NEW ORLEANS – Northern Arizona University Director of Cross Country Eric Heins received the 2016 United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association (USTFCCCA) Bill Dellinger Award Tuesday afternoon, given to the men's national coach of the year.
It was the first such honor for Heins as he and his No. 1 Lumberjack men come off a weekend in which they won the school's first NCAA Division I National Championship and became the first team since 1969 to do so after not competing in the national race the year previous. The NAU squad was also the first non-Power 5 team to win the NCAA XC national title since UTEP in 1981.
For Heins, he becomes the Big Sky's second coach ever to receive the men's Bill Dellinger award, with Weber State's Chick Hislop winning it back in 1991. Heins also becomes only the fifth coach from a non-Power 5 university to be named the men's national coach of the year.
The USTFCCCA coaching accolade is the final cherry on top of an incredible sundae that was the 2016 cross country season for Heins. His men's team went undefeated throughout the year, winning seven different races and garnering the country's No. 1 ranking for a school record five consecutive USTFCCCA national polls. Led by All-Americans Futsum Zienasellassie, Matt Baxter, Tyler Day and Andy Trouard, the Lumberjacks became Big Sky Champions, NCAA Mountain Region Champions and NCAA National Champions.
In addition to being named the national coach of the year by the USTFCCCA, Heins was also named the Big Sky Men's and Women's Coach of the Year—his 26th and 27th conference COTY honors during his 10 year career at NAU—and the NCAA Mountain Region Coach of the Year earlier this season.
Heins will leave the Lumberjack family as arguably the greatest coach in NAU history across all sports. In his decade of coaching at NAU, Heins has led the men's cross country team to six podium finishes at nationals after the program had only reached the podium five times from 1970 to 2006. Additionally, he lays claim to 28 Big Sky Conference titles spanning over cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field.