By: Patrick Larson
After a tumultuous spring that involved Tinman Elite parting ways with Tom Schwartz as their head coach, the team has announced that Joan Hunter will be taking over head coaching duties for TME. Now, if you've been living under a rock and didn't know Tinman Elite was going through some coaching turnover, I suggest reading back to some of the previous articles our team wrote on the subject: here and here.
Joan Hunter comes to the team with over 25 years of experience, most recently with Loudoun Valley High School where she helped the boys and girls teams to national prominence in cross country and track. To read more on Joan's background, take a look at the write-up that Whoop did on the announcement here.
As with seemingly anything they do, no matter how uncontroversial, the team is already facing some criticism and ignorant comments from the peanut gallery. I'll be perfectly up front in saying that I have the ultimate respect for what Tinman Elite has done for the sport and their ability to create a brand and story that is compelling and inspiring. That being said, I've never considered myself part of the "Tin-mob," or someone who really fanboys over the team. Certainly, I'm not completely unbiased when it comes to this matter, but no matter how Tinman Elite handled the departure of of Tom Schwartz, I believe the welcoming of Joan Hunter should be celebrated immensely for a couple of reasons.
First, she is a highly accomplished coach in her own right. Even after Drew Hunter turned pro, Joan led the Loudoun Valley High School boys team to back-to-back NXN championships in cross country. Additionally, during her tenure with Loudoun Valley, the boys team managed to perfect score the Virginia XC championships in 2017 and win national track titles in 4xmile and 4x800, setting a national record in the former. Joan's ability to lead high caliber athletes should come as no surprise to people who have at all paid attention to her success in Virginia. Will high school coaching success translate to the professional scene? That is obviously yet to be determined, but there is no doubt that she comes with the credentials and history necessary for the job.
Second, having another woman in a leadership position in the professional running scene is a great thing for the sport. Running, like many other sports, has historically been a male dominated sport when it comes to who is actually leading the teams. A 2019 study found that just 17.5% of NCAA head cross country coaches across all divisions are women. While I don't have data to back this up, I'd hazard a guess that the percent is even less in the professional running scene. If running wants to be as inclusive as possible, this should extend to the professional running level as well where most pro teams have historically been led by men. Regardless of your personal opinions on Tinman Elite as a team, I hope everyone can take a second to celebrate having an extremely qualified woman being put at the helm of one of our countries most popular and well-known professional running teams.
Switching gears a bit, I've already seen the cries of "nepotism" in response to this coaching change. To these people, I ask if you are equally upset by the many number of prominent professional runners who are coached by their spouses or if you're letting your biases against Tinman Elite influence you? Running is a deeply personal endeavor and I don't blame any individual for seeking out the person they trust the most with their mental and physical health--whether that is someone related to the athletes or not. Regardless of how Tinman Elite handled the coaching transition, they should be congratulated for finding someone to take over the team who they clearly trust and will give them the individual attention they deserve as athletes.
While the news of Joan Hunter taking over the head coaching role with Tinman Elite doesn't come as a surprise to many people who have been paying attention in the last few months, the addition of Joan has now firmly solidified the direction the team is headed and who they want leading it. I have no skin in the game here, but I'm really excited to see how this plays out because I believe that when Tinman Elite is doing well on a national and international scale, its a net good for the sport.