Athletes First: What Alan Culpepper Brings to NAZ Elite
There’s a new sheriff in town. Well, he’s not so much a sheriff, but NAZ Elite named its new head coach on May 19. Two-time Olympian Alan Culpepper is set to take the helm from the current head coach and executive director, Ben Rosario. At first glance, Culpepper might not seem like an immediate choice to lead an elite track squad, but he brings plenty of self-coaching expertise to the table. We had a chance to hear from Culpepper, Rosario, and Mike McManus to learn more about the new leadership.
Alan Culpepper earned his running wings at the University of Colorado, where he claimed a 5,000m national title in 1996 and placed 10th at the Olympic Trials the same year. He built on that strong start as a professional, earning a place on two Olympic teams (2000 and 2004) and placing 12th in the men’s marathon in Athens. Then, it was time to begin his coaching career.
From (basically) the minute his pro career ended, Culpepper knew coaching would be his next stop. He flirted with the private coaching scene but found that motivating high school athletes from afar wasn’t entirely his speed. Fast forward to 2021, and Culpepper was named an assistant coach for the UTEP track program, a position he held for about a year before joining NAZ Elite.
All caught up? Good.
Now, as far as what the hiring of Alan Culpepper means for NAZ Elite — it’s all good things. During his press conference, Culpepper shared several anecdotes to highlight his athlete-first approach to coaching. Even before officially starting at NAZ Elite, he’s held calls and talks with team athletes to build up a base of familiarity and expectations. It’s not just dictating a workout like your standard drill sergeant, either.
“I’ll be the coach carrying bags and tying shoes,” Culpepper explained, “this past season at UTEP, I had an athlete so nervous that I had to tie his spikes for him.” Don’t get it confused — as a coach, Alan Culpepper plans to push his athletes. However, he plans to do so in a way that helps the athlete grow and understand how to improve, rather than run as a robot around the track.
This tidbit led to another story that helped to exemplify how Culpepper made it through the nearly yearlong hiring process. NAZ Elite coaches noticed how much he cared and that he immediately set to building relationships, even before he had the job. He also shared, “When I got to UTEP, I had a 4:48 miler. He was a walk-on, an overweight kid. I worked him down to a 4:11 runner, and people were like, ‘Woah, where did he come from?’ I didn’t do anything revolutionary. I just helped him understand why I was training him a certain way.”
How well his self-coaching methods translate to the pro scene remains to be seen, but they worked well in Culpepper’s own career. With a Wesley Kiptoo in your stable, how much more can you ask for?
The NAZ Elite crew was incredibly transparent in the hiring process when they selected assistant coach Jenna Wrieden. Culpepper’s process was far less publicized, but Ben Rosario shared more insight into the methods. Female candidates were involved from the initial pool down to the final three candidates, though we didn’t glean any names from the “almost rans” to protect their current coaching positions.
Anyway, the addition of Alan Culpepper frees up NAZ Elite founder and former coach Ben Rosario to focus on growing the brand. I mean really growing the brand. He shared his hopes of doubling the roster size over the next three years and expanding NAZ Elite’s digital presence. That means bringing video content production in-house and launching a full-blown podcast network (does that sound ambitious? Yeah, we’d say so).
Anyway, Rosario also detailed plans to focus on sponsorships, especially with non-endemic brands. You might recognize sponsors like Picky Bars, the Rudy Project, FinalSurge, and of course, Hoka, but we’ll have to see what comes next. Ben Rosario also plans to stay on as a coach specializing in the marathon distance, while Culpepper tackles everything shorter with coach Wrieden’s help.
NAZ Elite’s enjoyed a banner year so far, so it’s tough to see the addition of a two-time Olympian taking the level anywhere but up. It’ll certainly make for an exciting track season once the gang in Flagstaff hits the ground running.
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