Ryan Heberling was named head coach of both the men’s and women’s track and field/cross country programs at FIU on July 9th, 2014, after spending the previous four years as an assistant and the 2014 season as the interim head coach at FIU. Before accepting these positions, Heberling was a student at the university and a member of the track and field team. We spoke with Heberling about what initially brought him to FIU, why he chose to stay at the university, what keeps him so involved, and more.
FIU Alumni Association: What brought you to FIU as a student?
Head Coach Ryan Heberling: In 2004, former FIU track and field coach, Steve Rubin, visited my high school, Vero Beach High School, on his recruiting trail. At the time, he was targeting one of my close friends, but after meeting with him and realizing there was an opportunity, I jumped at the chance to come and visit campus and see FIU for myself.
I remember walking around the housing quad with our tour group and hearing loud music coming from the Panther Hall pool. There were about 50 students out there enjoying themselves in the middle of a wonderful South Florida winter. I thought, “So you’re telling me I never have to deal with snow, and I get to call this amazing place home for the next four years?” I knew that I was home. Besides the perfect weather and beautiful campus, the main quality that immediately drew me into FIU, and the city of Miami, is the unique energy and diversity that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. I still think the vibrancy is FIU’s most amazing quality.
What did you value most about your time spent at FIU?
I truly valued how I had a chance to immerse myself in so many different and unique cultures. I have always appreciated the diversity of FIU and now how it has shaped my world views as an adult.
Additionally, I viewed FIU as a young and growing university, and I felt there was (and is) an opportunity for individuals to leave their mark here − to really make it their own. I loved how so many of my teammates came here from all over the U.S. and abroad − to a place where they hardly knew anyone – and were welcomed with open arms into this new environment. I truly valued how welcoming we are as a university, and as an athletic department, toward our students that literally leave everyone and everything behind in pursuit of an opportunity. We truly are a home for so many.
Why did you decide that you wanted to stay at FIU in 2014 as the head coach of both the men’s and women’s track and field/cross country programs?
It came down to an amazing opportunity presenting itself in the form of a test.
In January of 2014, I was named the interim head coach for the program. Upon the completion of our season, a national search began to look for the next head coach. After a successful interim season, I was given the chance to interview for my dream job, and though I don’t believe I quite “knocked it out of the park,” I do believe that our athletic leadership saw my energy and passion in our program and gave me a shot.
Once I was offered the position, my new bride and I knew that we could make a home here and turn FIU in the type of program that we envisioned it could become. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t truly think that we can guide our young men and women to be some of the best in country – on and off the track.
How have you seen the team grow, and what is your proudest accomplishment as head coach so far?
Our team is constantly evolving and growing each year. I try not to be stuck in my ways, and I’m always open to input. Everyone involved in our program has a unique view and understanding of his or her role, as well as thoughts on the efficiency of our coaching and program direction. I really value everyone’s input as it shows that they truly care. I learned very early in my coaching career that when you give someone something that they can make their own, they are going to take it very seriously. They will cherish the program, and personally make its success their responsibility.
I’d say my proudest accomplishment as a head coach actually occurred when I was the interim head coach. In 2014, amidst a change in leadership, our team went out and competed to the best of their capabilities, and had a tremendous showing at the outdoor conference championships, as well as the NCAA regionals. I was so proud of that group of student athletes for handling adversity and turning it into something positive.
I am also very proud of our All-Americans, as they are the window to FIU for the nation. For every student athlete of ours that gets to the NCAA Finals, it’s just another testament to our program competing with every other school in the country and in turn, it helps FIU’s visibility grow.
What keeps you so involved at FIU?
FIU has given me everything. My amazing and supportive wife, Carrie, and our lovely son, Logan, would not be in my life if weren’t for FIU. I’d be lying if told you I didn’t think about that every morning driving to campus. I have an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment about FIU. We really are all around the world. When you understand how many lives our university has changed, it gives you the sense that you are a part of something huge.
Why is it important for alumni to stay involved at their alma mater – whether it is by attending sporting events or giving back financially?
I’m fully invested in the growth and development of our FIU. If there is any area or group on campus that can go out into the world – whether it be our athletic programs, or any of our amazing programs at FIU – and show the world our special FIU, than I believe it’s important to show your support.
FIU is constantly growing, and the feeling that I am involved with something bigger brings me an overwhelming sense of Panther Pride. I always wanted to have a hand in helping something that I hold dear to me grow in all aspects. I really think that when we gain the collective support of all of our alumni, students, and future Panthers, then the sleeping giant of FIU will come alive and be the crown jewel of Miami.
FIU allows everyone who graces our campus the opportunity to become your best self. In order for that to continue to happen for future generations of Panthers, we will need all the support we can muster. Get to the games, donate to what you feel a connection with, and get involved!