Bob Hepler is in his first year as the Head Coach for Cross Country and Track & Field at Eastern Mennonite University. He will also be the Head Coach for Women's Triathlon, EMU's newest program starting in the fall of 2019.
He comes to Harrisonburg after 14 very successful seasons in a similar role at the University of Texas at Tyler.
And as a triathlete he won over 40 races outright, was named All-American 13 times, and qualified and competed in the IRONMAN World Championships seven times.
Hepler was excited to step into the recent era of growth at EMU.
"I am impressed with EMU's commitment to cross country and track & field," Hepler said. "I will get to put together a quality staff and see the development of first class facilities. On top of that, the leadership at EMU have a strong desire to see me become an important part of the EMU community. That means that I'll have the opportunity to impact students away from the sport. That opens up so many unknown possibilities. That's very exciting to me. I can't wait to get started."
Under Hepler, UT-Tyler cross country and track & field teams have won 22 conference titles, including the men's cross country team taking 12 of the past 13 American Southwest Conference Championships. He started the Patriots' track & field program in 2008, accounting for six of his ASC titles. Over the past four years, his program has produced All-Americans in 14 events, including four individual champions.
Director of Athletics Dave King said Eastern Mennonite is very fortunate to have found someone with the breadth of experience that Hepler brings with him.
"This is truly an exciting time for our cross country and track & field program," explained King. "Bob is the perfect fit for EMU and the right person to lead the growth of our running program. He understands EMU and his values and philosophy align well with the university."
Hepler said that seeing the potential of EMU's cross country and track & field program, as well as the quality and philosophy of the university as a whole, was vital for him to even entertain leaving UT-Tyler.
"EMU would have to be truly amazing to take me away from a school and people I cherish," he said. "After meeting with key staff and faculty, and especially after meeting with members of the cross country and track & field program, I recognized the unusually deep affection that the people have for EMU. I concluded that EMU will challenge me and make me grow."
The ability to focus solely on coaching drew in Hepler, who is also the director of UT-Tyler's large recreational sports program and facility.
"I am so excited to see how good of a coach that I can become," he explained. "At EMU, that means so much more than just winning and developing athletes. I get to play a key role in developing students' desires to serve God and others. Working at EMU will be fulfilling and fun. How could I possibly run away from an opportunity like that?"
Hepler's coaching philosophy fits well with EMU's goal to do more than just produce good athletes.
"I always tell my athletes that they should put three things in front of their commitment to the sport: 1. Serving God and Others - because that's why we are on this planet; 2. Love of Family - while you don't get to miss a practice to go home for Aunt Betsy's birthday, honoring your family through your actions and words reflects who you are at your core; 3. School - students are at EMU to get an education. Additionally, students and their families are making financial sacrifices to pay for this education so study habits must be strong. School is always more important than the sport."
Jim Smucker, Vice President for Enrollment & Student Life, thought Hepler's commitment and success with the well-rounded NCAA D-III philosophy made him stand out among the pool of candidates.
"I believe Bob is an outstanding match not only for our cross country and track & field program but for the larger EMU community," said Smucker. "He resonates deeply with our mission and values. Bob brings a track record of holistic student development including player excellence on the field, in the classroom, and in community service."
Before his time at UT-Tyler, Hepler served as the athletic director at the University of Maine at Machias. He also had a background in student life.