Becoming a great coach does not happen overnight and Gary Pepin is no exception.
This year, Pepin began his 38th year as the Husker track and field head coach, but prior to starting at Nebraska in 1980, he started out at as a head coach for three different high schools in Missouri.
The Pittsburg, Kansas, native said he wanted a change in career, and pursued a master’s degree at the University of Kansas, while working as a graduate assistant and, eventually, an assistant coach for nine years. There, Pepin had the opportunity to work under the legendary track and field head coach Bob Timmons and learned how to build a championship-caliber team.
In 1984, Pepin succeeded Husker track and field hall of famer Frank Sevigne and became the head coach of the program. During the first four years of Pepin’s NU coaching career, he helped guide the women’s team to three national indoor championships.
The rest is history, with countless national recognitions and the establishment of a championship pedigree. Some of his most notable accomplishments include all-time winningest coach in the former Big Eight and Big 12 conferences, 40 coach of the year awards, 72 team conference titles, 2008 USTFCCCA Hall of Fame Inductee, 515 All-Americans and countless other recognitions.
Throughout his career, Pepin has coached over 59 individual collegiate champions and several Olympic competitors, such as nine-time Olympic medalist, Merlene Ottey, a sprinter from Jamaica.
Steven Cahoy, a former NU pole standout, finished his collegiate career as the 2017 outdoor pole vault champion. He said he credits Pepin for helping him find his breakout season.
“Not only did he help me grow as a person, but my teammates around me,” Cahoy said. “There was trust in the process of what the coaches had us doing and to believe we can accomplish our goals.”
Pepin said academics should be a top priority more than anything when the recruits commit to the track and field program.
“When someone comes to school here, the most important thing is to get a degree, and a result from that degree is to become a productive citizen in our society,” Pepin said.
Pepin said there were many obstacles he’s had to overcome in his 38-year coaching career, including the transition from the Big 12 to the Big Ten Conference in 2010. He said the switch required some adjustments in terms of strategy and the outdoor season climate of the new conference. However, Pepin said the change required him to get used to a whole new set of coaches.
“I was in that conference for so long that you felt real comfortable, and a lot of friendships were made with the coaches,” Pepin said.
The Big Ten is predominantly known for middle and long distance running. Pepin said he had to adjust and call for recruiting changes in order to maintain the consistency of the program. The weather in the northern states also brought new approaches to preparation for cold temperatures in the springtime, according to Pepin.
“Particularly in the outdoor season, the weather was better in the Big 12,” Pepin said.
After working from the bottom of the ranks to finding success as a track and field coach, Pepin said perseverance, passion and the people he surrounded himself with brought him to where he is today.
Pepin said that passion starts with finding the right profession and the desire to make an impact on young adults without the worry of salary.
“It is not about getting into a job where it is about how much money there can be, but how much enjoyment is in the job,” Pepin said.
Pepin said some of the greatest influences in his life are his parents and his wife.
“They have shown tremendous work ethic and always got along well with people,” Pepin said.
The journey isn’t over yet as Pepin said he aims to capture a sixth Big Ten championship title and work with another diverse recruiting class this season.
“Our goals are always to win the conference meet, and I think both teams at this point are pretty solid teams,” Pepin said.