Getting To Know: Derek Mackel

Derek Mackel has coached at North Texas for the last five years
June 10, 2015

Head coaches are at the front and center of every college athletic team. Their assistant coaches are tirelessly working behind the scenes, juggling multiple things at once. What are their stories?

Every Wednesday during the summer, will be featuring an assistant coach from a North Texas team.

Derek Mackel has been an assistant coach for the North Texas track and field team for the last five years. He competed at the University of New Mexico, where he was of the great success stories in UNM track & field history. He began as an unrecruited walk-on in 2002, with a best vault of under 12' in high school. He improved by more than six feet during his collegiate career to become one of the nation's premier vaulters.

We had a chance to sit down with the Mean Green's jumps and pole-vaulting coach to learn a little bit more about how he ended up at North Texas, his favorite baseball team and how he started his pole vaulting career.

How did you get involved in coaching?
"I was given an opportunity by my college coach to continue jumping with him after I had completed my NCAA eligibility. It was then that I was introduced to coaching. Helping him conduct practice and working through technical issues with my former teammates is what re-lit the fire for me."

What was your journey to North Texas?
"I spent three years volunteering my time with the various coaching staffs at the University of New Mexico. Then I was given an opportunity to pursue my own jumping at the Olympic Training Center. At the conclusion of my athletic career, an opening here at North Texas was available and the rest is history."

What do you like about the field events?
"The field events are unique, because while the competition is essentially against someone else, we field-eventers compete on a turn basis. The field events are given three opportunities, but can be won with a solitary magnificent effort. In my opinion, this makes for a more interesting competition. The ebb and flow, the build-up and anticipation, the grit and determination, knowing that it takes just one perfect attempt to change the game. Unfortunately, the current method of American TV coverage of the field events has ruined this for the general public."

What is something that people outside the sport wouldn't know about one of the field events?
"Bob Beamon broke the world record in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, leaping a distance of 8.90 meters, the first man over 29 feet in the modern era of track and field. In fact, he crossed the 29-foot barrier before anyone had come close to jumping 28 feet.

Who got second? Klaus Beer of East Germany. After the first round, he found himself sitting in fourth place encroaching on 8.00 meters, but made a serious statement soaring to a personal best distance of 8.19 meters (26 feet, 10 ½ inches) on his second attempt. Although he may not have known it at the time, his effort would hold through the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and final round to award him the silver medal."

What duties do you have as an assistant coach that people outside the sport may not realize you do?
"Anyone who has spent time in a role as coach knows that our profession is so much more than Xs and Os, stop watches and whistles. We are technical consultants, exercise scientists, travel agents, equipment managers, accountants, psychologists, rehab specialists, academic advisors, life consultants, planners, mediators, nutritionists, inventors, fundraisers, recyclers/repurposing geniuses, problem solvers, and the list goes on and on."

What are some things you have learned to appreciate or that you like about Texas/Denton?
"What I like about Texas, Denton, specifically, is the proximity to my childhood and still-currently favorite baseball team, the Texas Rangers. Growing up in New Mexico, we didn't get much news on the Rangers, so now I'm in total bliss. LET'S GO RAN-GERS!"

Outside of coaching track, what are your hobbies/what do you do in your free time?
"I grew up doing a lot of backpacking, and I've always enjoyed the outdoors. There is something very peaceful and life affirming about walking in the woods that I've enjoyed from a young age."

What events are your favorite to watch/follow? What event is your favorite event to coach?
"I am a pole vaulter at heart. Since the first day of track practice back when I was in high school, I've been attracted to thrill of throwing myself up and over the bar.

An amazing thing happened just last year in the vault world, a new world record was set. A record that stood for 20 years. Rennaud Lavillenie, a Frenchman, has set the world on fire! Anyone can see how much he loves to vault, how much true joy he receives from the sport. At this point in his career, he is unbeatable, in Mike Tysons words, 'It's his time, he is the best.'

While competing in the diamond league (the NFL, MLB, EPL of track and field) meet in Eugene, Oregon, just last week, he jumped 19 feet, 10 inches (6.05 meters), the highest on American soil since Brad Walker reset the American record in 2008 at 19 feet 9 ¾ inches. He is truly jumping out of this world."

You trained at the Olympic Training Center, can you tell us about what training/competing you did post college?
"From a young age, I had a dream of being a baseball player (for the Texas Rangers) and spent many hours in my backyard miming my favorite player. When I had entered high school, the dream of taking the field at the Ballpark in Arlington was still burning, but I was given an unexpected opportunity to join the track team in the spring of my junior year by my high school coach, Blane Clarke, who nudged me down another path.

By the end of my senior year of college I still felt like I could jump higher. I mean, I had only been jumping for seven years by then, and every year better than the last. I asked my collegiate coach, Scott Steffan, if I could hang around and keep jumping. He may not have known I was serious at the time, but when I showed up the next fall he knew I was in it to win it.

First year of jumping post collegiately was the first season I didn't set a new personal best, but I became more consistent and with consistency came a better understanding of the vault. I had small successes like clearing higher opening bars, averaging higher results, culminating with a seventh-place finish at the USA Indoor National Championships. The outdoor season continued with improved consistency and more looks at 18 feet. Unfortunately, I suffered an injury in my back that held me out of the USA Outdoor National Championship.

In my second year of jumping post collegiately, a coaching change happened at the university and I was introduced to Mario Wilson, and he and I worked together honing my craft. My best jump came in a practice session where while we were jumping at 5.80 meters (19 feet). It was such a great day, slight tail wind and I was feeling great. I was on the biggest poles I'd ever been on, (5.0 meters 15.4 flex), and although I never left the bar on the pegs, I was seriously putting good looks at it.

While at a meet in El Paso later that year I met who would become my coach at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, Ty Sevin. The year of training I spent at the OTC was the ultimate experience of my athletic career. It was literally eat, breathe, drink, pole vault; an experience I'll never forget. The only thing to worry about being the next training day with partners who were some of the greatest pole vaulters of my time: Toby Stevenson, Brad Walker, Tim Mack, Jacob Pauli, Yoo Kim, Stacey Dragila, Becky Holliday and Melinda Owen. People who I had spent countless hours studying film and idealized were now at practice with me. What more could I ask for?

Unfortunately, the ultimate goal was never reached but, the people I've met, the places I've been, the job and wife I go home to, I have pole vault and those that guided me through the process to thank for, and will forever be grateful. I love this sport."

Getting To Know Archive
June 3 - Chris Cosh



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