The Long Beach State track and field program has had some of its best seasons over the last few years, and women’s coach LaTanya Sheffield has been instrumental in that improvement. So much so that athletics director Andy Fee promoted her to head coach of the women’s team last week. Coach Andy Sythe will now serve as the director of track and field.
“After another championship season, I felt the time was right to reward these two outstanding coaches,” Fee said in an official statement. “Andy has been a tremendous steward of the program for many years, and LaTanya is one of the nation’s top assistant coaches. There is no one more deserving or ready for this additional responsibility.”
Sheffield has coached the sprints, relays and hurdles for both the men’s and women’s programs since she came to LBSU in 2013. In those seven years LBSU has won the Big West conference championship six times, and last year the women’s team won its first ever conference title. The Beach has now captured a men’s or a women’s championship in six of the last seven seasons.
“It’s been a team effort including the team behind the team, which is the administration and coaching staff,” Sheffield said. “The team has been goal oriented and bought into our ideas and philosophies to win and be successful. Our men’s team was a really great and close example where the women’s team could emulate how to capture a championship, and the momentum it takes to continue that.”
Sythe has been the men’s and women’s coach for 30 years, and has led the LBSU men track to eight Big West championships while winning nine conference coach of the year awards.
“I care deeply about our women’s program and I firmly believe that LaTanya has the unique qualities that set her apart from even the best of the best,” Sythe said. “For Coach Sheffield, this change creates an opportunity to develop and get creative in new ways, and gives her something to put her name on and to call her own. I am excited to be sharing with her the mission to bring championships on a consistent basis to LBSU and we see endless possibilities for the future of both our women’s and men’s track and field programs.”
“I’m not interested in trying to fix something that’s not broken,” Sheffield said of taking over the program. “As coaches we have to be creative introducing the technical skills that are imperative for their success.”
Sheffield learned some new coaching techniques this month as the USA women’s coach at the Pan American Games in Peru.
“When I come back I’ll have a whole basket full of goodies for the women’s team,” Sheffield said. “I’m blessed to be selected by my peers to lead our women’s team as they vie for podium performances against the best athletes in the world.”
This isn’t Sheffield’s first international experience. She served as an assistant coach leading the women’s sprinters and relay teams at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and was as an assistant coach for the women’s sprinters on multiple occasions at the World Championships. LBSU alum Riley Cooks also will be the Pan Am games in the heptathlon.
Sheffield was an Olympic finalist herself in the 400m hurdles at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, and represented the United States at the 1987 World Championships. She also was a two-time gold medalist at the Olympic Sports Festival (1987, 1993) and won a bronze medal at the 1987 Pan American Games. Sheffield also set an American record in the 400m hurdles in 1985 after being named an All-American at San Diego State.
Sheffield said that growing up as an athlete is very different now, and it’s her biggest challenge as a coach.
“I played outside and I played everything and my imagination was broad,” Sheffield said. “Our millennials are in a more structured and organized sports situation early on. They’re going to soccer lessons and piano lessons and they have personal coaches. Our personal coach was an innate thing to play. For us, kicking the ball down the street was the same as jumping in the pool and learning how to swim. It’s just a different environment. My time wasn’t consumed by electronic whatever.”
This is the first time since 1986 that LBSU will have one dedicated person in the role of women’s track and field coach.