More than meets the eye with Pepperdine’s XC and track coach

Courtesy Creative Commons

Despite having roots in Las Vegas and Colorado, Robert Radnoti is the human embodiment of Los Angeles charm and charisma. With his exceptionally tan skin, polo shirt tucked into his shorts, and big smile, he almost seems like a caricature of a middle-aged Californian.

But if there’s one thing that makes Pepperdine’s cross-country and track coach stand out, it’s his driven personality and role as a positive figure in his student-athletes’ lives.

“One of the prominent six human needs is the need for growth,” Radnoti said. “One of the things I found (throughout my life), is that the more I learned, the more things I realized I didn’t know, which drives me to find more.”

Coach Radnoti has led the Waves’ cross-country and track programs for 10 seasons, and during his tenure, he has taught runners just as much about life as he has track. Radnoti believes that what he’s teaching impacts the student-athletes’ lives far beyond the collegiate realm.

“If I knew the things that I know now at the age of 58 years old when I was 20 or 22, life would’ve been so much different and so much better,” Radnoti said. “We don’t know that, when you’re a young person, life is going to hit us hard sometimes, and it happens a lot. I’m seeing this with our young people now, whether their parents are going through a divorce, or there’s cancer in their family.”

Radnoti briefly mentioned that he had a tough time as a college student, although he declined to give any specifics. However, he did say that he wanted to use those experiences to ensure that the students he coached could avoid his mistakes.

“I just fall in love with our student-athletes, and I just want them to be better-prepared than I was,” Radnoti said. “And so I try to, as much as I can without sunburning, and I do know I sunburn the athletes, is to at least plant the seed, if not the knowledge. I understand that it’s about awareness now, and that awareness can grow to understanding, and understanding can grow to thinking subconsciously, where we’re naturally acting like we think we should.”

Before he became a coach, Radnoti worked for Exxon as a chemical engineer, and while there, he participated in a corporate program called Investment in Excellence, run by Lou Tice. After an intensive six-day program, Radnoti was hooked on the pursuit of self-improvement.

“Smartly, it wasn’t about how to become a better worker at Exxon, it was about how to become better at whatever you choose to apply it to,” Radnoti said. “I remember setting my goals during that Investment in Excellence class, and I had 57 of ‘em… and of those 57 goals that I wrote 25 years ago, I’ve actually achieved 56 of them.”

After helping lead a corporate track team for Exxon for just a few events a year, Radnoti decided he wanted to coach year-round, so he became the head cross-country coach for Thousand Oaks High School after the school’s long-time coach had retired. During his eight-year tenure, not only did Radnoti hone his coaching skills, but he also practiced educating his runners on life itself, something that he has become well known for.

“I tried to teach leadership and human performance and life skills to the kids,” Radnoti said. “Interestingly, now I’m starting to get kids that I coached 15 years ago come thank me for some of the things that we talked about way back when, but 10 years after high school. I don’t think was a recognition back when they’re 15, 16 years old.”

Remarkably, Radnoti did have a strong influence on those high school students. One of Radnoti’s Thousand Oaks disciples, Tim Cullen, said the coach had such an impact on him during his teenage years that when he heard that Pepperdine needed an assistant coach to help Radnoti, Cullen jumped at the chance.

“I chose to work for him because he is a personality. He is someone that will mold your experience as a student and as an athlete, and I was just happy to be a part of that,” Cullen said. “That’s why I came back, because I believe in him, I believe in how he feels about students that he’s working for, and I do truly believe that he is trying to make everyone better. Not just as athletes, but also as human beings, and I think he does a great job at that.”

Of course, it isn’t just his former athletes that commit to the church of Rad: Current Pepperdine cross-country athlete, junior Nick Blanchard, says his experience with Radnoti has been unique compared to his coaches in the past, and that he enjoys working with him.

“What makes Coach Rad different from other coaches is that he really cares about you as a person, as a whole. He’s not just concerned with how I run,” Blanchard said. “Obviously, running is a big thing we do; we put a lot of effort into making sure I’m performing at the best possible level. But he also cares about how I’m doing in life, what my plans are for after school here, and he’s someone whose relationship I’ll cherish for a long time.”

Clearly, Radnoti is attempting to be more than just a simple authority figure for these student-athletes, or a man who they only associate with running. In a way, for many of these runners, he’s like another parent, helping guide them through life. It’s only fitting that one of his main goals for Pepperdine’s track and cross-country has nothing to do with competing at all, but rather his student-athletes themselves.

“I’ve been trying to have our sports become the model for Pepperdine, with the hope that one day, our administration will say that we really do what Pepperdine’s mission is all about: preparing students for lives of purpose, service, and leadership,” Radnoti said. “They’ll say, ‘they really represent us thoroughly, completely, they are what we stand for.’”

Jackson Hogan completed this story in Dr. Ken Waters spring 2016 Jour 590 course on sports journalism.