Joey Woody always will cherish his time as a star hurdler and assistant track and field coach at Northern Iowa.
A four-time all-American and an NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles as a senior in 1997, Woody helped to build the Northern Iowa track and field program into a perennial power.
He also made friends for life during his time in Cedar Falls.
But now Woody, a 1992 graduate of City High, is proud to say that he bleeds black and gold, even more so now that he has been named Director of Track and Field/Cross Country for the University of Iowa.
“This has always been a dream of mine,” Woody said Monday. “And this is a place I’ve always wanted to be. Being an Iowa City kid and having the opportunity to lead this program into the future is a dream come true. I’m looking forward to where we can take this program.
“We’ve won here before and we know where we can take the program. And that’s the plan, we’re going to be a championship-level team that’s going to compete for Big Ten Championships and build toward being a top-10 national championship level-type team.”
The 41-year old Woody joined Larry Wieczorek’s staff on a full-time basis after serving as a volunteer assistant with the Hawkeye sprinters and middle distance runners in 2006. Woody played a key role in helping Iowa win the Big Ten Outdoor men’s title in 2011 before being promoted to associate head coach in 2013.
Wieczorek retired at the end of this past season, paving the way for Woody to take over as director.
“I’ve had other opportunities either as an assistant coach or as a head coach,” Woody said. “But I always felt like it just wasn’t the right fit for me, for one reason or another. And I always felt like at some point when this position came open that I would have a good chance at being the next director.
“But I also feel like having those opportunities also made me focus in on what I really wanted as far as my career. And I just felt that this is a great place.”
Former City track coach John Raffensperger praised the hiring of Woody.
“This is an outstanding hire,” Raffensperger said Monday. “It would’ve been a huge mistake had they not done this.”
In addition to coaching Woody in high school, Raffensperger also has worked with him as a volunteer assistant coach for the Hawkeyes.
“Obviously, he was a world-class performer on the pro circuit and an NCAA champion,” Raffensperger said. “He’s a great recruiter and really an outstanding technician in all the track and field events.”
Since joining the UI track and field staff, Woody has guided student-athletes to 10 Big Ten Conference individual titles, three Big Ten relay titles, and 33 All-America honors.
This spring the men’s 4×100 relay won the Big Ten championship for the second consecutive year. The squad, which featured four new members, broke the school record for the second consecutive season and finished in sixth place at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, earning all-America honors.
Woody also is the only person in the history of the Drake Relays to win the Athlete of the Meet Award in high school and college, receiving those honors in 1992 and 1994, respectively. He then competed professionally for 11 years, winning a silver medal in the 400 hurdles at the World Championships in 2003. He climbed to as high as No. 2 in the world rankings in the event.
“I think, especially, guys like myself who have big goals I’ve always said shoot for the highest,” Woody said. “I used to sign my name, ‘Go for Gold.’ And that’s the way I look at things. I always wanted to be at the top and I want our program to be at the top.
“I’ve always been excited about at some point in my career being a head coach and being able to run a program. I felt like I was ready. God has a plan and this is the right time for me to be in this position.”
Woody made one thing abundantly clear as he talked about his goals and his approach to being successful.
“We’re going to make sure that every top athlete in Iowa knows that Iowa wants them and we want this to be the first place they look at when they’re looking at schools,” Woody said. “
Woody wants to avoid losing the kind of prospect he was coming out of high school. He picked Northern Iowa, which was coached by current Arkansas head coach Chris Bucknam at the time, because he felt the program was on the rise and because Northern Iowa was willing to offer him a full-ride scholarship, whereas Iowa wanted him to walk on.
“I’ve been asked why I chose UNI.” Woody said. “At that point in my life, I felt it was the best fit for me. I had built some great relationships with the coaches there. And they’ve become life-long friends and mentors for me. Coach Bucknam, I’ve leaned from him a lot throughout this process this year and in previous opportunities that I’ve been offered. So he’s been a great mentor to me.
“At that point in my life it was the right decision, and now we’ve just have to sell the Tiger Hawk and let people know that we’re going to go hard after instate kids. I feel like that’s going to be the core unit of our program as we continue to reach out to kids from all across the country and across the world.”
Woody and his wife, Heather, have two children, Drake and Isabelle. Woody also has numerous relatives and friends who live in the Iowa City area. He is counting on that support to help him be successful, much like he did as a competitor.
“Growing up here and having a lot of family here and having that support system around you just like I did while competing as an athlete, you can’t replace that,” Woody said. “There are reasons why I never left the state of Iowa while I was training as a professional track athlete. Most people leave and go to the South and maybe switch coaches or whatever it is. But I stuck to the plan and had a lot of success because of the support system I always had around me. And I feel the same will hold true being the head coach here as we move this program forward. That support, you can’t replace it.”
Woody also benefited from working under Wieczorek, who was a member of the Iowa coaching staff for 30 years, including the last three as director.
“The thing about Coach Wiz is he’s just such a supportive guy,” Woody said. “He wasn’t always looking over your shoulder. He trusted in what we were doing. I’ve told Wiz a lot that I learned so much from him, just by listening to things that maybe people won’t pay a lot of attention to, just the way he would take his time making decisions even though we might have wanted an immediate decision. He would make sure he thought through all the consequences.
“So I’ve learned a great deal following in his footsteps. And I couldn’t be happier with how the process went, as far as being an assistant coach this long and learning a lot from him and being able to move up into the director’s position.”
Adding to Woody’s happiness is the commitment he has received from Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta and assistant Paula Jantz.
“I feel like this is a career job and I feel like I’ve had great communication with Gary Barta and Paula Jantz as far as this position and the direction they want to see this program go,” Woody said. “I feel like they’re going to be committed, not only financially, but through facilities and everything else to help our program continue to grow. They’ve really committed a lot to our budget these last few years.”
Part of that commitment will include adding a new position as director of operations for the track program. Woody also plans to hire one new assistant to help mostly with sprints and hurdle events, while keeping the rest of the current staff intact.
“We are track and field and we are cross country and I feel like we have the staff in place that’s going to help continue to lead those groups,” Woody said.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Hawkeye news