As North Carolina track and field has gained traction since its 2019 hiring of Director Chris Miltenberg, the program has made another attempt at bolstering its team with the addition of Jody Stewart as its sprints and hurdles assistant coach.
Stewart's hiring was announced on Oct. 18. He comes to UNC after serving as the director of Texas State University's track and field and cross country program.
In six years, his teams won eight conference titles as well as the university’s first Triple Crown, winning the women’s cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field titles.
He also won eight Conference Coach of the Year awards during his tenure at Texas State and wants to bring that winning mentality to UNC. He hopes that by leaving the head coaching job for the role at UNC, he can build stronger relationships with the athletes and work with them personally.
“For me, it’s just getting back to coaching," Stewart said. "In a director’s role, it’s so administrative, you have 80 student-athletes and it's just hard to connect, whereas as an events coach, you’re able to cultivate better relationships and you’re really involved in the coaching process, and I missed that."
With Stewart’s hiring, Miltenberg wants to show that UNC is dedicated to creating a winning program and competing for national titles.
“It is a statement to our student-athletes and the students we are trying to recruit to show how seriously we’re taking the sprints and the hurdles and how much we are making a commitment to being the best in the country by bringing in a coach of Jody’s caliber and experience,” Miltenberg said.
Miltenberg also demonstrated confidence in Stewart’s ability to connect with athletes to help improve them in their events as well as to attract recruits to the program that will continue to sustain its success.
“He’s gonna be an incredible leader with our sprints and hurdles group," Miltenberg said. "He's one of the best relationship-builders I’ve ever met, and that’s what our student-athletes really respond to the most — coaches that really get to know them as people."
Despite only interacting with the team for a few days, Stewart has already demonstrated his ability to connect with the athletes and shown them the desire he has to create personal relationships and foster a positive environment while winning.
“One of his main priorities is establishing a good relationship with each and every one of us so that we could all each have a good experience,” sophomore sprinter Craig Saddler II said. “He said that we’re all talented, so we’re all gonna run fast, but he said it’s his goal to create an overall great experience for each individual athlete.”
As North Carolina’s track and field team emerges as a true contender on the national stage for years to come, the program will continue to depend on hiring quality coaches who can connect with and develop athletes as well as recruit new team members.
With Jody Stewart, the team might have found someone who can provide both.
"It’s been amazing for me spending time with student-athletes and just talking about training and physiology," Stewart said. "For me, I’ve really enjoyed the interactions from day one and I look forward to more great things throughout the year.”
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