Impressive backgrounds help SIU track and field coaches elevate current athletes
April 26, 2023
Many may not know the SIU track and field coaching staff is quietly composed of many elite athletes who have performed alongside some of the best from across the globe.
It’s unlikely that many people know the coaches combine for 20 All-American appearances, 12 conference titles, one Olympics appearance and five world championship appearances in their own athletic careers.
Yet, that’s exactly what five of these coaches did in their primes. Richard Jones, director of track and field and cross country; Stephani Perkins, associate head coach of track and field; Brian Biekert, head cross country/assistant distance track and field; Jeneva Stevens, assistant coach of throws; and Jake Brydson, assistant coach of jumps, all combine for a spectacular resume of experience for the SIU track and field team.
“You’ve got some really good caliber, and all of us were D1 athletes,” said Perkins. “I’m the least successful when I hold up my mirror to coach Jones and coach Stevens.”
Perkins had a career that is nothing to sneeze at. Five years after blowing out her knee and graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2003, she came back and ran in the 2008 USA Track and Field Indoor National Championships before hanging up her spikes for good.
“I wanted to see if I could run fast enough to make nationals… so I trained on my own while I was working three jobs and I indeed qualified for the US Nationals,” she said.
Perkins, who is in her first year at SIU, had multiple previous stops at high schools, including Ranchview High School in Irving, Texas, where she started a club team, and at BYU, where she coached several high level athletes as well as an Olympian.
Stevens, or McCall as she was known during her days as an athlete at SIU, had one of the most decorated careers for a professional athlete in SIU history. In college alone, she was a three-time national champion and three-time national runner up, as well as a semifinalist for the 2012 Bowerman award.
“I was world-class before leaving SIU,” she said.
After graduation, Stevens began her nine year professional career. Over those nine years, Stevens competed in five world championship meets and traveled to more than 20 countries to compete. She abruptly retired due to an aggravating back injury and jumped into coaching shortly after.
Jones may have achieved the biggest milestone of all, the highest mountain peak that a track and field athlete can ascend to: becoming an Olympian.
After being a national champion and earning multiple All-American titles at Ohio State University, Jones represented Guyana in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“That experience is something you never lose… you never lose the fact of being at the opening ceremony, then the closing ceremony… nobody can ever take it from you,” he said.
Jones went on to coach at Bishop-Hartley High School, where he coached multiple state champions and collegiate athletes before moving to his alma mater, Ohio State, as a coach. His athletes there won several conference titles and conference accolades, and he had more than 40 athletes run in national meets.
All of the coaches on staff have unique perspectives, as former collegiate and professional athletes themselves.
Perkins is brutal with herself and her experience as a college athlete. She doesn’t want athletes to end up doing what she did.
“I will honestly say that I was not a successful athlete, and that’s because of the things I was doing… I did not level up in college. And so I use that as a testimony and as a life experience,” said Perkins. “And I hope my athletes don’t have to go through that and have any regrets when they leave. So as a coach, I’m like, ‘no, I did everything you’re trying to do. And I don’t want you to be me. I want you to be better than me.’”
Jones’ highly successful career gave him a true appreciation for the sport and a taste of everything necessary to be elite, including experience. This goes into his coaching approach as well, as he is trying to incorporate more of his experiences that aren’t just related to his expertise.
“I am trying to do a better job, personally, sharing some of my experiences with things that I’ve done as an athlete, as a coach, and then translate to this crop of athletes,” he said.
Jones wants his athletes to go beyond just participating.
“If they can love the sport the same way I did, I believe they will really start to succeed… it’s not really work if you love what you do,” he said.
That translates into having athletes that run at the highest level of meets and seeing that they can compete, even if they are from “just” SIU.
“We’re really just trying to give them the same experiences I had, and hopefully it transforms this team,” Jones explained.
Stevens echoes that thought.
“I would like for them to experience what I experienced and even go beyond that. So when I’m coaching them, it’s not me thinking about what I lost, but only what they can gain and for them to get the same experiences that I have gotten with the sport,” she said.
Personal experience often plays a big role in how a coach forms their coaching philosophy and techniques they use as they coach their own athletes.
Jones said, “I wanted to help kids achieve and get to the highest level possible… If you want to be an Olympian, I know exactly what it took to be an Olympian. If you want to be a national champ, I know exactly what it took to be a national champion. And so my job, part of my philosophy was how can I help you get to the best of your ability.”
Stevens also leans on her experience to coach, often demonstrating proper techniques with different throwing implements.
“I still jump in the ring with them to show them what I’m talking about,” she said.
Despite a shared background in track and field, all of the coaches had different journeys to becoming a coach and ending up at SIU.
Jones said of coaching: “I think it’s just a natural progression for a lot of athletes at the end of their collegiate career or professional career. I had a very good experience as an athlete, and I want to be able to give that back.”
“That’s kind of what began getting the men and women that I coached in high school good, because I wanted them to get into college and run track and I wanted to share all of those types of things that I had,” he said.
Stevens didn’t necessarily see herself getting into coaching at first but now thinks that coaching is better than competing.
She said with a laugh, “I actually like coaching more than being an athlete. A lot of people looked at me crazy when I said that.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner,” she said.
Perkins says teaching is what led her into coaching.
She said, “I really liked the relationship part, and watching young people develop and grow into adults. It’s my favorite part about it.”
“I wanted to be a coach that developed the whole person… so that when they left, whatever program that I had going on, that they would be developed as a full person and be successful,” she said.
The coaches are also thankful to be here and are ready to win here.
Stevens said, “I would like to say thank you to SIU for bringing me back, for having me here in the first place and providing me with all the lessons and tools that I need in order for me to thrive in this world.”
Jones shares the same sentiments.
He said, “I’m thankful and grateful for this opportunity to be here at SIU… and really just wanting to do the best job that I possibly can in the position that I’m in.”
“I am not doing this to get another job. I’m doing it because I want to be here. I want to be successful at where I am, wherever I lay my head,” he said.
To stay up to date with all of your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.
Sports Reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]