Determined to develop a top-notch throwing program, Cal State Northridge recently announced the hiring of former Auburn shot put all-American Eric Werskey as their new throws coach.
In hiring Werskey, Matador head coach Avery Anderson acted on the advice of two of the most highly regarded throws coaches in the United States–Jerry Clayton and Art Venegas.
Clayton (pictured above) currently the head man at the University of Michigan, coached Eric at Auburn, where young Werskey first exhibited coach-like tendencies.
Clayton explained that, “When throwers get to their junior and senior years I try to get them to help coach the younger athletes because teaching technique helps them to have a better understanding of it themselves. Eric was always good at explaining things to the younger throwers.”
After Werskey graduated from Auburn, Clayton encouraged him to take up residency at the Chula Vista Training Center so he could work with Art Venegas and “be exposed to a different coaching philosophy.”
That turned out to be a great move for Eric. Though he struggled with injuries during his two years at Chula Vista (notice the bandaged calf in the photo below) …
…he received what amounted to an intense seminar in the art of coaching like Art.
That would be Art Venegas, the man who in the 1980’s and 1990’s built UCLA into the dominant throwing program in the nation.
Don’t let that smile fool you, folks. Art is an extremely intense, passionate man. A reliable source told me that when shot put World Champion Joe Kovacs (like Eric a resident of the training center and pupil of Venegas the past two years) had trouble finding his timing while warming up at the Triton Invitational last summer, Art’s sage advice to him was. “Relax, mother——!!”
Let it be noted that Kovacs responded by launching a 24-meter warm-up throw.
Anyway, if you want to gain Art’s respect you’d better work your butt off and show your own passion and respect for the sport of throwing, and that is exactly what Eric did upon arrival in Chula Vista.
“I knew,” explained Venegas, “right from the first year he was here that some day he would make a great coach. I spotted that potential in him right off the bat.”
That’s a meaningful statement coming from the man who readied Dave Dumble, Brian Blutreich, Don Babbitt and John Frazier to join the coaching ranks.
“If any of my athletes asks, I will tell them straight up if they are meant to be a coach. When Don Babbitt was throwing the javelin for me, I told him ‘you are wasting your time as a thrower! You were born to be a coach!'”
Art’s responsibilities sometimes keep him away from the training center for several days at a time, and he says that he came to rely on Eric as an unofficial assistant. Eric did so well and became so passionate about coaching that Art occasionally felt like telling him, “Stop coaching, dammit! You’re still a thrower!” But, before long he decided that “I wanted him to coach with me here when his throwing career ended, but there was no position available.”
Art began his own coaching career at Cal State Northridge back in the 1970’s (making the whopping sum of $800 per year) and when they called him this spring to ask his advice on hiring a throws coach, he did not hesitate in recommending Werskey.
According to Art, “Eric is a great match for Northridge. He is extremely dedicated and reliable, and Cal State is the ideal place for him to develop as a coach. He will deal with a lot of different levels of athletes there. They have great facilities. And California is a great place to recruit. He could have a long career there.”
When asked what advice he gave Eric as he prepared to take on the CSUN job, Venegas said that he told Werskey to “treat everyone equally and bring everyone into the program. I challenged him that if there is a kid who is reluctant to buy in, to reach out to him and get him on board. And once you develop those kind of relationships with the kids, recruiting will be easy because the athletes will sell your program.”
It is rare for someone with no formal coaching experience to be given a shot (pun intended) at a place like Northridge, but it is hard to fault Coach Anderson for taking a shot (sorry, could not resist) on Eric. A fine thrower. A fine man. A fine pedigree.
And if Coach Anderson should, at some point this winter, wake up in the middle of the night wondering if he made the right decision…well, I know what Art Venegas would tell him.
“Relax, mother——!! The kid is going to do great!”
Next up: a Q & A with Eric.