Pitt track and field father-son coaching duo look to build upon award-winning season

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Images courtesy of Louis Spina, Pitt Athletics

Saying “Coach Webb” at T&F practices may cause confusion. Instead, there’s Coach Zo (left) and Coach Webb (right).

By Richie Smiechowski, For The Pitt News

A knee injury relegated Alonzo Webb III to the sidelines before his promising senior track season could get off of the ground in 2010. The high and long jumper had a choice — sulk on the sidelines or become a mentor to his teammates.

He chose the latter.

The following two years marked the beginning of his coaching career. His father, Pitt track and field head coach Alonzo Webb, brought him on as a volunteer assistant and quickly realized his son’s potential as a coach.

“He caught the coaching bug,” Webb said. “After two years of coaching he did such a great job, I asked him what he wanted to do. He said ‘Man, I think I want to do this coaching thing as a profession,’ which was when I was able to hire him on the staff.”

Fast forward to 2021 and Webb III, better known as “Coach Zo,” has led the jumps and multis teams for a decade as an assistant coach. The 2020-21 season was unquestionably his most successful year to date.

Zo’s athletes put on a show at the 2021 ACC Indoor Championships, producing two First Team All-ACC performances and a Second Team All-ACC performer. Under Coach Zo’s tutelage, fifth-year senior heptathlete Felix Wolter posted the highest score by any Panther in the heptathlon.

Zo’s coaching achievements from the indoor season culminated in him earning his first career U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Mid-Atlantic Region Assistant Coach of the Year award. Coach Webb also notched his fourth career USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year award — his first since achieving the honor three years in a row from 2003-05.

“It was really special, something that I’ve had as a goal for a while to be able to get that award,” Zo said. “Then to get it alongside my dad, someone who’s supported me and my coaching journey from the start, it was really special. It’s a tough one to win in our region, so for us to both get it in the same year, it was pretty great.”

Zo found his niche in coaching in his post-competing days and the transition seemed to come naturally to the once track star. Beginning when he was a young athlete growing up in the Pittsburgh area, Webb has never been shy about letting Zo know when he needs to make adjustments to perfect his craft. 

Although apprehensive at first, Zo learned quickly to embrace advice from Webb regarding his coaching career, and it led to him becoming one of the most renowned assistant coaches in the country. 

“The foundation of my style is firmly based on watching [my father] throughout the years,” Zo said. “Being that I am a little younger and I’m a little closer in age and mentality to the newer generation of kids, that’s where I kind of differ. Using my youth to my advantage you could say.”

Each of Zo’s athletes recognize how crucial he’s been to their success during their time at Pitt. Fifth-year multi-specialist Breanna Phillips and Zo have a close-knit relationship and feels she’s benefited tremendously from having him not only as a coach, but as a role model both on and off the track.

“He is very much supportive emotionally, mentally — I know I can go to him for pretty much anything,” Phillips said. “Coach Webb and Coach Zo have made me genuinely feel like Pitt was home.”

Being a collegiate athlete at Pitt is no easy feat — that’s where having Zo on Phillips’ side paid dividends. Phillips said the coaching staff, and Coach Zo in particular, recognizes athletes have other commitments and make arrangements allowing them to flourish both on and off the track.

“Me and him just had separate practices, like one-on-one individual practices,” Phillips said. “He always made this slot of time to make sure I’d get my practice in … which is huge because I would practice almost three times a day when I was a multi.”

For the father-son coaching duo, coaching at Pitt goes well beyond the track. At every practice, meet and “Black Tuesday” session — which are grueling workouts meant to push athlete’s limits — they flex their “Blue-Collar Mentality.” Hailing from Pittsburgh, they pride themselves on grit and hard work — the characteristics their City was built on.

“We don’t make excuses and we don’t accept excuses, we just outwork people,” Webb said. “It’s almost like a microcosm of life itself. You come to the University of Pittsburgh and you’re going to have to prove yourself and outwork people.”

For the upcoming season, the Panther’s expectations are high after claiming an ACC Championship in the heptathlon and sending four athletes to the National Meet in Eugene, Oregon from the outdoor campaign

“I think we’re poised to grow on the things we did last year, on both the men’s and women’s sides,” Zo said. “The second they get consistent and they have a little more stability this year, they’re going to take off.”

Inexperience mixed with pandemic protocols created challenges last year for the coaching staff and senior athletes to develop young recruits — a problem the coaching staff doesn’t anticipate this season. 

“You know who you can go to for things,” Phillips said. “I think me and the other seniors made it very clear — like ‘Hey, we’ve seen this, we’ve been to conference, we’ve been to regionals’ … we’re obviously always here. We need that [leadership] on our team right now.”

Phillips knows that the program has all the right pieces in place, both from a coaching and athletic sandpoint — and they look forward to producing even better results for the 2021-22 season.

“We have the energy and the mentality now to do something,” Phillips said. “Everyone’s ready to have that spark, everyone is ready to be great.”

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