Over his 16 years at Butler, Head Coach of Track and Field and Cross Country Matt Roe has been integral to Butler’s success—namely by leading his teams to 106 conference individual and relay titles, 68 school records in track and field, producing 39 All Americans, and capturing 14 conference team titles. He’s been named Conference Coach of the Year 13 times and was a finalist for Women’s Division 1 National Coach of the Year in 2013.
Achieving these accolades is anything but easy—especially when competing against other Division 1 schools sprinting toward the same goals. To Roe, it’s a lot like climbing Mount Everest.
“We’re trying to constantly climb that mountain; but if we stay at it, we get to this higher elevation, we adapt to that elevation, and we leverage that adaptation to be able to climb higher,” Roe says. “What we’re trying to do is stay as high up on the mountain as possible and have that be our normal.”
Roe sees Division 1 schools as existing on a spectrum. On one end are elite (and often rigorous) academic institutions, and on the other end, “sports factories,” or schools with ultra-intense athletics. Butler is somewhere in the middle, which allows Roe’s runners to be both students and athletes.
“We’re really elite on the athletic side [but] you can do it all here … An unseen part of our success is our ability to balance both,” Roe says. “That’s one of the things I love most about coaching at Butler, that we’re getting engaged, intelligent, driven people who can go anywhere from Butler without any of the residual challenges that you’d have on both sides of the bell curve. That’s really the secret sauce.”
That sauce is something special. Semester after semester, the track and field and cross country teams are recognized for having some of the highest (and often the best) GPAs out of all Butler athletic programs. Nationally, Butler’s track and field’s combined GPAs were 10th highest and cross country’s eighth last year.
Another ingredient in that recipe is Butler’s uncommon combination of Division 1 athletics and a small student population. A school where you’re not just a face in the crowd is especially comforting to the handful of Roe’s athletes who come from other countries.
“One of my goals is that when [international students] come here, when they’re done, they’re running at the elite level internationally,” Roe says. “From there, that’s usually the point where they say, ‘okay that’s what I’m looking for,’ and we’ll say ‘and by the way, the faculty-to-student ratio is 11:1, there’s a 99 percent placement rate,’ and all the things that come into that make them feel more comfortable about choosing Butler.”
When scouting for the next perfect addition to the team, whether from near or far, Roe knows he has to hone in on what makes Butler special, especially when competing against those elite schools.
“We lead with ‘This is where we’re going to help you as a person, and this is where we’re going to guide you along the way,” Roe says. “It’s still going to be difficult, … but what about an environment where everyone’s rooting for you and trying to help you get there?”
Perhaps it’s this mindset that’s to thank for the teams’ success on and off the field. By teaching his runners the value of working through the pain to become stronger, he sets them up for success in the future. And coming from what he describes as a service-driven family, this is where Roe’s North Star shines brightest.
“The satisfaction that comes from facing something really difficult cannot be understated… there’s such an empowerment to that,” Roe says. “That’s my service. I try to use running and competition as a metaphor and opportunity for people to look and become stronger inward so that they can be stronger outward.”