“Newt Engle is a legend in the world of shooting. Engle is to rifle coaching like Mike Krzyzewski is to basketball coaching or Woody Hayes is to football coaching. He has been at the helm of he University of Akron’s rifle team since 1977 and has no plans of stepping down any time soon.””
Newt Engle is a legend in the world of shooting.
Engle is to rifle coaching like Mike Krzyzewski is to basketball coaching or Woody Hayes is to football coaching. He has been at the helm of he University of Akron’s rifle team since 1977 and has no plans of stepping down any time soon.
Engle has led the Zips to three straight Western Intercollegiate Rifle Club championships and has been runner-up in the Mid-Atlantic Rifle Conference four years in a row. He is the longest- tenured coach ever at the University of Akron and has led the Zips to nine finishes in the top 20 over the last 10 years.
In 2006, Engle received the National Rifle Association’s Outstanding Service to College Shooting Sports Award for his contributions to Akron’s rifle team over his three decades on the job.
I was surprised. I didn’t even know I was nominated, Engle said. To be recognized by your peers like that, it has to be every coach’s dream.
Engle joined Akron’s rifle team in the fall of 1974 and won the league championship in 1975 and 1976. During Engle’s last year on the team, head coach Nancy Worsencroft suffered a serious injury and was unable to continue coaching the team.
As team captain, Engle helped coach the team for the rest of his senior season. For Worsencroft to recover from her injury, she had to move away from Ohio, so Engle was offered the head coaching position the following year.
Nancy said, ‘I’m afraid that if I go they’re going to have a hard time filling the position. You’ve done it for a year. Would you please do it?’ I could never say no to Nancy, Engle said. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a try.’ I’m still trying.
Before accepting the job, Engle was unsure of what to do.
I was basically just a college guy. I had a lot of changes going on in my life and I have to admit, I thought I didn’t need one more thing to do, Engle said with a smile on his face. I use myself as the perfect example of an athlete that finished college for all the wrong reasons. My reason was because I liked to shoot. Shooting got me through college and I earned the four-year degree.
I did have doubts, but rifle and Nancy had been so good to me that I found myself in a situation that I couldn’t say no, and I’m glad I couldn’t.
Engle also felt pressure to take the job.
Before I accepted the job, I asked Nancy if there was someone else they could ask to do it, and she said no, Engle said. She felt about the rifle team now like I do now. It was something she had worked with and it was extremely important to her, and now I know exactly how she felt.
Being a member of the rifle team is a different experience than being on another sports team.
We’re not a spectator sport. I’ve said for years that watching a rifle match is like watching the grass grow, Engle said. It’s fun to do, not fun to watch.
The rifle team has had the uncanny ability to consistently stay good over the last ten-plus years, but what does Engle attribute that to?
I’d have to say the fine coaching they’re receiving, Engle said with a laugh.
It is the quality of the athletes that are coming in. It’s making my job easier and more challenging at the same time because they are coming in with such a high degree of expertise and knowledge. How can you go up to one of the top shooters in the nation and say, ‘Let me help you shoot better,’ Engle said.
It’s not teaching them the positions, it’s more mental. How can we mentally tweak them? Once you start shooting as high of scores as they’re shooting, there’s not much room to move up.
But how much of shooting is mental?
To put it in the center every time, that’s where the mental aspect comes in, Engle said. If you’re getting ready to fire a shot and you put the first nine of 10 in the center and you have one to go, what should you be thinking? Should you be thinking ‘I hope I don’t blow it?’ Or should you be thinking ‘I got the first nine of 10, this one shouldn’t be a problem.’
In more recent years, Akron has been able to expand its horizons past being just a local or regional program. With the introduction of partial scholarships, Engle has even had to start turning athletes away.
We have people from all over the nation contacting me and asking me what they have to do to shoot for Akron, Engle said. Talk about a shift for me. As recent as 10 years ago, we’d advertise free tryouts for the rifle team. We’d have people come down with no experience at all. Now I have people coming from all over who already have previous experience.
We have shooters from New York, Pennsylvania and even Hawaii. We truly are a national team. We’re bringing together a team of people whose skill level is way elevated, Engle said.
The importance of previous experience in shooting is rising for those who wish to compete for Akron.
It’s the kind of problem I have dreamed about for years, Engle said. The recruits I am looking at for next year are top-notch shooters with probably a minimum of four years of experience. It’s getting to the point that if you want to come to Akron, you have to demonstrate what you’ve done.
Engle also has a unique recruiting tactic working in his favor.
Even though these kids are coming from all over the nation, they have met each other before. They are all traveling to these national matches, so a lot of them had met each other before and shot against and with each other before, Engle said. They’re not going to come here and join a team of people they’ve never met. Chances are they’ve met them and have been friends with them for years.
Engle’s daughters, Angie and April, both competed for Akron’s rifle team and are also nationally ranked shooters.
Angie and April both started to shoot in their early teens, and rather than go to another school to shoot, decided to come to Akron to shoot for their father.
I told them if they wanted to shoot for Kentucky or some other school, I would root for that school, Engle said. I am glad they decided to come to Akron.
Looking ahead to this season, Engle is very confident in his team.
I believe the team can compete for a national championship, Engle said. It just takes one or two points, per shooter, per gun. This is something that we talk about to develop that mental attitude they need.
Needless to say, a national championship is the one of the few accomplishments missing for Newt Engle.