Chuck Koeppen’s legacy, the powerful brotherhood he has built in IUPUI cross country, track program

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It's a Monday afternoon on November 29th, 2021, and the IUPUI men's cross country and track program is just about to begin practice. There is nothing nice about today, finals week is creeping up and the wind is whipping at about 20 miles per hour. However for head coach Chuck Koeppen this is a special day. On December 1. Koeppen will step down as the head coach of the IUPUI cross country and track program, his first time not being a head coach in 53 years. 

Koeppen’s story in cross country didn't start off as a head coach however. Koeppen set school records at Ball State University on the four-mile cross country course and the 2 mile event in track and field, Koeppen finished his career at BSU with six distance records. He then went on to qualify for the 1972 olympic trials and ran the Boston Marathon that very same year, finishing 37th in the marathon. Koeppen was an eight-time Indiana distance runner of the year and he ran for the Reebok and Adidas Racing Teams. 

Koeppen started coaching his first cross country team in Daleville, IN. There he coached for one year and then moved on to Wapahani High School. 

“The basketball coach used to coach the cross country team and of course all he cared about was basketball so I went in there and asked if I could have the cross country team and coach them,” he said. “I didn't even want the money, but after my first year he said ‘ok the team is yours you take the money for this’”. 

After taking over the cross country team from the basketball coach Koeppen stayed there for three years. Koeppen then moved to Carmel, IN, where he coached both mens and womens cross country and mens track to an impressive 23 IHSAA state titles in cross country and track. 

“Back when I got there Carmel was just a small little community,” he said.

“I went down for a visit in Carmel and they had a pretty nice track over there and at Wapahani, I had a track that was gravel and uphill on one side and downhill on the other,” he said. “So after seeing the Carmel track I said `` oh boy I can't pass up on coaching on this track”. 

Koeppen built Carmel into a powerhouse of runners, pumping out Division 1 runners every single year and creating a culture of hard work. 

Koeppen then heard from a friend about the opportunity to coach at the Division 1 level, the one hill he had not conquered yet. Koeppen was eager to take on the challenge of coaching a young and undeveloped group of runners at IUPUI and build them into a distance running powerhouse just like what he did at Carmel. Koeppen took over the IUPUI coaching job in 2008, since then he has won two Summit League championships in 2014 and 2015, and he has also won three straight Horizon League Championships in 2019, 2020, 2021. No other IUPUI team has ever won three conference championships in a row. 

After all of the success Koeppen has had coaching he still just loves to be around his runners. 

“I sent out a text to all of the current runners and even the alumni on thanksgiving just telling them how thankful I was for them, how lucky I was to be their coach,” he said. “I was just giving thanks for these guys, I love them. “I recruited all of these guys and I just love being around them everyday seeing them work hard and run so well.” 

It's clear Koeppen has built a culture dedicated to a hard work ethic, training, and communication between athletes and coaches. Koeppen has a great relationship with all of his athletes, joking with them before and after workouts. The runners have bought right into

Koeppen keeps him energetic with good jokes and playful banter, but when it comes time to put in the work to be excellent, everyone is willing to do whatever it takes. 

“Koeppen is such a genuine guy”, says Koeppen’s lead assistant and new head coach Justin Roeder. “The athletes and coaches really respect him and everyone just has such fond memories of him”. A big reason we have 20-25 guys on our team now is because of him, when he first showed up they had five maybe seven guys on the team, now we have 20-25 and they stick around for four to five years which is a testament to him”. 

Koeppen has a lot of belief that the program will only get better from here under the new head coach Justin Roeder. Roeder was also once a standout runner for Butler University, winning the 5,000 meter event in track and field at the Horizon league championship in 2007. He won the same event in 2010, he also won the 3,000 meter race in 2011 and won the 10,000 meter at the Horizon League championship in 2011. 

After a few years as Koeppens assistant Koeppen knows that it is time to hand over the reins of the program to Roeder. 

“One of the reasons I stepped down was because Roeder has been such a good and loyal assistant and I don't want to get in his way,” Koeppen said. “He does such a good job with these guys giving them all individual training plans specially made for their bodies and lifestyles, he really does an amazing job with them”. 

Roeder knows that taking over after Koeppen comes with some expectations of winning but he is confident about what he and his team can do. 

“Obviously there are some expectations but he has set us up well to win and to keep winning but with the recruits we have and the guys that we have now I think that we will be fine going forward in the future,” Roeder said. 

Roeder doesn't plan to make any huge changes to the cross country program, seeing that they have had a lot of success in cross country, however he wants to continue to build the track program into a full track team. As of now IUPUI only has distance runners on the track

team, distance meaning 800 meters and all events above that. Roeder hopes to bring in a few sprinters and start to build out the track program. 

“The focus moving forward is to continue with the distance mentality but focus on the indoor and outdoor track season because I think that'll set us up in cross because we will be more well rounded runners and these guys will be a better team because of that,” Roeder said.

Roeder has put a bigger emphasis on track this year and with that added focus on track Roeder has changed the schedule to put the Jags in more competitive races against better competition. 

“This year we're going to Bellarmine for two indoor meets, we're going to Notre Dame, and Grand Valley,” Roeder said. “We're focusing on going to tracks that are banked so those will allow us to run really fast times. We also want to run against teams not in our conference, obviously we see teams in our conference all the time so I just think it would be good for our guys to see some different competition”. 

Leaving the IUPUI track on November 29th you could hear the joy in the air with the laughter of coaches and runners all excited for another day of practice. 

“You know Koppen I think you ought to become AD here” Roeder tells Koeppen. Laughter instantly breaks out between them both, knowing that these jokes and laughs are what makes the job fun. 

You can't help but feel a bit more joyful after seeing a group of people filled with such energy and excitement for what they do everyday. Koeppen has brought this group together and nothing will break this group of brothers apart.

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