Harlis Meaders spoke with NCPrepTrack.com this week about his new postiion at his alma mater, his time as a student-athlete, and what he brings to North Carolina track and field.
Original interview available here.
Harlis Meaders is in his first year as Head Track and Field/Cross Country coach at the University of North Carolina. Meaders replaced Dennis Craddock, who retired after 38 seasons and 45 ACC titles. Meaders is only the 6th head coach in UNC Track and Field's 60- year history.
Meaders, a native of Monroe, NC was a 1992 graduate of UNC, where he won three individual ACC Championships and was captain and a key member of UNC's '92 ACC Outdoor Championship team. He was a qualifier for the 1992 NCAA Championships and the '92 Olympic Trials, and held UNC's school discus record for 11 years.
He was an Assistant Track and Field Coach at Western Carolina University for 3 years where he obtained a Master's degree.
Meaders was an Assistant and later Associate Head Coach at Florida State University, helping to lead the program to 19 ACC Indoor and Outdoor titles. Eleven of his athletes won 22 ACC titles. Seven of his men and women athletes earned 15 All-American awards.
NCPrepTrack: After 18 years coaching at Florida State, how does it feel to be back in North Carolina and to be back here in Chapel Hill and coaching at UNC?
Coach Meaders: After 18 years at Florida State University it feels great to be back at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The time I spent at FSU was wonderful and I was able to learn and grow as a coach, a recruiter, an administrator and a person. I developed great relationships with the staff in Tallahassee and will always treasure the people, the student-athletes and the university. The opportunity to return to North Carolina is a true blessing in my life and I am eternally thankful to the athletic director Bubba Cunningham and the Carolina family for the opportunity to come home. Most collegiate athletes dream of the chance to return to their University and lead the program. I am living that dream.
NCPrepTrack: What are some of the memories that you have from your days as a student and athlete at UNC that you would like to re-create for today's UNC student-athletes?
Coach Meaders: I have many memories of my time on campus as a student- athlete. Some that I would like to recreate for our current kids and some that are best kept as memories. It makes me laugh to think that we were so young and knew so little. It truly was some of the best years of my life. The best memories are of the sense of family that I shared with my teammates. In competition we never hesitated to give all that we had for the team; we won as one and lost as one. On campus and in the dorms we stuck together like brothers and sisters and became family for life. Once you are a Tar Heel you will always be a Tar Heel. I want to recreate the sense of jubilation that I shared with my family in working hard and sacrificing so that we could claim a team title together. It's been said by many, but it is so true, "Records are set to be broken but championships last forever." I want to help our current kids claim their piece of "forever."
NCPrepTrack: Having helped to build a national-championship program at Florida State, what are some of the key things you would like to emphasize here at UNC?
Coach Meaders: Helping to build a championship program at FSU is definitely the right way to put it. There are many great people at FSU that played a part in the program's success. I am confident that the same level of success can be recreated at the University of North Carolina. Over the last 18 years Carolina has had many great athletes put on the uniform and do exceptionally well. Our goal will be to strengthen the team as a whole. It will take a group effort from our coaches and our athletes but history shows that it can be done. We all remember when Carolina track and field was one of the major programs in the NCAA. I truly believe that with the help of high school and club coaches within the state of North Carolina and other areas, we can reach that level again. If I did not believe that success was possible here at UNC, I would not have taken the job. In order to reach that level we have to emphasize character in our leadership, integrity in dealing with prospects coaches and families, and the ability to help kids graduate and excel athletically. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a wonderful institution with a reputation for academic excellence. Our charge is to create a track and field and cross country program that replicates the same sort of excellence athletically.
NCPrepTrack: With over two decades of experience working with college student-athletes, what are some of the important things you have learned in helping college student-athletes to be successful?
Coach Meaders: I never really thought of it as two decades, working with and around the athletes helps to keep me young. I have learned a lot but the some of the most important things are:
1. Every athlete and every coach will go through a rough period and it's in those periods where they grow the most.
2. There is a difference between being a friendly coach and being the athlete's friend. They have a lot a friends; be their coach.
3. Athletes want to be pushed and they want to be challenged. Often they will tell you what you want to hear, "I am not tired," or, "My body feels great," or, "I can handle more." As coaches we have to learn to listen with our eyes. We have to watch how they move and learn their body language. We have to learn to prescribe not the greatest volume of work, but the volume that works the greatest.
