When you take a quick glance at Mike McCabe's resume, one of the first things that of course jumps right out is that he coached the legendary Sydney McLaughlin.
While that's an incredibly huge feather in any high school coaches cap, it's shortsighted to simply define McCabe's career for the masterful job he did overseeing and shaping McLaughlin's rise to a high school Olympian in 2016, and the success his Union Catholic girls teams had during that time.
There's so much more to what McCabe has accomplished on his journey toward becoming the most successful coach in the state (for boys and girls combined) over the last decade.
Naturally the "Sydney Era'' is one of the most electrifying and historic chapters during McCabe remarkable run at UC, but when you start digging deeper and peel everything back you begin to realize that McCabe has carved out a legacy of greatness and a tradition of excellence that very few can match.
For starters, there aren't many coaches more qualified to write a book on how to build a national powerhouse program than McCabe, who took over a struggling program at Union Catholic in 2004, and transformed the Vikings into a National Tour de Force!
The year before McCabe took over the coaching reigns at UC, the girls XC team didn't score at the State Championships and the boys XC team placed 15th out of 16 teams. At the State Outdoor Championships in 2003, the girls track team scored just seven points (zero on the track) when it placed 14th out of 16 teams, and the boys were dead last with zero points.
But McCabe planted seeds for success right away. In his first season as XC coach, the boys placed fourth at the State Non-Public B Championships.
The XC and track and field programs at UC continued to steadily grow under McCabe, who made his biggest breakthrough when Taylor McLaughlin, Sydney's brother, helped lead the boys to the first of three straight State Non-Public A Outdoor track and field titles in 2013, the first state title in school history for a track and field or XC team boys or girls.
Soon after that, Sydney, who most experts call the greatest high school female track and field athlete of all-time, burst on the scene in 2014 and was the centerpiece of some of the best teams in state and U.S. history. McLaughlin's record breaking performances, eye popping national championships, and mind-blowing relay splits understandably grabbed most of the headlines, so McCabe's great work behind the scenes was a bit overshadowed.
UC won three straight Non-Public A state titles during McLaughlin's years from 2015-17, and won several national relay titles. But to show you how loaded those teams were and what a great job McCabe did, if you subtract all of McLaughlin's points, the Vikings still would have won all three of those state championships with plenty of room to spare.
And since McLaughlin graduated in '17, the winning hasn't stopped as the UC girls have gone undefeated vs. NJ teams and captured eight more state titles (six indoors and two outdoors) since then.
McCabe has achieved things and reached a level that not many coaches in US history have ever equaled during a Hall of Fame caliber career.
McCabe's numbers don't lie, and they are staggering, here are some that will knock you off your feet!
MCCABE BY THE NUMBERS
(All 3 Seasons Combined)
245 - All-Americans
87 - National Champions (including relays)
57 - Union County Titles (31 boys / 26 girls)
48 - Number of seasons coached (XC / indoor and outdoor combined)
47 - NJ Meet of Champions Titles (30 individuals / 17 relays)
28 - Union County Conference Titles (19 boys / 9 girls)
25 - State Titles (18 girls / 7 boys)
15 - Current State Records (14 girls, one boys): Note-UC held 4 other state records that have since been broken.
6 - The number of years since UC's girls lost to a NJ team. (Last loss was at Outdoor Non-Public A State Championships in 2014 when UC placed 5th)
4 - Current National Records (all girls). Note: UC held one other national record that have been broken.
2 - National Team Titles (2013, '14 Girls Indoors)
Q AND A WITH MCCABE
NJ MileSplit recently caught up with McCabe for a Q and A as part of our "Startling Line" series. We learned a lot about McCabe's background, what makes him tick, and how driven and passionate he is about what he does.
We discovered how he got involved in the sport, his journey from a high school and college runner to a basketball coach, his evolution into becoming one of the best track and field coaches in the country, and of course what it was like to coach the one and only Sydney McLaughlin, the silver medalist in the 400 hurdles at the 2019 World Championships with the second fastest time ever run in the world.
Plus, we got Coach McCabe to reveal some of the greatest NJ high school moments he's ever witnessed in his coaching career.
How did you get started in track and field? What age, what club? Were your family-parents/siblings involved in track and field?
"My dad (Jerry) was the Cross Country and Track & Field coach at my grammar school (Holy Trinity, Westfield, NJ) for 20 years. I have memories of asking to go to practice with him when I was in first or second grade. I would tag along to the park or track and normally I would run with one of the groups. My three older siblings all ran on the team, but did not compete past eighth grade.''
Do you remember your first race ever and what meet it was? How did you do in that race?
