“Who would want to read about me?
“Who would want to read about me? I’m just a broken down, old distance running coach.”
My first reaction was to chuckle. Then I realized that my college coach, Joe I. Vigil, was being serious.
Honestly, in my mind, everybody wanted to read about the man who built empires out of ruins. Everybody, I thought, wanted to read about a man who first carved a championship high school track and field program, and later built the greatest college distance running program America has ever seen – debatable in some circles, perhaps, but Adams State University does have 56 NAIA and NCAA Division II championships since 1971 (49 years) to help it make its case.
I really didn’t think I would have to do much convincing when I called Coach Vigil in August, 2018 to ask for his permission to write his biography.
I had heard that he had resisted others’ efforts to write about his life and coaching career, but I figured it just wasn’t the right time for those projects. I figured it was a home run to ask my good friend, a coach who indirectly raised me from boyhood into adulthood, for the privilege of telling his story.
Coach Vigil wasn’t so sure.
In fact, he told me he needed to think about it. That he’d call me back in a few days. And when he did, I held my breath.
“Okay, Pat, I’ll do it. What’s your plan?”
Gulp…plan? Well, I wasn’t even sure I was going to get the chance to write the story. But I had given some thought to how one would go about telling the story of one of the great coaches of our time. And I figured since it was many of my former teammates and coaches that had put the thought into my mind, then I would rely on them to help me on what seemed to be a monumental effort.
We would let Coach Vigil, a remarkable storyteller, tell his story. I would ask his former athletes, assistant coaches, family, friends and even his rivals to tell stories about him. My job, I thought, was simply to keep those stories flowing. I would write the transitions between stories, and let people smarter than me do the heavy lifting.
Turns out, that was the smartest move I made. I traveled to mecca…uh, I mean, Coach’s house in Green Valley, Arizona…in late November, 2018 and spent three days with Coach and his wife, Caroline. I even got to sleep in his guest bedroom, run daily errands with Coach, eat lunch with Caroline, lounge in comfortable chairs as we watched college football, and talk. Wow, we talked and talked and talked.
I taped 16 interviews in three days, about 11 hours of back-and-forth with Coach Vigil, about his life growing up on the south side of Alamosa, his days of playing football at Alamosa High School and Adams State College, teaching, coaching, the fluky way he came to coach track and field, and a lot more.
We talked over breakfast. We talked while watching sports on TV. We talked while driving around town. We talked while he did his swimming workout. And I began to realize that writing a book of stories was not going to be so tough after all.
“The challenge you’re going to have as you go through this project,” Coach told me, “is that you’re going to have to figure out what to call the book.”
About once a month, for about a year, Coach Vigil would tell me that same thing. I had some ideas, but nothing ever really stuck until just a few month ago, in Spring 2020, we nailed it.
Chasing Excellence: The Remarkable Life and Inspiring Vigilosophy of Coach Joe I. Vigil.
In this book, I believe you will gain a deeper understanding of the compassion and the humility of Joe I. Vigil. I believe that by knowing how he was raised, the challenges he overcame, the attitudes he formed, you will come to understand why a coach so decorated remains so comfortable living in modesty.
Enjoy the ride!
Chasing Excellence is available to order online from Soulstice Publishing, www.soulsticepublishing.com.
This blog has been created to tell more stories not included in Chasing Excellence and from time to time, we may share a few sneak previews of content that did make the book.