Cross Country and Track and Field coach Bill Schnier was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The 33-year journey left an impression on thousands.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- Bill Schnier was inducted into Cincinnati's James P. Kelly Athletics Hall of Fame on Tuesday. If he was nervous upon his induction, the University of Cincinnati cross country and track and field head coach of 33 years likely wasn't as nervous as he was in September when he announced his retirement to his team at the end of their annual cross-country camp.
"I was very nervous because I was maybe not quite ready to say it," Schnier said. "Like women who are pregnant and they wait awhile (to announce it)."
Looking out around the campfire that night, he witnessed a standing ovation from his runners. Much like so many events during his prestigious UC career, any worries turned out to be for naught.
"It was very nice," Schnier said. "I didn't expect that."
He did deserve it.
This is Schnier's 33rd year at UC and his 45th working in education. During his time leading the Bearcats track and field and cross country teams, the program has produced 136 individual conference champions, 25 NCAA national championship meet qualifiers, 10 All-Americans and two Olympic medalists. Schnier has been named conference coach of the year 15 times and was twice selected as Ohio cross country coach of the year. He was named the Conference USA coach of the decade in both cross country and track and field. His teams have won 12 conference titles and 47 of programs' 53 school records were set during his time at UC.
It all began with one decision. After spending five years as a graduate assistant and then assistant at Indiana University, he decided in 1980 to return to Ohio to be closer to family and friends.
"Three jobs opened up at the same time," he said. "I interviewed at the University of Toledo on a Wednesday, University of Cincinnati on a Thursday, and Ohio University on a Friday."
Schnier decided to take the job at UC because he saw the most potential.
His first team wasn't the best team, but they had the best spirit of any team he's ever had. They didn't have the best athletes, but they genuinely enjoyed each other.
"I don't want to take anything away from my other teams, but I think the first time you ever do something, it's special and memorable," he said. "I felt welcomed by the team and the university."
One of Schnier's favorite moments came in 1995 when the men's cross-country team won the All-Ohio Championship for the first time.
"At that time, there were a lot of very good cross-country teams in Ohio, with very good coaches and it just seemed so hopeless," he said. "We didn't have a lot of scholarships. It doesn't help to be in a big city for recruiting distance runners and it just seemed hopeless, like it would never happen. And then one year, we won."
Some of his favorite and most memorable races were the dual meets with Miami in the Armory Fieldhouse. Both teams were good in every event, so every race was contested.
"There was such emotion going into those meets," he said. "Fights almost broke out."
Schnier coached many notable runners during his time at UC. Lewis Johnson, a current school record holder, is a track and field analyst with NBC. Jeff Johnson is now a professor of biomedical engineering at UC. Mary Wineberg and David Payne were both Olympians. Wineberg won gold in the 4x400 relay in 2008 and Payne won silver in the 110-meter hurdles the same year. Eric Finan was an All-American in both track and cross-country and a 3.9 student in mechanical engineering.
For all the triumphs, Schnier's time spent at UC did not pass without roadblocks. The first major obstacle he faced was the fact that co-op students would be gone for an entire quarter.
"My first thought was we'll have no team at all," he said. "They could never train on their own. They need to be near their coach and near their teammates."
He quickly realized that those students were actually among the most motivated on campus. Many of the current record holders were co-op students.
The second obstacle occurred in 1999 when the department dropped the men's indoor track team.
"It was the same alarmist attitude I had about co-ops," Schnier said. "What I really found out is we were probably having too many meets all along."
However, it almost helped the team to be ready and motivated for outdoor track season.
The third obstacle proved to be the most difficult for Schnier. In 2008, the department dropped scholarships for the men's team. He wondered how the team could still be competitive in a conference like the Big East. The fact is they still are and beat more teams than beat them.
"Those three obstacles define my time here as much as anything else," he says. "Since sports is about overcoming obstacles, I'm really quite proud of myself and our team in most cases. It hasn't been easy."
Maybe not easy, but for Schnier, the ride has certainly been special.
"I grew up with the school," Schnier said. "As I got better as a coach and our teams got better, the school was getting better simultaneously."
He never saw the longeveity of 33 years as remarkable, but looking back and thinking about the current trend of coaches in college athletics, he recognizes the accomplishment. Why stay so long at UC?
The same reason he belongs in its Hall of Fame.
"It became my school," he said.