Not sure if it was my first meet, but I remember racing on a 5th/6th grade 4x200 relay when I was in 2nd grade. We placed 2nd overall. I think I ran well and I was super excited to get a medal. I still have the picture of the relay team with our medals tucked away somewhere.
When did you know that track and field was your passion and was something you always wanted to be part of in some capacity, whether it was competing or coaching?
It took me a long time to realize that track and field was going to be a major part of my life as an adult. I competed from 2nd-8th grade at Holy Trinity, high school at St. Joe's Metuchen, college at St. Joseph's University (Pa.). I had been running for a long time! During my senior year in high school, I coached 5th/6th grade boys basketball at Holy Trinity with my best friend. It was a wonderful experience!
I continued to coach basketball during my college summers after work. That is when I fell in love with coaching. Once I finished my last collegiate race, I figured that would be the last time I raced competitively and that I would not be active in track and field. After college, I was working as a computer tech for the US District Court in Newark. Concurrently, I was hired at Union Catholic to be the JV Boys basketball coach and varsity assistant. I enjoyed my full-time job, but I fell in love with coaching.
After coaching hoops for three years, my AD, Jim Reagan Sr. asked me to coach spring track and field. I was reluctant, but I agreed to coach in the spring with my wife, Mary, and Ed Guzman as my assistants. After a couple years of coaching basketball, cross country and track, I decided to focus on coaching track and field. That is when I knew this is what I was meant to do. I loved coaching, I had a lot of experience in the sport, I enjoyed working with the kids, and I was having a lot of fun building a program.''
Hit me with your biggest highlights/accomplishments in high school and college?
High School - St. Joseph Met. (Class of 1998): Cross Country: Being on the Top 5 of our XC Team that won Counties.
Track & Field: Winning 2 State Championship Team Titles my senior year, and making Outdoor Meet of Champions in the 800.
College - St. Joseph's University (Class of 2002). Soph Year: Being named All-East in the 4x400 Relay.
Senior Year: Placing 3rd indoors at Atlantic 10 Champs in the 500m, and outdoors at the Atlantic 10 Champs in the 400m.
How much of an impact and in what ways did your high school and college coaches help you as an athlete and a person?
I have learned something (from good and bad experiences) from all of my coaches throughout my life in track, basketball and soccer. I always put my trust in my coaches and followed their instruction because I wanted to be successful. My high school coach, Gary Trojanowksi, and my college coach, Mike Glavin, had much different coaching styles. I learned a lot from each of them. Coach Trojanowski and Coach Glavin are both very good people and coaches. They are both part of my journey/evolution as a coach and a person.
What types of things did you learn from your high school and college coaches that you incorporated into your own coaching? In what ways did they help and shape and influence you as a coach?
"Coach Trojanowski was always kind, respectful and mild mannered. He was not a screamer, which I have learned to appreciate as I have grown as a coach. He was a great runner at St. Joe's, then Villanova. I have a vivid memory of seeing him running on the fields of St. Joe's before school one Fall morning. Some of my teammates and I were meeting to run a double before school and Coach Troj was putting some miles in. He rarely spoke about his running and greatness. I always appreciated his humility. A trait that I carry with me to this day.
I will always appreciate Coach Glavin. He gave me the opportunity to walk on at St. Joe's and he treated me just like everyone else. He helped me develop into a much better runner and he pushed me unlike I had ever been pushed before. Coach Glavin is a terrific motivator and speaker. His pre-meet speeches are legendary. Much of my early coaching career was based on what I learned from Coach Glavin and for that I am truly thankful.''
What do you love the most about coaching?
"My favorite part of coaching is having the opportunity to work with student/athletes and witnessing their development throughout their high school careers. I feel like I am in the business of "helping" each member of my team improve. The goal is to have them improve as a whole person.
What was it like coaching Sydney McLaughlin, who most people feel is the greatest female high school track and field athlete of all-time? I know it was stressful and thrilling all that same time. Obviously very few high school coaches have ever coached an Olympian while they were still in high school.
"Sydney is the greatest female high school track and field athlete of all time. Possibly the greatest regardless of gender. Sydney was a pleasure to coach. She is a terrific person. Kind, caring and thoughtful. I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to be her coach for four years. I am grateful for the trust that Sydney and her parents had in me as a coach.I always did my best to help her be the best she could be while also balancing that with the team. Sydney was a true teammate.
As I reflect on those 4 years, I would not trade them for anything. Everything was magnified back then. Great thrills and great stressors! But all great times! I am thankful for the opportunity to work with her for four years as I learned so much during that time.''
When did you know that Sydney McLaughlin was different, a rare once in a generation type talent? And what made her so great? What was it that separated her from pretty much anyone and everyone we've ever seen in this state and beyond at her age?
