Rohe Track Era All About Us!


 

Russ Whitenack:

"I was the head men's track coach at Virginia Tech from 1975 until 2003. Twenty eight years, no outdoor track for 18 of those years, eight athletic directors, and I never had more than five full scholarships to work with. Sounds depressing but I loved it and was able to keep the program alive when a number of schools were dropping the sport. I was the one that purchased the old Madison Square Garden indoor track and showed the administration the track could make money. After three years of the old Garden track, which allowed me to use most of our budget to travel to more and better outdoor meets, our income increased when we purchased a Mondo 200 meter track to replace the old one. I seem to remember having more All Americans than all the other coaches until about three years after Frank Beamer started to get the football program moving in the right direction."

A native of Massapequa, New York, Whitenack was recruited by Coach Chuck Rohe, and transferred to the University of Tennessee on a track scholarship in 1966. While at UT, he was a member of the Volunteers' All-America 440-yard relay team and a prominent member of a team that won three Southeastern Conference championships. He graduated in 1969 and stayed on at UT for one season as a graduate assistant, followed by three years as the track coach at Palmetto Junior High in Miami, and then on to Virginia Tech in 1973.

"The reason I came to Virginia Tech, to be honest about it, was to get my master’s degree and then I planned to go back to Florida and hopefully get a job at one of the junior colleges. I never ever thought it would work out that I would get to stay. It was just a matter of being at the right place at the right time. I couldn’t have been luckier."

Prior to taking over as head coach, Whitenack served as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech for two years. In addition to being the men's coach, he also guided the women's team for 10 years during the 1980s and early 1990s. When he retired from coaching after the 2003 outdoor season, he was the longest-tenured Tech employee.

During Whitenack's tenure, the Tech program produced 20 All-Americans, including Steve Taylor and Erick Kingston. Whitenack led the Hokies to two Metro Conference indoor championships in 1993 and 1994, and he was chosen by his peers as Metro Coach of the Year during the 1992 outdoor season and again following Tech's 1993 indoor championship. The athletics department at Virginia Tech built a new track in 1997 and also added an indoor track. After Tech joined the Atlantic 10 Conference for all sports except football in the late 1990s, it became the premier track and field force in the conference. The Hokies won the indoor and outdoor titles for four straight years, and Whitenack received coach of the year honors after the each of those victories. He also received the Walt Comrack Award for excellence in coaching from the Virginia Military Institute in 1997.

He accomplished all this despite the program not having much in the way of resources. In fact, Tech did not have an actual track for years. He took his teams to Blacksburg High School to work out, and his teams also worked out at Rector Field House. Despite a lack of resources, the Hokies often performed well against bigger schools in the big meets – a source of pride for Whitenack.

"A couple of years, we went down to Florida State. We had five scholarships and they were fully funded, plus a handful of football guys. We would compete right up to the last event and scared the heck out of them a couple of times. We would go into the relays with a lead, and they would ended up beating us – but not by much. There were a couple of years … I know their coach … and he would come up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe you challenged us that much.’ We had just phenomenal kids, usually from Virginia, and they didn’t let the lack of a facility really hurt them."

In 2001, Whitenack moved out of coaching and into an administrative role as the director of the Monogram Club, a club of former letter winners at Tech. The club serves as a way to keep a line of communication open between former letter winners and the athletic department. He organized football pregame tailgates and orchestrated reunions and other get-togethers for the former athletes of various sports at Tech. He also helped take care of the luxury suite holders at Lane Stadium. With his office being in Lane Stadium, he had easy access to the suites, and he prepared them for game day.

"At first, I was hesitant to take the job with the Monogram Club because I didn’t think it would be enough work, and I like to be active,” Whitenack said. “Then Jim Weaver, the Tech Athletics Director, came to my office and said he had some other things for me to do. I really enjoyed meeting all those people in the suites, and I enjoyed working with and meeting the people who were in the Monogram Club, too. Many of them are good friends of mine."

Whitenack and his wife, Judy, sold their home in Blacksburg and bought a home on Norris Lake, just north of Knoxville, Tenn. They plan on fixing their home the way they want it, while mixing in some kayaking, jet skiing and boating on the side.