4-17-07 - Susan Payne, who started East Central University’s cross country program from scratch 13 years ago, has stepped down from that head coaching post to start up an undergraduate sports management program at Rogers State University in Claremore.
She will be replaced by two-year assistant coach Steven Sawyer.
Payne, who also served as chairman of ECU’s kinesiology department for several years, will wrap up a 20-year plus stay at ECU at the end of the 2007 spring term.
The cross country program’s success, under Payne’s tutelage, was almost immediate as she has guided Tiger teams or individuals to nationals 11 out of 13 years, including an 11th place finish by the men’s team at the NCAA Division II championships in 2005.
That same year she was named Lone Star Conference Men’s Coach of the Year for the third time in five years and was selected South Central Region Men’s Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to a second-place regional finish.
In four out of the last five seasons, ECU has produced at least one All-American, including most recently two-time honoree Koby Styles in 2005 and 2006.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done here. It’s not easy to leave a place after 20 years,” said Payne. “There’s a lot of pride in this program, starting it from scratch, and sending either teams or athletes to nationals 11 out of 13 years.”
As coach of the ECU women’s team, Payne led the Lady Tigers to their first Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference championship at the NAIA level in 1994. That title enabled ECU to send the entire team to the national championships.
While competing under the NAIA banner, ECU qualified runners (women and/or men) for nationals eight out of nine years. She helped qualify her first runner, Daniel Stone, for the NCAA Division II national meet in 2003.
Payne is a 1983 graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and holds a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming and a Ph.D from Texas Woman’s University. She has two daughters * Jennifer and Amy.
“Losing her experience and importance is a tremendous loss, not only for what she’s done with the cross country program, but also her serving as chair of the kinesiology department,” said ECU athletic director Brian DeAngelis. “She’s been tremendous to work with in the short time I’ve been here.”
As for her predecessor, Payne couldn’t be happier.
“I’m excited for Steve to have this type of opportunity,” Payne said . “I couldn’t walk away from this program unless I thought it could continue being successful. With Steve, I have full confidence that it will be successful.
“I’m also thankful for (new athletic director) Brian DeAngelis for the transition. It was difficult when we told our athletes. There were even some tears shed. But Brian came in after I announced it and did a good job talking to them.”
Payne said that Sawyer has already done a solid job with the recruiting process this spring.
“There are several recruits who have already committed to him and this could be the best recruiting class we’ve had in years,” said Payne.
Sawyer, a former ECU cross country runner, had an outstanding career as a student-athlete as he was a four-time all-conference honoree for the Tigers and also earned academic all-conference and academic All-American accolades along the way.
He finished seventh in the 8k Lone Star Conference Championships in 2004 and was sixth in that same meet as a junior in 2003.
“(Payne) taught me so much about running and showing me the basics,” said Sawyer. “She has also helped me in shifting my role from teammate to coach. I love her like I would a mother. She’s been one I’ve always gone to when I’ve had a problem. She’s still my coach and always will be in my mind. It’s a sad experience now, but at the same time an exciting one for both of us.”
Sawyer earned his bachelor’s degree from ECU in 2005 and his master’s in sports administration from ECU in 2006.
“It’s exciting to have Steven coach these teams with his capabilities. He’s already here, able and willing to take on duties as head coach,” said DeAngelis. “He not only has our support, but the teams were in favor of him taking over that role.”
Sawyer, a native of Enid, says the transition may be a little tough, considering he will be coaching a few of his former teammates.
“They pretty much agree with my (running and training) philosophy. It will be a matter of shifting from being friends to being put in a leadership role,” Sawyer said. “I’m looking forward to it. The first year will definitely be a learning experience. We’re excited because we have a bunch of good recruits coming in, particularly for our women’s team.”