Cal Baptist Motivated To Tackle First Year In DI With New Coach

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The last few months have brought many changes to the Cal Baptist cross country teams. The same is true for their new boss, Adam Tribble, a first-time head coach who took over the job last month in the midst of the program’s switch from Division II to Division I.

Gone is CBU’s coach of the past six seasons, Ben Gall, who led both the men’s and women’s teams to their best NCAA Division II cross country finishes in school history last season. Gall took a faculty position at Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, Idaho, in mid-July, which left the Lancers scrambling to find a new coach on the cusp of a significant transition.

In stepped Tribble, 38, who was an assistant at the University of Alabama for the previous seven seasons. Tribble spent the majority of his coaching career at SEC schools—he also served as an assistant at Arkansas and Georgia, his alma mater—and knew nothing about the private, liberal arts school in Riverside, California, that was about to begin their first season in Division I and desperately needed someone to fill their coaching vacancy.

“Nothing. I had heard the name, but I couldn’t tell you anything about it,” said Tribble.

That was until he received an email that CBU sent him and other coaches across the country gauging interest in a new Division I opportunity in Southern California that suddenly became available at the last minute. Coaches are used to packing up their life on a whim in a career that requires flexibility, but with August approaching, this was a unique situation by any standard.

The timing of Gall’s departure was less than ideal for Cal Baptist, too, as a program coming off of a banner year in Division II was about to start their four-year probationary period—meaning no NCAA Championship eligibility until 2022—mandated for schools like Cal Baptist that change divisions. 

Gall steadily built two highly competitive Division II rosters during his tenure in Riverside—the women were ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll heading into the national cross country meet last season before finishing third—and losing that continuity could’ve caused the roster to crumble just as the program was about to jump into the deep end of Division I.   

That’s why Cal Baptist had to act fast in their search, and it’s why Tribble was willing to interrupt his family vacation in Oregon to fly down to Riverside for an interview. He met with Cal Baptist on a Tuesday, and a week later, the coach loaded up his car in Tuscaloosa to head west for his new gig.

“They offered a job on a Monday, I accepted on a Tuesday, and got here on a Friday. Literally, everything happened in a matter of about a week. It went from nothing to, ‘Here I go, I’m moving across the country in a week,’” he said.

Tribble didn’t see his wife and kids for more than three weeks as he navigated his new role, but the urgency to quickly get up to speed meant he barely had time for anything but work anyway. He arrived in Riverside on August 6, and had to immediately start filling the remaining holes in the roster by reaching out to any remaining recruits he could find, which aren’t exactly plentiful in late summer.

“There aren’t too many people sitting around in August looking for a place to go, so you’re kind of limited with what you can even try to do there,” he said.

Fortunately, CBU retained the majority of their top runners from last season despite all the change the program has undergone. The Lancers are motivated to try to win the school’s first Western Athletic Conference (WAC) title in late October, and Tribble said that although the team doesn't have any NCAA Championships to look forward to soon, the jump to Division I has the athletes excited for a new challenge. 

And, since the team will be done before November, another silver lining is the squad's foreign athletes will get to compete in their various national championships back home.

Despite this all being so new, for both the program and its head coach, Tribble knows what it’s like to experience significant change as a student-athlete. While competing for Georgia, Tribble had five different coaches—a fact he shared with his new team as they kicked off training camp at Big Bear Lake last month

“I think firsthand, I have a pretty good understanding of what it’s like to all of a sudden have a new coach, new training system, new way of doing things,” he said.

“I don’t know if that’s helped them or not, but I think it was nice that I can relate to the situation that they’re in because I’ve been in that spot over and over again.”

There's still much to sort out—Tribble was trying to nail down recruits for January when we spoke on Wednesday—but with a four-year buffer before CBU can compete on the national stage, there’s no rush to get it all done overnight. For now, Tribble is excited to pursue this new adventure in a new city, especially one where the weather is a little more conducive to good training.

“These mornings are just incredible. Having no humidity is something that I don’t think I ever really appreciated until you’re out of it.”

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