When head coach Chris Miltenberg took over the North Carolina track and field and cross-country programs in 2019, he had a mission: build one of the best teams in the country.
But in order to put UNC on the map, he had to start from the ground up — which is exactly what he has done.
When Miltenberg stepped into the role of head coach in Chapel Hill, he knew that before his team could produce any quality results, the first step would be to create a championship culture. Without this, there wouldn't be a foundation to build on.
“We can’t come in and say we wanna have all these great goals," Miltenberg said. "I’m first understanding who we’re working with and the environment we are working in."
With that mindset, Miltenberg emphasized getting to know his athletes on a personal level and learning about UNC as a whole so that he could surround the program with the right people.
“The time that he’s dedicated to me and my teammates goes far outside of the track,” said graduate distance runner Brandon Tubby. “We’ve worked on mindset, worked on mental health, like all of these things, they get better as you go through the program with him.”
By getting to know his athletes as people, Miltenberg aimed to build trust with them. He could then focus on sending the right messages to his team to create a greater sense of unity and cohesion.
“He really focuses on instilling in all of us that we are running for the team and that he really cares about each athlete,” fifth-year distance runner Paige Hofstad said. “Our team has just gotten better because of it because he tells us to compete for each other.”
This intense-yet-personable and team-centric attitude has rubbed off on his athletes, driving them to perform at their best.
“He tries to control his attitude and make it positive, and he gives you all his effort whenever you are with him, so that translates to the athlete,” Tubby said. “If Coach Miltenberg is doing something, you just know it’s gonna get done the right way, and as an athlete, you want to have that same type of reputation.”
Before a single race was run, Miltenberg made sure that a culture of hard work was established. To his athletes, that's what makes him different: he devoted his time early on towards building the foundation that would garner future results.
On the women’s side, the young cross-country team finished fifth at the ACC Championship this past fall, only 17 points out from second place. They then went to the NCAA Championship in March and finished 14th. To Miltenberg, that raised the bar for what his teams can do.
“We showed up at that meet and we ran like we belong here," Miltenberg said. "We weren’t just happy to be there."
For the men, Tubby and graduate transfer Thomas Ratcliffe both broke the four-minute mark in the mile at the ACC Indoor Track Championships — placing first and second, respectively — helping the men’s team finish second overall. UNC hadn’t had anyone break four minutes indoors since 1974, which Miltenberg described as a huge turning point for the program.
The head coach pushed to instill confidence in his team, to prove they can compete with the best, and his athletes have bought in.
“He kind of has convinced our team, and convinced me personally, that we can compete on the national level and that we can achieve the goals that we’ve always had for ourselves,” Hofstad said. “He just instills that in the team every day, especially in us distance runners who he coaches directly.”
Miltenberg has his foundation in place, his athletes in the right mindset to compete at the highest level, and, most importantly, his team ascending at the right time. But anyone that knows Miltenberg knows that he won’t stop there.
“This man is orchestrating something way bigger,” Tubby said. “It’s gonna be massive.”