10) and Director of Staffing and Operations at Foundation Running Camps since 2010.

Degnan says he’s thankful for his parents and family, “who always believed in me and taught me to believe in others … My high school coach Steve Borbet taught me to race and live without fear, and my coaching partner at Bay Shore, Jim McGlynn, taught me that there is always a little magic if you believe in the possibility of greatness and honor the sport and your competition. Mike Byrnes taught me the passion of competition and Paul Limmer, Bob Baratta, Walt Brem, and Al Berkowski – like guardian angels – gave me guidance and opportunities which I never could have imagined. Lastly, I want to thank my athletes who decided to come back day after day and become the greatest people they could be. I am proud of all of them and will always root for their successes while always having their backs.”