CHARLESTON — Even after leaving his post as an assistant coach for the Eastern Illinois University men's and women's track and field program in 2013, Brenton Emanuel felt he would find his way back to the blue oval at some point. But the former EIU sprinter felt he needed to find his footing and grow as a coach outside of EIU.
After learning from long-time EIU Director of track and field Tom Akers, Emanuel started to soak up some information from a few other coaches, first at California University of Pennsylvania and then at Illinois State. It was at ISU where Emanuel started to really stand out. He was promoted to associate head coach before the start of the 2017-18 season and was later named the USTFCCCA Midwest Regional Assistant Men's Coach of the Year.
Throughout it all, Emanuel kept in touch with Akers, who he credits as his mentor. He was a bit surprised when back in March, Akers announced he would retire as the Director of track and field at EIU after the 2018 season. Still, Emanuel saw it as an opportunity to return to Charleston. Emanuel sent in his resume and interview for the position and in June, EIU Athletic Director Tom Michael announced the former Panther sprinter and assistant coach would follow his mentor, Akers, as the new Director of track and field.
Emanuel called it a dream come true.
"It was a great feeling, to be honest with you. To replace coach Akers, it's something not everyone is able to do. It's nerve-racking to replace him, but it's great to come back to EIU and work down there again," Emanuel said. "When I was an assistant coach under him, I always thought it would be amazing to be the head coach some day. I didn't realize it was going to be as soon as it was, but I envisioned myself coming back and taking over for him."
Michael said Emanuel's name kept coming in up in recommendations throughout the hiring process.
"The success he has had during his time here at EIU and at ISU, more than prepare him to take over the Panthers program," Michael said. "As a former student-athlete and coach at EIU, Brenton knows what type of student-athlete it takes to be successful and win championships in the Ohio Valley Conference."
Emanuel ran at EIU from 2005-08 and served as a team captain. He then spent five years as an assistant coach at EIU and helped coach NCAA All-American Zye Boey. The athletes he coached set eight school records.
His time away from Charleston was just as successful. At California University of Pennsylvania, he coached one athlete to the World Junior Championships in the 200-meter dash. At ISU, his athletes set nine school records and won five All-American honors. He was named the USTFCCA Midwest Regional Assistant Men's Coach of the Year during the indoor season after the Redbirds sprints, hurdles and relay crew - all areas that he coached - swept the Missouri Valley Indoor Conference Championships, helping the Redbirds win the MVC championship.
That resume, along with the lessons he learned from Akers, helped prepare him to take over EIU's track and field program.
"(The Regional Assistant Men's Coach of the Year) was a great honor and the student-athletes helped me. It was one of those things, I've had success on my own. The things (Akers) taught me have always been there. The award was validation that I am doing an okay job," Emanuel said. "I had to go and figure some stuff out for myself when I left EIU. It helped me grow as a man and as a coach. I have my idea of what I want to do. I've got a good look at different spectrums and build it my way and it prepared me for this opportunity."
Even with all of his success and experience, nothing could prepare him to see Akers pack up his office. Just like when he was an assistant coach, Akers passed down some valuable advice to Emanuel during the transition. Emanuel has been the Director of EIU track and field for about a month now.
"We talk on a daily basis. I know who I am replacing, a man who has won 45 conference titles and Coach of the Year 20-something times. I just want to be myself and that's what he told me," Emanuel said. "I think anybody would be overwhelmed. The last week in June, we had a retirement weekend for Tom. To see all of the love for this program, it reminded me of how special this place is and the opportunity it is for my family. It's a great feeling and I am so excited to be in this position to be able to continue the great history. I have to pinch myself sometimes."
Emanuel won't be alone as he takes over the program since he has a close relationship with the assistant coaches - associate coach Jessica Sommerfield, cross country and distance coach Erin Howarth and assistant coach Brad Butler. All three were assistant coaches at EIU when Emanuel was an assistant.
"That's been one of the greatest things, knowing the people I would be working with and the relationship with them knowing we can do great things," Emanuel said. "They've been great in helping me out and reminding me of stuff. I am going to run it a little different, but they've done a great job in showing me the swing of things and what has changed since I've been gone."
Now that he is settled in, Emanuel has turned his attention to recruiting and figuring out how to lead the teams to OVC titles. He wants to build on EIU's strong history of track and field success and he feels the program has the talent and potential to do just that.
"The goals have always been to raise the conference championships. I think we can do some damage and I want to get more kids to regionals and more to nationals," Emanuel said. "We don't have everything a Power 5 school has, but we have enough to be successful. If we get the right athletes in the building, we can do it on the national level. We have a bunch of talented kids on the roster. I look forward to winning many championships with this program and making the alumni proud every year."