The achievements of legendary North Central College coach Al Carius are well documented. He has taught at the Naperville college for 51 years. He established a dynasty while in charge of the Cardinals’ track and field program for 44 years and since 2010 has been their associate head coach guiding long distance runners. Last May, he received an honorary doctorate. Together with his coaching staff he has helped produce 113 All-Americans, seven individual national cross country champions and more than 400 All-Americans and 55 national champions in track and field. Not to mention the six national records Cardinal athletes still hold.
A Deeper Calling
But what all the accolades don’t reveal is the man behind these achievements. In his younger days, Carius was a successful cross-country runner himself. At 74, he’s more of a fast walker but believes he probably has more to offer his students now than ever. For a coach, Carius is a great philosopher—for a philosopher, he’s a pretty good coach.
“I’m always wondering what our purpose is on earth, in education and in coaching,” he said in his memorabilia-lined office in the Benedetti-Wehrli stadium in downtown Naperville. “I think it does start with self-discovery. When you’re going through the cafeteria line of life, you pick up good tips. The challenges, failures and good people I have met. Everything pools together to help me. When I consider what my purpose is, it is helping other people.”
Carius’s first mentor was his coach at the University of Illinois, Ted Haydon. His photo hangs on the wall close to his desk.
“There are two types of coaches. Those who think ‘what can my students do to make me better,’ and those who think ‘what can sports do to help the individual to grow,’” he said. “He (Haydon) believed the latter. He was a tremendous mentor to me and that’s the kind of coach I am.”
Another aspirational figure in Carius’s career has been sports psychologist Dr. Jeff Duke. Duke believes there are three levels of coaches. Level one coaches believe the way to train athletes is by teaching them physical skills. Level two coaches believe motivation is also essential. Only five percent achieve level three—a holistic approach recognizing the importance of mind, body and spirit.
“It’s my wish to be level three,” Carius explained. “As a coach I want to understand the spirit of each individual athlete I am training. We have to blend them into a team, but first we have to recognize their individualism.”
Carius loves to team build and feels he has failed if he cannot unify his athletes however well they may ultimately perform.
“Synergy to me means combining everybody’s inner energy. We are far better together than alone,” he says.
Although philosophy excites him, Carius is the first to admit at heart he’s a humble family man. He’s keen to make sure his wife Pam and children Rich, Brent, Scott, Stephanie and Sam get a shout out. He describes his honorary doctorate in Humane Letters as ‘ironic.’
“I was very honored and humbled by it, but I’m not an intellectual,” he laughed. “At high school in Morton Grove I didn’t understand the importance of education.”
North Central College has always been a special place for Carius because he says it has a culture of recognizing every individual on campus, from the janitor to the president.
“I’d like to be remembered for what I did for people on an individual basis,” he said. “I hope they will look back and think of something I did to make a positive impact on their lives, not just lead them to medals. It’s not about whether they won, it’s about what they became through the process.”