Rock cross country and track and field head coach John Papa takes on his 28th year of coaching at Slippery Rock this fall.
A graduate of Slippery Rock University in 1979, Papa traveled to Leesburg, Virginia for work and took on the role of cross-country coach for Loudoun County High School. There he led the team to a second and third place finishes at the Virginia State Championships as well as several individual state champions.
Papa returned to Slippery Rock in 1984 as a graduate assistant for Bill Lennox and began coaching track and field for the university a year later. In 1987 he was offered the job of cross-country head coach and began that fall.
Since then he has proven to be a successful coach, leading his teams to 22 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship titles. Women’s track and field has claimed 15 of those titles and men’s track and field has accumulated five of those titles. Men’s and women’s cross-country each have one title.
Papa has also guided the teams to 18 PSAC runner up finishes. The cross-country teams have earned two East Regional cross-country titles and has placed among the top 10 teams at Nationals twice under Papa’s coaching.
In 2014, he was named the PSAC Women’s Coach of the Year, making it his 19th time receiving that honor. He has been named coach of the year nine times for women’s outdoor track and field, threetimes for women’s indoor track and field and two times for women’s cross country.
Papa has also been named coach of the year three times for men’s outdoor track and field, one time for men’s indoor track and field and one time for men’s cross country. He has also received the Regional Coach of the Year honor 15 times. In addition to his athlete’s successes, he has produced nine NCAA Division II national champions, five national runner ups, 97 All Americans and 238 PSAC Individual Champions.
Papa insists that rather him motivating his athletes for success, it’s the athletes that actually motivate him.
“I’m inspired by the athletes through all of their hard work,” head coach John Papa said. “I’m always thinking and planning and trying to do what’s best for everyone. The job is on going. We do similar things but we never do the same thing. I’m always tweaking things to make improvements.”
He explained that he learns through the experiences and actions of his athletes. He added that seeing the athletes is one of his favorite parts of the day.
“One of my favorite times is right before practice when I come out of my office into the hallway and I get to see everyone that I haven’t seen since yesterday,” Papa said. “That’s always a good time for me.”
Papa was once an athlete himself when he ran cross- country in high school and later competed on the Slippery Rock track and field team during his undergraduate years.
As a sophomore in 1976 he finished sixth at the NCAA Division II National Championships in the decathlon. In 1994 he was inducted into the SRU Hall of Fame for his student athlete successes.
Papa can also recall the best advice he has ever received.
“You won’t always be the best but you can always be the hardest worker and you can always do your best,” he said. “Sometimes your best will be good enough and sometimes it won’t be. It’s your efforts and attitude that you can control. The wins and good times will come with that.”