Coach John O'Malley always has a watchful eye on his program at Sandburg High School
When you think of Illinois distance running the names of Joe Newton and Dan Iverson will most likely pop up. And rightfully so for the legends who crafted Elmhurst (York) and Naperville North boys and girls to state and national prominence. The same can be said for Orland Park (Sandburg) boys head coach John O'Malley. Malley, who is a Sandburg graduate, came back home to steer the Eagles ship in 2003. Since that time his squads have been amazing. The cross country team has qualified for the state championship every season since he has been at the helm. Success hasn't just been at the state level for O'Malley and the Eagles. They finished 15th and 4th at the Nike Cross Nationals the past two seasons. The Eagles 4x800 relay ran an astounding 7:37.36 to break the metric all-time state meet record in defending their title. The feat was US #1 at the time and drew praise from more than just distance running fans too! Individually, O'Malley's guys have won multiple state medals in cross country and track. Most recently his star pupils Sean and Chris Torpy won the 1600 and 800 along with the 4x8 relay 3A state titles. Sean set an all-time record in the 800 at the Midwest Distance Classic blazing a US #1 1:47.95. This weekend the Torpy's will compete in the very prestigious Brooks PR Invite in Seattle. Somewhere either in the stands of Rend Memorial Stadium or in front of his computer at home on Saturday afternoon, you can bet Coach John O'Malley will be smiling.
Let's start with the beginning of the school year when you were preparing your team for the cross country season. Was there an extra fire inside to achieve more this season after placing second last year?
Yes, no doubt about it. Hinsdale Central ran fantastic in the 2014 state meet and we have to acknowledge their performance. Coach [Jim] Westphal and his staff did a great job and those boys ran fantastic. At no point in the season could we have matched their 14:52 average that they put together in the state meet. But one of the keys to developing the culture of our group of runners was the unwillingness to settle on preconceived standards and expectations, so we were never going to be satisfied with even a state championship let alone a 2nd place finish. They are a really competitive group by nature, so this fed into their personalities. From the beginning, our vocabulary centered on the concept of disrespecting the record book. I can't drive that point home enough. I learned so much from this group of runners, particularly guys like Max Lehnhardt, and this concept of disrespecting the record book is one of them. I could talk for hours on how to foster that mentality now.
What specifically did you do differently this year vs. year in preparing?
The development of our narrative was critical to our success. Understanding performance psychology and performance character has been a huge part of our system. We as coaches talk a lot about having a training calendar planned out for athletes' physical training but we have never even thought of a psychological calendar. Who wouldn't agree with the idea that your mentality is paramount to success? My feeling was, if I am not actively a student of psycho-biology, understanding brain development and how stress works, then I am missing a huge part of coaching and teaching. With this in mind, a huge part of prepping for this year was the anticipation of being favorites, of being nationally ranked, and having the spot light on us from the pre-season. I've talked about some of that already in the first question, but what I'd say is that we prepared in many ways for that and the boys were ready to thrive on pressure. I never considered the concept of trying to "take the pressure off" of our athletes. To do that with this group (and maybe any group) would have been offensive to their character. Physically, I crafted their training on preparation for a long season. I have an original training program that enables them to be athletically versatile. I could go on forever about our preparation for the season because a lot went into it, but every team needs to make sure they actively foster a shared identity and a reason to compete that goes far beyond state trophies. Our runners and coaches did that very well this year. I was lucky to witness that in our athletes. Character is a means to a successful life and that is what I hope they leave our program with.
Sandburg placed 4th at Nike Cross Nationals this past year which
was awesome. Illinois was very strong cross country wise. Do you
believe that the competition within the state prepared your team for
the ultimate test that NXN provided?
Track and Field seems to be the main sport in general for distance
runners. So how did xc prepare your team as a whole for the monster
season that you achieved?
Speaking of monster season, your boys collectively went and established themselves among the best ever in Illinois as well as the United States. Can you detail what it means to be a part of such a
Sean and Chris Torpy bolted themselves as argueably the best twins
in USA history. Can you explain what they meant to your program?
It's funny how few college coaches recruit character. They recruit times. They don't talk to coaches or learn about the family. I am guaranteeing the Torpys will be huge performers in college and beyond and it's not because of a coach or a training plan, although I am confident those things will be in place, but that's not the point. We know why they are so good and it's certainly not because of me.
I've enjoyed so much watching them go about their business. They are as tough as they come. Their workouts are marvels of performance. The first week of May we ran a workout, and I used an expletive and said, "We are about to break a lot of records." They have a capacity for work that you'd never believe. But far beyond their work ethic and incredible race performances, I cannot say how much their personalities and character have affected me personally and the team. On any given day, you'll see Chris Torpy drop back and pick up a young runner on the team and say, "Let's go. You're going to be great and you can run with me." Or Sean taking our state trophy to a cancer-stricken teammate's house. They are strong people first and foremost and then the strong running comes.
7) There have been some pundits out there who criticize your method of
coaching in terms of not running the Torpy twins in the 3200/2mile on
the track in the post-season. How do you respond to that?
You have been apart of some great feats as a coach such as Lukas
Verzbicas winning two Footlocker cross country titles and two indoor
national titles. He also copped the national 2mile record (8:29.46) as
an Eagle. Have you ever feel undervalued as a coach when your name is
not mentioned as one of the creme of the crop coaches when debated?
I've felt very supported by the coaching community in Illinois and have been humbled to be asked to present in Indiana and Colorado. I've also been really grateful for the awesome support from Milesplit. And I think most coaches would agree with me when I say coaches who concern themselves with being valued as a top coach by others are bad coaches. I try not to be a bad coach. My concern is my value as a coach for my athletes. Coaches don't run a single step of their athletes' performances or the work that lead to them, so to attach their name to those performances is a discredit to the athletes. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such great athletes.
What are you expecting from your prized pupils (Torpys) at the
prestigious Brooks PR meet this weekend?
Big things. They've raced really well this year and these post season opportunities have given them a platform to run fast without prelims and with good weather and competition.They aren't going to run safe. They are going to do what they always have done: risk big, race tough and have barrier-breaking character. I can't wait to watch them.
Lastly, you graduate a ton of seniors from your program. Where do
you see the Eagles in terms of the Illinois elite in the next year or