Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008 | 1:30 a.m.
UNLV team pages
Tony Houchin was coaching cross country at Butler University in Indianapolis four years ago when he noticed a woman running on the track as his team was finishing practice.
Houchin, a Green Valley resident and UNLV women’s cross country coach, immediately took an interest in the woman and approached her. Little did he know the runner would end up being his wife.
“Tony came over to say, ‘What are you doing?’” Mary Houchin recalls. “I thought he was using this accusatory tone like, ‘Who are you to step on the track? We’re finishing practice.’ But in reality he was just trying to say hello. The rest is history because here we are today.”
After the couple became serious, Tony Houchin moved to Louisiana to become the coach at McNeese State in 2005 and Mary followed.
After one season, the couple relocated to Southern Nevada when Tony Houchin was hired at UNLV. Mary Houchin became his volunteer assistant and the couple began rebuilding UNLV’s program together. They married on July 14, 2007.
“There are so many times couples only see each other when they get home from work or on the weekends,” Tony Houchin said. “But we get to spend more time with each other than most people in a relationship. I think of it as a benefit. I don’t want to spend this much time with anyone else in the world.”
The Houchins have already started to make progress with UNLV’s runners. In their second season in Las Vegas last year, UNLV finished seventh out of nine teams in the Mountain West Championships, the first time it hadn’t taken last since 2000.
“We talk about long-term goals, but you also need intermediate goals, and pulling ourselves out of last was a huge accomplishment,” Mary Houchin said. “It takes these girls to buy into Tony and the program, so it’s nice to see things starting to happen.”
Tony Houchin said it’s convenient that he and his wife are almost always on the same page when it comes to ideas to coach the team. Their difference in coaching styles is also beneficial.
“I’m more the science side of things,” he said. “I’m more the X’s and O’s, the physiological work the girls need to do. But Mary can relate to the girls better than I can. We’re like the whole package.”
Jennifer Shearer, the Rebels’ top runner, said she has been happy with the direction UNLV has headed the last three seasons.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot better than it used to be, but it also has a lot farther to go,” Shearer said. “They’ve definitely brought it up, and hopefully they can bring it up some more as the years go on.”
Mary Houchin said she sees the Rebels’ program in a similar state as when she joined her alma mater, Arizona State in the late 1990s. When Mary Houchin, then Mary Duerbeck, arrived in Arizona, the Sun Devils were last in the Pacific-10 Conference. By the time she was a senior, they finished sixth in the nation.
Tony Houchin said he was excited to incorporate his wife’s knowledge of building a program at UNLV.
“There is a lot of parallels between Phoenix and Las Vegas,” he said. “Everybody thinks about how hot it is, but that’s mostly during the summer when school is out. Now is the perfect weather for running. It’s pretty hot in Phoenix, and if they can build a team there, we can do it here.”
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].