Most recently the head coach for cross country, Grey, is stepping away from coaching to become a family man.
Track and field was not Preston Grey’s first love. Going to a small public high school of 200 students in Central Illinois, he fell in love with basketball. During the offseason, his coach requested his teammates join the cross country team so they can maintain their conditioning regime. Grey, however, was better on the track than on the court.
He ultimately decided that running was going to be his path towards competing at the collegiate level. Cornerstone University, an NAIA school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offered Grey a scholarship in track and field. He became an All-American, along with earning his Bachelor’s degree in business/sports management. All of this led him to Azusa Pacific, where he essentially walked onto the program’s coaching staff.
17 years later, he still found himself as a member of that staff, now as the head coach of the cross country team and the associate head coach for the track and field squad. But through it all, he still felt like a fan who was surrounded by greatness.
“It was the honor of a lifetime,” Grey said when asked about his time at APU. “Just to be a part of that winning tradition and to contribute to the program’s legacy. I never knew I could be a part of something that massive. It’s so cool that I put a little piece of myself on that story.”
It is no secret that APU’s track and field program has been engrained through special names such as Christian Okoye, Bryan Clay, Innocent Egbunike and others. Beyond the players, however, the same level of historical excellence can be handed to the coaching staff. Two names Grey brought an emphasis to were Mike Barnett, who himself was an Olympic games competitor and is seen as a father-like figure in Grey’s life, and Kevin Reid. Both men were a part of the coaching staff when Grey made his way to Azusa. Ultimately, the staff he is currently leaving behind should maintain the program’s rich winning tradition.
Jack Hoyt, who has been the head coach of the track and field program since 2017, will retain the position heading into next season. Andrea Blackett will be returning for her third campaign after winning the West Region DII Women’s Indoor Assistant Coach of the Year Honor. The remainder of the staff is full of incredible young coaches, such as Josh Linker, Sara Almen and James Jones.
“That coaching staff is like family. We’re talking about both Jack and Andrea being, in my mind, power five-level coaches, and it’s awesome to see how invested they are in the university. And that goes for the rest of the staff as well. I have every bit of confidence that they will continue to get the most out of the program,” Grey stated.
Grey himself has certainly lived up to program expectations. He was incredibly important when considering the program’s transition from the NAIA to the NCAA. Under his watch, both the men’s and women’s cross country divisions experienced wonderful success, with each earning three of the squad’s top-five finishes in the program’s 50-year history under Grey.
His most impressive coaching year came in 2008 when he was named the 2008 NAIA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year. The real prize, however, was when the women’s team went on to win the program’s first-ever NAIA championship, along with the men finishing as the NAIA national runner-up. It remains, arguably, the greatest season in the history of APU’s cross country program.
Overall, when considering his time with both APU track and field and cross country, Grey has coached an incredible 42 individual national champions and 191 All-Americans. This goes without mentioning his consistent participation in the Bryan Clay Invitational, one of the largest collegiate track and field meets in the country in which Grey was regularly announced as the meet director for the event. And with the stature of an athlete that Clay was, it was always an honor for him to take that role.
“I saw him out at practice almost every single day and I got to do some workouts with him,” Grey said when asked about Clay. “They did a kickoff dinner before the school year, and they showed the video of Bryan winning the gold medal. The whole room gave a standing ovation. So to see him compete up close, and to see the struggle of winning that medal, it gave the whole community so much pride.”
Yet, an undeniable truth about coaching is that it is more of a lifestyle than a job. Grey recounted multiple sleepless nights of trying to develop gameplans, recruiting talent, considering player personnel and a countless number of other tasks. After 17 years of a routine such as this, it is destined to become exhausting. In his heart, he knows it is time to move on.
“Coaching just started wearing me down a little bit, and the job kept getting bigger. So for the family and me, I just needed to slow life down for a little bit,” he said.
Now he is ready to play the much more prominent role of a father. His wife, Victoria and their two twin daughters, Bria and Madison, will be moving to the Midwest where Preston is ready to take on different business endeavors. It is a completely new transition for him, as he has been a coach his whole professional life. However, he is ready to step into the unknown and to build his character even further – one that has already been constructed through the spirit and community of APU.
“My goal is to take what I have learned as a coach and restructure it in a different way,” Grey mentioned. “My only plan is to just see where everything takes me and to learn how to do my new job well and see what doors open and close for me. And it is certainly scary to think about, but sometimes you just need to take that leap.”