I knew within one week of practice that Sydney was "different." Her first "tougher" workout in the fall of her frosh year was a couple 500's or 600's. She made them look so easy and she was running them at the training pace of a 56 second 400m runner. Her innate world class physical tools, intelligence, the ability to make technical adjustments quickly, ability to trust and ability to "hurt" set her apart. She could race anything from 55m to 800m at an extremely high level.
What are your thoughts on Sydney's chances for gold at the Olympics and the world record next year?
"I think Syd is well positioned to be an Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record Holder. She had a strong 2019 and she is developing well with Coach Hayes. Winning at the highest level requires a lot of work, time, mental toughness, good health and some luck. I have great faith in Sydney and I will always look forward to watching her race, win or lose.''
How important was it for you and the girls on the team to prove you could win and be just as strong of a team without Sydney, to keep the legacy of greatness as a program going?
"I feel that it was important for the girls to show that they could do it without Sydney because many people believed that they won State Championships, just because she was on the team. It was important to me because I wanted the group of girls to have their own identity.
At UC, we do not talk about who gets credit for this or that. We compete together as a team. We work as a cohesive unit in our training to push each other so we can all improve. I am proud of every State Championship Team equally. Each team is constructed differently, in their own special way.''
You've been honored quite a bit and rightfully so for all your success. Being USA Today's ALL-USA Girls Coach of the Year last year was obviously a huge feather in your cap, and I think you were chosen as the USTFCCCA NJ Coach of the Year 5 straight years (one boys/4 girls). Of all your great personal accomplishments, which are you most proud of and why?
"I am grateful for the awards I have received and I understand that I would not have them without a terrific group of athletes and coaches that I have had the opportunity to work with. When I think of "most proud". I have two: 2004 Mountain Valley Conference Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year my first XC Season. Team went from last to first in a year.
The National Coach of the Year Award, this one took me off guard and for the first time, made me reflect on all of the great experiences and opportunities I have had as a coach at Union Catholic''
MCCABE'S TOP MOMENTS
You've obviously had some great teams and athletes as a coach at UC, so this will probably be a hard question to answer. What do you consider the top 3 moments/highlights from teams you have coached and why? I know there are lots to choose from-national record winning relays, Syd in Rio, XC team winning first state title in school history, Taylor's quad at Groups, Ghizzone's PV win at M of C, the first national title?
Sydney McLaughlin - Making the Olympic Team in 2016. I've never received so many texts in my life.
Taylor McLaughlin - Senior Year - 40 Point Quad at Sectionals & Groups. Leading UC to the team title both weeks (2015) 400h, 400m, 110h, 200m
Andrew Ghizzone - Senior Year - Outdoor MOC (2014) Won Pole Vault (16'0") - an 18 inch PR, 8th in 400 Hurdles - 54.65, 4x800 leadoff leg of 1:55.0 (handed off with lead).
2013 Boys Outdoor Track & Field Non Public A State Championship Team - 1st in school history (something I never thought would be possible when I started in 2004). Such an unbelievable group of guys. Talented, hard working, loved the sport, and they had so much fun doing it!
2016 Girls Cross Country Non Public A State Championship Team (1st in School History). This was a major goal for our program, and was led by strong seniors and a great mix of underclassmen. What made it even more special was my niece, Megan, was a freshman on the team and was our #5.
2015 Girls and Boys winning 4x400 National Titles within 5 minutes of each other - Girls ran the 2nd fastest time in National History (3:35.90). Boys ran 3:12.14 (it was their 2nd straight outdoor 4x4 title).
How about the greatest three NJ high school track and field moments you've seen as a coach from an athlete or team that you weren't coaching? What can tell me about why those 3 moments and why they stand out so much to you?
2014 Outdoor MOC - Ishmael Muhammad (Oakcrest) 800m at MOC. Went out hard and just kept coming, running a meet record 1:48.52. I loved how aggressive he was, and he beat a strong field. 1:48, 1:49, 1:50 were the top 3 in that race.
Olivia Baker's Penn Relays 4x800 anchor carry (meet record 2:02.55). Baker's fearlessness and mentality that "she was going to win" was so fun to watch. It looked like she wasn't concerned with time and wanted to win. And the 2:02 split came from racing the Jamaicans.
Jeramy Elkaim (Livingston) winning the 3200m at MOC in 2010. Elkaim made a huge move with about 300 to go to seize control on the way to a meet record 8:46.08. Joe Rosa of WW North was second in 8:48.55, No. 2 in meet history.
I remember it being a great race and he made the negative split 2nd mile look effortless. I just remember thinking, "WOW!"