Putting his wife and children first, VU's Gafner moving on to new challenge
June 6, 2012
After accepting a career opportunity that allows more time with his young family, Vincennes University Track & Field and Cross Country Coach Chris Gafner has resigned his position with VU, effective immediately.
\Gafner has elected to leave the coaching profession to accept a position with Energizing Indiana, an effort by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, participating utilities and consumer organizations to offer comprehensive energy efficiency programs to communities across the state. His first day in his new position will be June 18.
The successful six-year head coach called the decision his toughest professional move, adding that he has “hundreds of different stories about things that have been exciting or people I’m proud of.” But, he said, the right opportunity came along to make the change a certainty because of his family’s stage in life.
“It’s simply a better situation for my family; coaching requires a lot of hours away from home,” he said. “My kids are getting older and starting to not like it when Daddy leaves for a week for a track meet.
Gafner’s son, John, is 6 and daughter, Emma, will be 5 later this month. His wife, Linzie, is a veterinary technician in Knox County.
“I really appreciate the opportunity VU gave me to be a head coach of track & field and cross country programs,” Gafner said. “The athletic department has really supported what I looked to do with the program and I’ll miss working with the group of VU coaches and everyone else at VU. There have been several areas of the university that have supported us and I want to say thank you to all of them.”
VU Athletic Director Harry Meeks understands Gafner’s decision but called the coach’s departure a Trailblazer loss in many more ways than creating a coaching vacancy.
“I am so glad to know Chris; he’s a gentleman, he works extremely hard and he’s always been highly motivated,” Meeks said. “He is one of the first people you see early in the morning and it’s common to see him at the track or at work in some way when you leave at the end of the day – or even after the sun goes down. I, personally, will miss his hard work and friendship.”
Meeks praised Gafner’s ability to juggle heading up two collegiate athletic programs, family life, the extra responsibilities that the coach assumed around the athletic department and establishing VU’s track & field and cross country teams as nationally-known programs. He said Gafner has been “a sounding board since I became athletic director and puts the same diligence into everything else he does. That’s why he’s so well thought of and respected in the coaching profession.”
Meeks added that he returned from the most recent NJCAA national meeting with a wealth of compliments and other positive comments about Gafner from his peers and junior college athletic administrators.
“Chris has raised the expectations of the programs he has overseen and the person we bring in needs to be of the same caliber,” Meeks said. “Chris is a tremendous friend and family man with high morals and VU is very lucky to have had him working here for this period of time.”
The Gafner family plans to continue residing in Vincennes.
“We’ve put down roots here; our kids like the city and Linzie really enjoys what she does as a career,” Gafner said.
In his half-dozen seasons at the helm of the Trailblazer men’s and women’s programs after three seasons as a VU assistant, VU athletes have broken records in more than 45 events. The Trailblazers have also garnered more than 60 All-American honors (including 28 NJCAA All-American designations). Since 2010, VU athletes have claimed 12 NJCAA national championships.
As a team, VU has won six consecutive Men’s NJCAA Region XII outdoor track & field titles. Gafner has also led four teams to the NJCAA National Cross Country Championships. In 2011, the women's and men's programs both earned their first top-10 finishes at the NJCAA outdoor national championships. The women's program finished seventh and the men's team was ninth that season. During the same campaign, the women's team won the Indiana Little State Championship title and the men were the runners-up.
“I’m obviously pretty proud of how far the program has come,” Gafner said. “More than anything, I feel blessed to work with some great young people and try to help them in some way as they prepare for their futures. In the end, championships and All-American honors are great, but it’s really about relationships forged with students.
“They become part of your life and you become part of their lives, and it’s important to remember when you’re working with them to stress teaching them to do the right things and move toward success later in life after college and athletics,” he added. “It’s really cool to be able to experience that. As a coach, it’s a roller coaster because of all the ups and downs that you share with the athletes. When they struggle, you feel for them. When they excel, you’re elated for them.”
Gafner also has high praise for his longest-tenured assistant coaches. Tim Marsee has been the top assistant most of Gafner’s time as head coach, while Bruce Durden (who actually was Gafner’s initial assistant) was a volunteer assistant coach until mid-way through this past campaign.
“If you talk to the athletes who worked with Bruce, they all love him,” Gafner said. “They call him ‘Coach D’ and he truly mentored a lot of athletes. When he stopped coaching, it was hard for a lot of people because he was such a part of their successes.”
Marsee has earned the moniker “right-hand man” during his time as the primary assistant coach working with two of VU’s most successful track & field disciplines in recent years, the pole vaulters and throwers.
“Tim has done an absolutely tremendous job,” Gafner said. “He’s been (NJCAA) Assistant Coach the Year twice, and no one could be more deserving. I know he’ll keep this program successful after I move on because he’s driven to succeed in everything. I’ve seen that because we’ve worked so closely together.”
Prior to his arrival at Vincennes, Coach Gafner was an assistant at Lansing Community College. He also coached at Mt.Vernon Academy in Salt Lake City, UT.
A 2001 graduate of Siena Heights University, he also attended Lansing Community College. During his college career, Gafner was a seven-time national qualifier in track and a member of two national champion cross country teams.