It took a while, but Chris Caviness is back as a head cross country coach.
It’s fitting that it’s at Ferris High School.
After five seasons as an assistant boys coach at his alma mater, Caviness takes over this season as the head coach of the Saxons.
There’s a generational symmetry at work. Herm Caviness, Chris’ father, is in the Washington State Track and Field/Cross Country Hall of Fame after coaching the Saxons from 1969 through 1982. An ’82 Ferris grad, Chris Caviness spent the last 13 seasons as an assistant coach to Saxons coach Mike Hadway.
“My dad was my cross country coach,” Caviness said. “My son is on the team this year, just like my dad coached me. I’ve talked my dad into coming back into the fold and helping out.”
Caviness said he reached out to Ferris running legend Rick Riley about returning to his alma mater to help coach the boys varsity.
“We talked about it, but in the end he decided to stay at St. George’s,” Caviness said. “I’ve talked my dad into coming down and helping out. And I hired Isaac Hawkins to be my assistant coach. He was a state champion here. I think it gives us a nice balance. I was never that front-running guy. I was never going to win a race, but I was good enough and worked hard enough to be a varsity runner. I can teach that to kids and Isaac can work with the really gifted runners and help them get better.”
Caviness’ experiences running for his father have long informed his approach to coaching.
“I was more of a track guy when I was in high school, but I ran cross country all four years,” he said. “We had a really good team my junior year and I spent the season running for the junior varsity. I was good enough that I could have been on some school’s varsity that year. I wound up being an alternate and going to state with the team and watched us win a state championship.
“I remember that we had a good group coming back for my senior year and that, if I worked really hard, I had a chance to be part of another state championship team. I ended up being the No. 4 guy on a state championship team.”
It’s that learned work ethic that he looks to pass along to his runners.
“Being a part of something bigger than yourself is a cool feeling,” he said. “You just have to see it. I was a guy who was never going to win a race, but I could be part of a team. That’s what I want kids to understand.”
Much like his running career, Caviness has worked his way up to his current job.
Before becoming a Ferris assistant coach, Caviness spent 10 years as head cross country and track coach at Spanish Fork (Utah) High and was head girls track coach at Rogers, where he coached, among other state champions, Becca Noble, who was a four-time All-American and the NCAA 800-meter champion at Oregon.
“There are things that learned from my dad and there are things that I have learned for myself that I thought were important and applied to my own coaching style,” he said. “I think that’s something I can look back on and pass on. I didn’t have that kind of perspective going in, but I as I got into it I saw myself and thought, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ It triggered my willingness to work harder.
Caviness doesn’t need an introduction to the Greater Spokane League, having grown up with it. North Central coach Jon Knight was his high school teammate, after all.
“I remember there used to be a camp we’d go to out at Clear Lake,” he said. “(Rogers high Hall of Fame coach) Tracy Walters put it on and (Mead coach) Pat Tyson was always there, showing slides of his time at Oregon with Steve Prefontaine. My dad would put on a presentation. It wasn’t so much that there was a shared ethic involved, but there was a cooperative spirit.”