Brandt wins state, national honors for final season as Danville cross-country coach

Mar. 22—Jeff Brandt's stellar coaching career at Danville ended after the fall 2023 season.

It's only fitting that his final season — when he coached the Danville girls cross-country team to the district's third state title in the sport — ended in accolades with his name on them.

Brandt was recently named 2023 Pennsylvania girls cross-country coach of the year by the United States Track and Field and Cross County Coaches Association and by the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association.

While he was surprised and grateful, Brandt was quick to change the subject to the athletes he mentored, something he did for 46 years.

"Of course awards are more an indication of having the team of the year versus the coach of the year," Brandt said. "I was fortunate and blessed to have a great group of young ladies who worked very hard and had a lot talent.

"The Pennsylvania award was really neat, but the U.S. track and field award was even more impressive because they give it to a coach from every state. So there are fifty awards given. Again, I was fortunate enough and blessed enough to get the Pennsylvania award."

Brandt previously won the Pennsylvania award in 2001. This is his first time winning the award from the national organization.

Danville cross-country and Brandt have been synonymous since he first started coaching the boys team in 1978 then took the helm when the girls program launched the following year. He finished with a career record in cross-country of 1,115-141, a winning percentage of better than 89%.

His girls teams won 10 consecutive district titles from 2009 to 2019 and won 146 consecutive dual meets from 2009 to 2018. His boys teams finished in the top 10 at states eight times, including second- and third-place finishes the last two seasons. Rory Lieberman won an individual state title in 2022.

In January, Brandt and his wife Melissa — a longtime assistant coach — announced retirement and a desire to travel and spend more time with their grandchildren. He also plans to attend as many Danville meets as he can and go to some college meets to see his former runners as well, something his obligations as a coach prevented him from doing in the past.

Brandt takes some credit for his success, but it's not necessarily just about understanding running.

"I think I have a fair amount of knowledge of running since I ran myself in high school and college and post college but I think the bottom line in coaching is developing relationship with the kids and encouraging them," Brandt said. "So you're a teacher of the athlete first, then you're a coach or teacher of the sport second.

"Its always been fun to be with the kids and encourage them."

Brandt said he coached for 46 years because he loves the sport of running and working with people is a passion, in many aspects of life, joking that there may be more coaching in his future.

"Well, I really enjoy working with people, whether its cross-country or with the four-year-olds at our church and we're doing kickball — so I could become a kickball coach," he said. "And then, of course, I enjoy the sport a lot. It's a combination. The best of both worlds."

It also helps that the athletes in the Danville program who he develops relationships with share or learn his passion for running, working and succeeding.

This year's team was a terrific example.

"We had a great group of seniors leading them. And then they just really all worked well together," Brandt said. "They really worked extremely hard. They were motivated and they set a goal themselves that they wanted to be state champs.

"That's a great goal to set and then they worked hard to reach that."

Brandt complimented new coach John Vella — who already coaches the district's boys track and field team as well as both middle school track and field and cross-country. Brandt said he is excited about Danville cross-country's future.

"I think there's a good tradition. I think the community's fairly supportive of cross-country as well as this school district," he said. "I think there's a lot of support. Jon Vella was named head coach. He's going to do a really good job. I'm sure there will be some good assistants coming through the program.

"I hope it continues to be just as successful or more successful. Its a matter of kids wanting to work hard and give 100 percent."