After 24 years, Chapman will have a new coach at the helm of its cross-country and track and field programs. Former head coach Anna Wlodarczyk, a well-decorated Polish athlete and Olympian who began coaching at Chapman in 1993, announced her retirement earlier this year.
While her retirement led to a nationwide search for a new head coach, the end result was hiring someone who couldn’t be any closer to home: DeAndra’e Woods, a southern California native.
“I’ve been in the local area all my life, in southern California, and I have a couple friends that went here,” said Woods, who is a ‘12 alumnus of California State University. “I’ve always had an eye on Chapman.”
Terry Boesel, Chapman’s director of athletics, said in a statement that Woods’s passion and enthusiasm were key factors in his hiring.
“He is clearly knowledgeable but it was his passion and enthusiasm for not only his sport, but the overall growth of our student-athletes that made him the right fit at Chapman,” Boesel said.
Woods is 27 and most recently coached at Concordia University, Irvine. His assistant coach, Ryan Carroll – a graduate of and previous coach at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona – is 26. Woods might be almost passable as a college student, but as he puts it, “Mentally, I would say I’m 35, so be ready for that.”
This will be Woods’s first head coaching position. While he said he is excited to have fulfilled a dream of becoming a head coach so quickly, he said he does not feel nervous about taking the reigns of a cross-country and track and field program that Wlodarczyk built over the course of 24 years.
“I think having all the mentors that I’ve had in my life, all the experience that I’ve been able to gain since the start of me running track and field, I think it allows me to be pretty prepared,” Woods said. “You’re never truly prepared for a job, no matter how hard you work, unless it’s something that you’ve done before and you’re like, ‘Ah, I got this.’ So when it comes to that for me, I’m ready for challenges. Obviously, nothing is going to be perfect, but I’ll take every punch and keep running with it.”
Woods already has some coaching success under his belt, coaching Concordia’s 4-x-100 relay team to a PacWest Championship in 2016.
“I’m very, very competitive,” Woods said. “It’s been like that all my life. All my mentors that knew me since I was young would tell me all the time that I was never a shy person when it came to competition. So I definitely want to make sure we’re competitive.”
While Woods will coach cross-country in the fall, in the spring, he will inherit a track and field team that has more than doubled in size since 2014. Woods said he wants to continue growing that area.
“Right now, track and field and cross-country may not be the sexiest sports on campus,” Woods said. “I’m not going to say that my goal is to make it the most popular sport on campus, but I want to make sure people know we have track and field and cross-country teams.”
Woods wants to improve the brand recognition for both programs. He has already created new Twitter and Instagram accounts for the teams.
“I think it’ll be a little bit easier for me to relate to them since I was in their shoes less than 10 years ago,” Woods said. “It’ll help with recruiting and the social media aspect.”
Going into a new season with athletes with whom he has little to no relationship means that Woods will have a to prepare differently for his seasons than the rest of Chapman’s veteran coaches. Woods said that on day one, he expects openness from his athletes.
“I expect them to just be open,” Woods said. “This is not only new for the freshmen and maybe if any transfers are here, but this is going to be new for all of them, having a new coaching staff, a completely new coaching staff. Not only me as the head coach, but a new assistant coach and others. I think they just need to be open-minded – open-minded and ready to work and have fun.”
Most important to Woods – who graduated from college five years ago – is making sure that players are students first.
“I’m really big on making sure all my student-athletes are holistic and not only do they want to be an amazing athlete, but they want to be an amazing student,” Woods said.