Whether taking to the track at Paso Robles High School, the streets of downtown, or along Central Coast beaches, one thing is clear — running is not only a passion of Ivan Huff’s, it’s a lifestyle.
Huff has been involved as a coach with the PRHS cross country team every year since 1986. With Bearcat track athletes, he has been coaching off and on before taking over full-time around 1993.
In April, Huff was named to the 2019 RaceSLO Hall of Fame during the SLO Half Marathon and Relay Races awards ceremony. Sheryl Collmer, RaceSLO Hall of Fame Manager, said the decision was made by an advisory board made up of past Hall of Fame honorees.
“Ivan was basically nominated by all of our past Hall of Famers,” Collmer said. “A discussion was not even needed; he was the clear choice. Ivan was chosen based on three criteria — his contribution to the community through his long and successful coaching career; his contribution to the sport itself through his own Olympic trials running when he was younger, and his value to the Central Coast athletic community by building up kids who go on running long after high school.”
The recognition has been truly humbling, according to Huff.
“It is such an honor,” he said. “And some of my former student runners gave talks about me when I was recognized at the marathon finish line. It was a humbling experience — we all like to be recognized — but that’s not why I do what I do; I am just a runner and a coach.”
As with most sports, coaching staff comes and goes and there have been transitions over the past few years with both Bearcat cross country (fall) and track and field (spring). Amongst the changes, Huff has been the constant.
“I’ve always been the cross-country coach,” he said. “The kids know I will be there. Over the years, I’ve earned a funny nickname — Huff Dad. I tell the kids, ‘I am not your parent, I am the coach!’ And then they’ll tease me, saying ‘come on Huff Dad’ — and I just smile.”
On paper, he is officially the Head Girls’ Cross-Country Coach, but he has managed both the boys’ and girls’ teams for about three decades. Currently, Matt Carroll is his “on-campus go-to-guy” and Jory Hallahan (Coach Hal) returns as assistant coach.
A 1977 graduate of PRHS, Huff earned seven varsity letters, four in cross country and three in track, and holds the school record in the mile and two-mile. He was the Los Padres League Champion and CIF Runner-up in 1976 and, in 1977, was the Athlete of the Year and Los Padres League Track Champion in the mile.
At Alan Hancock College, he was part of the State Champion Cross Country Team in 1978, and at Cal Poly he was a three time-All-American from 1979 through 1981. In addition, he was a member of three national championship teams and part of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the steeplechase where he placed fifth, and in 1988, placed sixth.
“One year, I was ranked 10th in the world in steeplechase which is probably my biggest claim to fame,” Huff said. “Some people think I was in the Olympics but I was at the Olympic trials — you have to finish in the top three and, although I was running good, I wasn’t doing so on that particular day and did not make the Olympic team. So, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Then I ran professionally for a few years so my job, according to my tax returns, was Professional Athlete.”
In 1996, he was inducted into the Bearcat Hall of Fame. Huff and his wife, Carol, are parents to two adult children, Ian and Hannah. He is semi-retired after many years of being a janitorial supervisor, and works part-time as a school bus driver for the district.
“In my younger years, I was a very competitive person and I had success at running which made me enjoy it even more,” he said. “Then I got into distance running. Everyone has addictions to some extent, and I am addicted to running. If I don’t get to run, my mental state is not good — I don’t sleep well at night, I don’t feel right; my body needs to be pushed. That being said, as I have gotten older, it really, really hurts to keep doing it! So, it is something I have to do because I know it’s
good for me.”
It’s a lifestyle for Huff, and that’s what he tries to teach the kids who look up to him as a coach.
“The basic thing I am trying to teach kids is that this thing called running is a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s a choice and not just a sport; you have to eat right, sleep right, think about things all day and not just the hour or two you are at practice. Our Bearcat motto is ‘No Excuses!’ It’s about planning your whole day so that you are getting better and better at your running weeks down the road, so it really becomes a lifestyle.”