Head coach Robert Gary gives his thoughts on last season’s second-place finish at the Big Ten outdoor championships, how to build a successful relay team and what fans can expect from the 2009-2010 Buckeyes.

How important was the runner-up finish at last season’s Big Ten outdoor championships for your team’s confidence heading into this year?

There isn’t a word I use more ‘culture’ in our program. It was one of the best experiences I have ever been associated with – from our first ever alumni dinner on the opening night up until the point we won the mile (4x400m) relay in the last event to secure second. It was just perfect. I am sure a great number of guys left the stadium thinking our program is certainly working in the direction towards winning a Big Ten title.

Perhaps the biggest story throughout the 2009 season was the emergence of Thomas Murdaugh in the 400m dash and 4x400m relay. Were you at all surprised by what he did as a freshman? What can fans look forward to from him this season?

I think everyone was a bit surprised. That being said, his times dropped a little bit each week and he showed a great deal of character and poise being an anchor on a mile relay. His best times came at the biggest meets and that is what the great athletes do. I think Thomas hopes to win an individual Big Ten title and do anything he can to help our team be successful.

A number of talented senior leaders graduated last spring. Is there anyone you anticipate stepping up and assuming a leadership position within the team?

We have some great guys returning again this year. Elon Simms will be back in the sprints, as will Stephen Robinson and Curtis Leuenberger. In the distance, Jeff See has already emerged as a leader. After those individuals, we have some young, hungry guys that we hope will help their senior teammates and the team accomplish great things.

The Buckeyes dominated the relay events at last season’s Big Ten Championships. What is the key to a successful relay team? What do you expect from your relay teams this season?

I think that the 4x400m has established a certain level of expecting excellence. It was unfortunate when our leadoff (Brandon Woodard) we had all year went down with an injury, but I think it speaks volumes that we could sub another guy in there (Curtis Leuenberger) and defend the title. Our 4x100m team has benefited from the inclusion of football players like Chimdi Chekwa and
Lamaar Thomas the last couple years, and we hope that we can defend our title in that event again this year. Coach Ed Beathea has an excellent ability to not only train these student-athletes, but predict who works well with who as far as handoffs go.

You are welcoming in one of the better recruiting classes in the country. Are there any freshmen that will be able to compete at the top of the Big Ten from day one?

Matt Terrell can come in and make finals right away in the sprints, Korbin Smith is too good of an athlete not to contribute and Cody Westbrook ended up jumping seven feet in the high jump during his senior year, which wil definitely score points at the conference meet. Curt Smith is coming back from a pretty serious back surgery, so we are almost sure he will redshirt indoors. We have really started to tighten the roster up so that everyone on the team is contributing inside two years, so there is some great excitement building for the future.

What are some of the highlights on your schedule for the upcoming season?

I couldn’t be happier that our French Fieldhouse renovations will be completed so we can host two home meets during the indoor season. When the outdoor season rolls around, the “Dual” with Michigan and it being on the Big Ten Network is always exciting. And I am always very excited to put together the Jesse Owens Track Classic – the 25th edition should be very exciting.

Bottom-line: What should we expect for the Buckeyes in 2010?

Success in the classroom and on the track — we want to take the next step and be in the hunt for a Big Ten title at the beginning of the last day of each Big Ten championship.

The Buckeyes open the 2010 season Saturday at the Buckeye Classic inside the newly renovated French Fieldhouse. Action gets underway at 10:00 a.m. ET with competition in the men’s and women’s weight throw.