The Leader (SUNY Fredonia)

Ulrich calls it quits: signals end of an era

Twenty-four seasons, 36 SUNYAC titles, 13 coach of the year awards enough for Ulrich

It all began in 1975 for former Fredonia State head track coach Jim Ulrich. He accepted the duty as track coach in ’75, but the fun did not begin until 1977 when Fredonia, once referred to as the “music school,” defeated the mighty Cortland State Red Dragons to take their first conference title.Little did he or anyone else know at the time, this title was the first of many to come. In fact, that title in ’77 began a streak of 20 consecutive State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) outdoor titles that the Ulrich led Blue Devils would claim. “The Streak,” which it came to be known as, remained intact until a determined Cortland team managed to break it in ’97.

In his days of mastery, Ulrich earned several individual awards that alone represent the true excellence he possesses. Among his claims to greatness are being named SUNYAC coach of the year in 13 of his 24 seasons.

During his tenure, Fredonia would go on to win 36 SUNYAC championships, 15 indoor and 21 outdoor respectively. Other records include 27 New York State Track and Field Association Championships (NYST&FA). Fourteen of these titles would be indoor and 13 outdoor.

With such an impressive record, one may wonder why you would step down from the head coaching position of such a prominent program?

Reasons for Ulrich’s decision are numerous but at the top of his list is the aspect of family life. Ulrich was able to visit his children in Florida between three and four times a year, but that was not enough. Another reason for his stepping down revolved around the idea of not being able to live up to expectations. Ulrich spoke, “It’s a lot easier to get to the top than it is to stay there. When you build a great program and perform well year in and year out, people begin to expect it, and anything less is not good enough.”

For Ulrich it came down to the point where he had to ask himself, is there anything else I can do here? He feels and with good reason, he has indeed done it all.

“The Streak,” became a big burden for Coach Ulrich and his team because it placed so much pressure on them, especially the seniors.

Ulrich felt his greatest accomplishment to be the overall development of Fredonia State’s track program. Before his arrival in ’75 Fredonia was lucky if it scored a single point at the various meets and invitational they would attend.

“To me, the most important aspect of coaching at Fredonia was the relationships I formed with the athletes,” said Ulrich. He continued, “They came here to prove a lot, worked hard, and it’s a great feeling to see them improve not only as athletes, but as individuals capable of making it in the real world. That type of stuff has more meaning to me than the individual awards and championships.”

Ulrich pointed out that at many Division I schools you read of student athletes who fail to graduate, but at Fredonia that is far from the truth. His evidence that illustrated the point was Fredonia’s 85% student-athlete graduation rate. This was something he truly admired. “We’ve had so many athletes who have graduated and went on to become doctors and lawyers,” Ulrich added.

For the most part Ulrich has been completely satisfied with his career at Fredonia, but if could change anything, it would be the emphasis he placed on winning. “Winning is crucial, and it’s a big part of who I was and who I am, but sometimes I felt as though it was all too consuming.” In addition he said, “I noticed how consuming winning became, but it was not until later in my career that I realized it.”

His hunger and competitive nature can be seen in his life away from coaching as well. Personal feats include the Masters record in the javelin throw, and even in bowling where he has bowled a 300 game.

When many view his records and achievements, they may fail to recognize the hours on end that went in to shaping such a masterful program.

Ulrich admitted, “The most trying facet of coaching at Fredonia, because of its placement in the state, is recruiting. It took so much effort to recruit big name athletes because with no physical education major, athletes could attend somewhere like Cortland State and receive a scholarship.”

Despite resigning from the head coaching position, Ulrich has agreed to remain on as assistant coach and help interim coach, Ed O’Gorman, former Fredonia runner, until a national search locates a replacement.

Ulrich stated that O’Gorman, is more than capable of doing the job, but he pointed out that it will take some time to adjust. “Ed is a hard worker, whose perseverance will give him the ultimate drive for success.”

In his 24 years as track coach at Fredonia State, Jim Ulrich has spread his influence over the program and molded it into the greatness it now represents. If you ask his athletes they all say it, he truly is an admirable man.

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