I had the pleasure of sitting down with the head coach of the men’s cross-country and track and field programs Jim Boulanger, this past Tuesday, and as athletes slowly trickled in to the Paul Sweet Oval for track practice, I was able to learn why he coaches and how he has done this for so long.
I first met “Coach B” almost three years ago and he welcomed me like one of his own. His casual and friendly demeanor, eagerness and get-it-done attitude especially stood out to me. It was easy to understand why he is loved around the field house, and how he has been in the local athletics community for over forty years.
“Local kid, and like everyone else around here I wanted to go anywhere but UNH,” Boulanger said regarding his upbringing. Boulanger was raised in Dover, New Hampshire with his four siblings, just four miles from his current office at the University of New Hampshire. Coach B entered UNH as a health and physical education major, and had plans to try and walk onto the football team his freshman year. However, Boulanger realized he would need to stay more focused in the classroom and that football wasn’t going to work out.
It wasn’t until March of 1974 during Boulanger’s junior year of college that he decided to apply to become the Oyster River High School track coach.
Did I mention he did this with absolutely zero background in the sport of track and field? A former writer once wrote that the only time Boulanger had stepped on a track was to cross it to play football.
“I made a pact, not only to myself, but to [the Oyster River High School track team] that I would go to clinics and everything I could to make myself a better coach,” Boulanger said. His hard work paid off and he soon found himself helping out with the UNH track and field team after his very popular high school practices. He specifically started helping with the long jump, triple jump, high jump and shot-put.
Soon enough, Boulanger found himself signing the papers for the head coaching position at UNH in June of 1983, for a sport people jokingly told him ‘you know nothing about.’
Over the course of his coaching career here at UNH, Boulanger has a lengthy list of accomplishments. Boulanger and his staff have helped athletes achieve individual titles in the New England Championships, IC4As, and many other top finishes in large meets. Three athletes have reached All-American honors as well. His teams have done exceptionally well in the America East Championships during all three seasons of running (cross-country, indoor and outdoor track and field), and Boulanger has been voted Coach of the Year for all three numerous times throughout his impressive career.
The awards don’t seem to matter for Boulanger. When you talk to him and see him interact with his team, you know he’s there to support these student-athletes and to show them he cares. Boulanger is not egotistical. There’s no sense of ‘I did this’. Instead it’s ‘the team earned or did this.’
“I’m a great half mile coach right now because I got Drew Piazza. George and I were great throws coaches when we had Bryce throwing 60 feet because we were able to have Bryce. It’s all about who you have,” Boulanger said on his coaching.
“I can say over my forty-two years of coaching and teaching the best part is that I’ve had good people all the way, and that is key. I feel I got a lot of kids I made a difference with, and that’s really why you get into coaching,” Boulanger said on the importance of making connections with his staff and athletes. “I know kids who couldn’t outrun a duck in a footrace, and they’re still very important to me because you know what, they gave it their all. All they wanted to do was wear a uniform, whether at Oyster River or here.”
“I will do my best to teach you how to be the best, but I can’t run for you, I can’t jump for you, I can’t throw for you. It’s what you bring to the table. The kids have to know that you care,” Boulanger said, referring to himself as an old school mentality kind of coach.
Boulanger also coaches with tough love. “When I yell at you, it’s a sign of affection. Come back an hour later and we’ll go out to a lunch for an occasional meal,” Boulanger said. While he rarely lashes out at someone for making mistakes, he expects you to deal with the consequences and “stand on your own two feet.” In the end, he just wants his athletes know that they matter.
“The most important things in life are family, if you believe in God, then God, and those things that you can do for friends around you,” Boulanger said.
After coaching for such a long time, Coach B knows what needs to be done, and how to do it correctly. He also realizes that the sun is going to rise again tomorrow and that it’s not the end of the world when someone makes a mistake.
Coach Boulanger’s journey at UNH isn’t over yet. Boulanger and his coaching staff at the field house still have many more athletes to coach and influence to the best of their ability, and to push each other to new heights. I’d highly encourage UNH students to take in a track meet this spring where the ‘Cats are bound to lay down some terrific performances.