NCPrepTrack: Tell us about the mentoring program you established at FSU's athletic department.
Coach Meaders: At Florida State I was one of the founders for the leadership program for male student athletes. The name of the group was R.E.A.L Men (Reliable, Educated Approachable Leaders Men). The group was a sibling to the leadership group for female student- athletes (Women In Leadership Development). Our focus was to provide a forum for male student athletes to come together to discuss any and all issues that they were experiencing as a part of the college experience. The name was derived from traits that our student athletes admired in other males and females that were major influences in their lives. Some of the kids were from single parent homes and were influenced by coaches, uncles, or cousins or simply close friends. Others came from two-family homes and divorced families but the common theme was how do we work together to become better leaders, on our teams on campus and in the community. We learned that it takes a stronger man to ask for help and not try to do everything on his own, as in sports the team is always more powerful than the individual. It was a great experience.
NCPrepTrack: What are some unique things that UNC has to offer student- athletes who are considering attending UNC?
Coach Meaders: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the very few places where you can truly get the perfect blend of academic and athletics. If you are looking for the best of both arenas you can find it here at Chapel Hill. The student-athletes who come to UNC will never be disappointed with the quality of the educational or the athletic experience. Your degree will open doors for you all over the world and our coaches are prepared to help you reach your highest athletic aspirations.
NCPrepTrack: As an athlete at Sun Valley HS (Indian Trail, NC) in 1988, Meaders threw the discus 197-10 at the Queen City Relays on April 16th of that year. It was the third best nationally for 1988. Nearly 25 years later, Coach Meaders still ranks as #1 on the All-Time NC High School List in that event -- by over six feet. Tell us coach, what do you remember about that day and that performance?
Coach Meaders: The Queen City Relays in 1988 was a fantastic meet. It's been said that the older you get the better you were. So the way I remember it may not be the way it really was. But here we go. There was six feet of snow on the ground and I only had one shoe, the shoe was two sizes too small and my foot was really cramped. No really, it was a great day and Coach Sanders, Coach Prince, and Coach Steele were all there, they were great coaches who provided encouragement prior to the meet. I was throwing against Vernon Greer who was an exceptional thrower from that period. I think it was our first meet against each other and I was excited to throw against him. The weather was really perfect and I had a great series of throws that day. I remember that after each throw I would find a spot by myself to prepare mentally for the next throw. The throws came easy that day. I think the first tape measure was too short and they had to get another one and we shared a laugh. Maybe I should have stuck with the story about the snow -- it probably would have been better.
NCPrepTrack: What do you think of the level of high school track and field currently in North Carolina?
Coach Meaders: I am still reacquainting myself with North Carolina high school track and field, but so far I am pleased. There are a great number of young and old coaches who are giving so much of their time and knowledge to the kids in the sport. The sport is healthy with thousands of kids participating each year. Much like my goal for UNC, my desire for North Carolina high school track and field is to produce more kids that are performing at the national level. The perceived powerhouses are still Texas, Florida, Georgia and California, but North Carolina has a lot of talent and should be among the best states in the U.S. for track and field. We have to continue to get more support from the high school athletic associations and our local athletic directors.
NCPrepTrack: Any thoughts Coach, on how you think your participating in sports, specifically track and field helped you to grow as an individual or to help you to become a successful person?
Coach Meaders: Like many of us who played sports I learned a lot. I learned the value of teamwork, I learned how to win with dignity and how to lose with out being a loser. I learned that we are all capable of more than we know. In track and field we bring together a group of individuals from varying backgrounds with different talents. Then we ask those individuals to embrace their differences and respect the values of the others to form a team. We ask that team to work together everyday and to form a bond built out of mutual respect for each other like a family. The family accepts a unifying challenge or goal and we take our team off to compete. In competition we test our individual and team resolve and willingness sacrifice for the whole. There is no better place for a young male or female to learn how to work together, to lead and to be lead than on a sports team. In the end whether we win or not we are better for the experience. Of course I plan to win.
NCPrepTrack: Thank you very much Coach Meaders for your time and for sharing those thoughts with us.