When it comes to success at YSU, Gorby’s athletes deliver major accomplishments
By Brian Dzenis
Starting out with one scholarship and a $1,000 check, Brian Gorby has made Youngstown State into a track and field powerhouse.
Now in charge of a team that’s the favorite to sweep this weekend’s Horizon League Indoor Track and Field Championships, he has plenty to work with.
His team trains in a $12 million Watson and Tressel Training Site. He has the full allotment of scholarships on the women’s side and while still short a few with the men, he’s able to field a highly-competitive roster.
Gorby has more rings that fingers and toes with 33 conference titles combined between the old Mid-Continent Conference and the Horizon League.
The argument can be made that he’s the winningest coach in Youngstown not named Jim Tressel.
“We’ve been blessed and we had a lot of opportunities to win that much. I didn’t score any of those points, but I’ve been a part of a lot of tremendous teams and we’re hoping to continue to build that,” Gorby said. “Naturally, you take it one at a time — 33 is a lot — and each ring has memories of a different kid or situation.”
Originally from Boardman, Gorby went straight from YSU’s track team to coaching staff, briefly serving as an assistant before becoming the cross country coach in 1993. He took over the entire track program in 1994.
“I appreciate the administration for sticking with us because in those first few years, we were in eighth and ninth place,” Gorby said. “Year after year, we got a little bit better recruits.
“You go from getting somebody that’s top of their district, top of their region to somebody that’s the best in the state or tri-state area.”
That first scholarship was split among two-to-three distance runners — distance has always been a specialty for the ex-marathon runner. Mark Brady and Donn Craig helped deliver a Mid-Con cross country title 1994 with second and sixth-place finishes, respectively. That was the first of three-consecutive Mid-Con men’s cross country titles.
“Eventually we got enough where we could do the track piece of it from one to three to five [scholarships] and naturally, it continued to build from there,” Gorby said.
His first indoor Mid-Con track title came on the men’s side in the 1996-97 season. In the following spring, his first outdoor titles came the same way his current Penguins did last spring — in a sweep.
The Penguins moved over to the Horizon League for the 2001-02 season and have won 22 conference titles.
There’s two elements to Gorby’s success: he keeps it simple and he keeps it local.
Former YSU distance runner Samantha Hamilton said even though the two-time NCAA qualifier was right in Gorby’s wheelhouse of expertise, he didn’t try to impress a style upon her or any runner.
“I had a lot of success in Youngstown and I attribute that to him not fixing what was broken. He was really patient with me and didn’t do anything crazy. He just got me to run more and faster every year,” Hamilton said. “I came in from [Jackson-Milton] running 35 miles a week and he got me up to 70.
“It’s not rocket science. He was just smart with the training and knowing what athletes were able to handle what at what time. It worked really well for me.”
That same line of thinking applies to his assistant coaches. All but one of his assistants are YSU graduates.
"He's a gentleman that allows me to run my own program. There's little interference but a lot of support and whatever we need to structure our program, he makes sure we have it," said David Townsend, Gorby's longest-tenured assistant at 12 years. "He's a giving coach, not a selfish coach. He allows us to be who we and he allows the program to flourish under his tutelage."
Gorby takes pride in having a roster that he said is "70 percent local" meaning those athletes' hometowns are within an hour's drive to Youngstown. He's a master at retaining area's top talent even if a school like Ohio State wanted them. He snagged Hamilton in 2008 with a late off and he cultivated a relationship with two-time all-american hurdler Chad Zallow.
"He's a very prideful person about Youngstown, Youngstown State and this program. I think it really resonates with people on the track team and we're motivated to do the best we can for YSU to bring home as much championships as we can," the junior from Warren JFK said. "He was there the entire recruiting process and the cool thing was he really believed in me and had big goals for me. It was a big reason why I came here."
YSU's success at retaining local talent applies to Gorby as well. Without naming specific schools, Athletic Director Ron Strollo said schools with bigger names and offers of bigger salaries have come for Gorby only to be turned away. Strollo played football at YSU while Gorby ran track and his wife, Nicole Kent-Strollo, was a former teammate and a current assistant to Gorby.
"With his track record, there's been interest in him. The neat thing about Brian is his love for this area, for track in this community and his family," Strollo said. "There might be more dollars to chase somewhere else, but this is the place where he can raise a family and build the program that he wanted to build in his hometown."
Gorby said he has everything he needs right at home.
"(The WATTS) is a big time facility. Why go somewhere else?" Gorby said. "Money has never been a key factor in why we do what we do and we have everything. There's Mill Creek Park for the distance runners. We have a great facility and a great staff."
Gorby and his team will go for the head coaches 34th and 35th rings this weekend and being the best track program in the Horizon League doesn't scratch the surface of where he wants to take the program.
"Our program is at a level where we're getting kids that are state champs — No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the state," Gorby said." That's great, but there's 49 other states, we don't just want to be the best in the state. We want to be the best in the Top 25 states and that's the next step."