You don't just replace a cross country coach with the prolonged success that Mike Prow maintained over 24 years.
That said, Valparaiso has a golden opportunity to keep the drum beat pounding by simply hiring assistant coach Aaron Crague.
"I'm dumb-founded that no school throughout the state, let alone Lake Central, has called him to say they need a great, young coach," Prow said.
Valpo would be hard-pressed to find anybody more passionate about running, not to mention loyal to the school. Crague has spent over a decade as Prow's right-hand man, likely eschewing other opportunities along the way to remain with the Vikings.
"He said he'd be an assistant the next 30 years if I had stayed," Prow said. "He even told me if they find somebody else, he'd be their assistant. That's the kind of guy he is."
Given Valpo's strong reputation, the position will undoubtedly get its fair share of quality interest, maybe from inside as well as outside the building. To Crague's benefit, he recently earned his teaching license in physical education, the job that Prow is vacating. He is currently an elementary school teacher at Kouts, and has been making the drive up 49 back to Valpo during the school year.
"He definitely deserves it," Prow said. "He's earned it. He's the perfect guy for it."
Danny Dalton, the only returning runner from the state-meet roster, is on board with Crague as head coach.
"I think if he's hired, he can really make the team excel," Dalton said. "He's a really good runner. He really knows how to lead high school-aged students. He's just really good with kids in general. He can relate to our age more."
Among the qualities Crague brings is his status as a top-flight runner. The Lake Central and Valparaiso University product continues to be a dominant presence on the local race circuit.
"He can run with the top guys on the team, which is always a good thing," said junior-to be Jonathan Zygmunt, who is expected to vie for a varsity spot come August. "Coach Prow left a great legacy, and I think coach Crague would be able to carry on that strong tradition. We're looking to make some noise and he can lead us as coach."
More important than the running part, Zygmunt has a deep personal respect for Crague.
"He's been able to teach, especially me, a lot of life lessons that apply to the future," Zygmunt said. "His leadership, from my perspective, his faith in God, he'll be able to have a good influence on everyone on the team. He's been really good my two years at Valparaiso High School."
With a young Valpo team possibly facing a transition season on the race course, the transition in the coaching ranks can be eased by just removing the assistant portion from Crague's title. The bean counters could go on the cheap and hire somebody right out of college, saying they want to start fresh, but the program deserves better. The kids deserve better.
Sounds pretty simple to me.