OGDEN, Utah – The Big Sky Conference announced Wednesday that Northern Arizona University Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Eric Heins was named men's cross country Coach of the Year for the fifth-consecutive year.
"It's great to be recognized for a successful season, but our athletes are the ones who do all the work," said Heins, who is in his fifth year as head of NAU's cross country program. "I have a great group of young men that earned a conference championship this season, so I have them to thank for this award."
Heins' five-straight Coach of the Year awards sets a new Big Sky Conference record, previously held by former NAU and current Louisville head coach Ron Mann, who earned four-straight awards from 1998-2001.
The award comes just three days after the Lumberjack men won their fifth-straight Big Sky Conference cross country title, led by individual champion Diego Estrada. Estrada joined the company of national champions David McNeill and Lopez Lomong, in addition to Jon Cardenas, as the runners responsible for NAU's new record of seven consecutive individual conference titles, dating back to 2005.
"From a personal standpoint, having Coach around has helped me relax and focus on what I need to do on a daily basis," said Estrada. "In everything we do, Coach Heins is on top of his game and has made it easy for us to be successful because of the leadership he provides."
Heins, though his 2011 award is for his accomplishments with men's cross country, has also led the Lumberjack women to consistently strong finishes during his tenure at NAU. In his first three seasons at the helm, from 2007-2009, Heins collected five Coach of the Year awards after the men and women each won three straight conference titles.
Heins began his coaching career as an assistant with Indiana in 2000, after which he served as a graduate assistant under Mann from 2001-2003. From NAU he moved on to Southeast Missouri State for three seasons, where he coached teams to a total of six Ohio Valley Conference Championships. Heins was an assistant coach at Texas Christian University for one season before coming back to NAU in 2007 to become the head cross country coach. Heins was promoted to Director of Track and Field and Cross Country in 2010.
The next competition for the NAU cross country teams is the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, to be held in Provo, Utah on Nov. 12.