Gary Towne and Chico State run the CCAA


Photo credit: Sean Martens

Coach Gary Towne has finished his 22nd season as head coach of the Chico State men’s and women’s cross country teams. Towne coaches the distance runners year round, as he also coaches the distance runners for the track team. Towne has turned the cross country program around since taking over in 1996, taking both the men’s and women’s teams to the NCAA championships every year since 1999. With this success, Coach Towne has just been awarded his 22nd straight Cross Country Coach of the Year by the CCAA.

After taking over an underperforming team in 1996, Coach Towne has used his personal experience as a runner for Chico State to turn the team around. Towne says that it is all about the goals you set for your team.

“When I was on the team here before coaching, the NCAA championships were not even on our radar. We weren’t in a place where we were aspiring to be as good as we could be or aspiring to run at the National level. If your goals are set low, then you’re happy to finish mid conference (which we were).”

Towne has taken this motto and set higher goals for his teams. As a runner at Chico State, one thing that disappointed Towne was that as a senior, their coach didn’t take them to the regional championships, which is a meet any division II team can compete in.

However, not everything is easy as a coach. While most coaches only coach men’s or women’s, Coach Towne has the unique perspective of coaching and recruiting both. Towne says that the limitations with recruiting in division II are definitely his biggest struggle as coach of the Wildcats.

“I’m up against a lot of schools, with a lot of funding in recruiting. We’re working on fundraising more but more often than not we are getting priced out, most often on the women’s side.”

Towne has made quite a legacy in Chico. After finishing his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Chico State in 1991, he stayed at Chico State to earn his master’s in physical education in 1996. While applying for jobs all over the country, Towne was looking at the possibility of coaching high school. This was when the job at Chico State opened up, and he has been here ever since.

What has kept Towne in Chico and stopped him from leaving to a potential division I school? A lot of things. Being able to ride his bicycle everyday to work is a huge thing for Towne and Chico provides a great life for a cyclist. This is the one thing outside of cross-country that Towne has pondered what if.

In regards to coaching in Chico, Chico is a great setting for distance running and Towne attributes his teams’ success partially to this. “We have been able to build really good teams over the years partially because the natural environment here in Bidwell Park, as well as the mountains just adjacent to town, said Towne.”

Towne has a perspective from a player and a coach at Chico State and he does have advice for a successful career at Chico State. He wishes he would’ve valued on campus resources more and more than anything, he hopes athletes value the excellent education they’re receiving at Chico State.

Justin Couchot can be reached at [email protected] or @JCouchot_Sports on Twitter.