Phil Lundin leads running revolution

The St Olaf men’s track and field team has experienced another remarkable season. Paul Escher ’16 and Jake Campbell ’16 both took first place in events at the NCAA Division III National Championships, with Escher winning the mile and Campbell the 3000 meter race. The Oles also placed second in the MIAC Championships on March 7. After the Oles qualified for NCAA Nationals only twice between 1979 and 2007, Head Coach Phil Lundin joined the team and turned its luck around.

Lundin began his coaching career at Burnsville high school, where he taught physical education and health. There he worked as an assistant track and cross country coach under Dave “Griff” Griffith, his current assistant coach. After about ten years at Burnsville, Lundin was asked to join the University of Minnesota team as an assistant coach in 1986. Ten years later, he was promoted to head coach and stayed at Minnesota for 14 more years. In 2003, Lundin was named the USTFCCCA Division I coach of the year.

After 24 years at the University of Minnesota, Lundin came to St. Olaf and took over for retiring men’s track and cross country coach Bill Thornton.

“[St. Olaf] is a great place to work,” Lundin said. “So yeah, I think [taking the job] had to do with wanting a little change in regards to lifestyle and environment. I’d had enough of the rat race at Division I, so I took a chance and it turned out to be a good move.”

Lundin is thoroughly enjoying his time coaching at St. Olaf, especially being able to work with his old friend and colleague Dave Griffith once again.

“When I took the job here, Griff had moved back to Northfield, and I said ‘come on back! Let’s work together again,’ and we did,” Lundin said. “It’s the best part of coming to St. Olaf. I get to work with him. He’s probably the best distance coach in the U.S.”

Lundin ran track in high school and college. Coaching runs in Lundin’s family, and he was sure that he wanted to be a coach from a young age.

“I was in grade school, the third grade, and I think I read the Bob Mathias story, who was an Olympic gold medalist in 1948 and 1952, and I was always just intrigued. My mom and dad were physical education teachers and coaches, so the whole family grew up with sports. I never really thought too far outside the box. I just assumed I’d be a teacher and coach, and, my God, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Lundin said.

Since beginning to coach at St. Olaf seven years ago, Lundin has led the team to NCAA Nationals five out of the past six years. The team won the Division III national title in fall of 2013. Lundin was recently named MIAC Indoor Coach of the Year after the team came in second at the MIAC championships this spring. This honor added to his growing collection of awards. Lundin has received six MIAC coaching honors in track, four in cross country, and has also received four Big Ten Coach Of The Year awards during his time at Minnesota.

“Coaching at St. Olaf has been a joy,” Lundin said. “It’s a little hard for Griff and I to get our arms around some of the culture. I mean, sometimes the culture doesn’t enhance performance level, but overall, everybody’s very kind and very supportive and friendly. I think it’s a great environment to work in. Obviously, for students, it’s a great place to go to school, so I have no complaints.”