Getting to Know SU Staff: Coach Kenneth Eboh
A journey from Nigeria to the Midwest to head track and field coach at Southwestern.
February 24, 2023
February 24, 2023
Please introduce yourself, and tell me a bit about your background.
My name is Kenneth Eboh. I’m currently the head track and field coach at Southwestern University, and I’ve been here for ten years. I came here as an assistant football coach/assistant track coach, and I’ve only been head track and field coach for a few short years. I stepped into an interim role for track and field right before COVID started, and at that time, I was the only two-sport coach in the athletic department. I’ve also acted as a recruiting coordinator, a defensive line coach with football, and a throws coach with track and field. It’s been a great experience thus far.
How did you hear about Southwestern?
The football team and Coach Austin are what brought me to Southwestern. I’ve known him since high school, and when he approached me and asked me if I wanted to coach, my first thought was no. It wasn’t until I was searching for jobs, living at my mom’s house, that I decided to try coaching. We started at the University of Dubuque, where I was enrolled in graduate school at the same time. Then, I followed him to Hanover College in Indiana. Once a position opened up at Southwestern to start a football program, Coach Austin saw an opportunity to assemble the staff he wanted. So, I went with him, sight unseen. I knew if Coach Austin had faith in the product and the community, it was going to be a good move for us.
My colleague mentioned that you have a background in design, is that why you first said no to the coaching position?
When I graduated college, my background was in graphic design and computer science, and I tried to find a job in those fields. I was in a place of in-between, crisscrossing the Midwest and interviewing for jobs in different places. I wanted to lean toward the design part of advertising to see where that would take me. Then, a position opened up to go to grad school and start coaching, so I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try it out.
What inspired you to become a coach?
It was the opportunity to do something different and was a launchpad to see if it would become something more. I had never been in a position to coach, and it wasn’t something I was thinking about initially. However, the opportunity at the University of Dubuque to return to school and work with Coach Austin was a good one. Working with kids and being able to inspire them and lead was just infectious. We took a team that was struggling, and in three years, we were competitive within the conference.
Was it a difficult transition from football to track and field?
No, it’s been a stressful but very rewarding transition. I was only coaching throwers initially, and we were very successful in our little niche. Now, I have to make sure everyone is getting attention. That’s always what I’m striving to do for the kids. I work with the tools I have, and those tools include a great group of volunteers who volunteer sweat equity and want to give back to the University. I can’t thank them enough.
What are you looking forward to in the coming semesters?
I will start with the semester we’re in now, which is seeing the development of the track program. We had a lot of success last year, primarily on the women’s side. Now, I’m looking for total team improvement. I really just want to see the kids compete and see how far they can go. Then from here on out, it’s about building the recruiting pool and growing the roster. We’re at the largest roster we’ve ever been at, which is about 60, and I look forward to recruiting more.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
When I can, I still enjoy drawing here and there. There are a couple of drawing clubs and meetup groups I join every once in a while. I’m big on traveling when I can, and I’m a big movie buff. I probably watch more science fiction than most folks.
Do you have any upcoming trips that you’re excited about?
I’m from the Midwest, so anytime I can get home, I always take the opportunity. Although my mom would read this and tell me I’m a liar, but those are the immediate plans. Possibly overseas to see family after the school year. I love to travel internationally, and I’ve been fortunate to do it a few times with the football team here. I’ve been to Germany three times and even spoke at the German football convention. I’ve been to Italy once. I think it’s a great experience for the students, and I recommend traveling because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What is something that students would be surprised to learn about you?
I was born in Nigeria. I came under my parent’s citizenship and got my own citizenship during my senior year in high school. It’s funny because my parents would thumb through history books and political books, learning about what it means to be a citizen. It was more information than we got in any social studies class or in high school. My parents had been sweating it. We would sit at the Pizza Hut buffet, and the whole table would be full of books and stuff my parents were trying to learn about, and my brother and I would just sit back and be like, we’ll be fine. Then, when we got to the immigration office, there was a massive line of people. You go to the counter, say a couple of words, get a pink sheet but not a blue one, and then they tell you to sit. Next, you get a number, hand over your paperwork, then say the pledge of allegiance, and walk out. It’s not at all what I thought it was going to be like. Immigration has changed drastically since I was part of the process. When I was younger, I actually lost my green card. I took it to elementary school because I thought it was a fun thing, but I dropped it. Then, I got called into my principal’s office, and they asked me what is this. I’m like, oh, it’s me; I’m not from here. My mom wasn’t too happy that I took it with me to show off.
Why did your parents want to immigrate to the US?
My dad wanted to get into a university’s pharmacy program. So he moved to Iowa, and then we moved shortly after. My mom came to Iowa in December, and she said she didn’t want to leave the airport. She was so freaked out, and she had never seen snow before.
If you could meet any athlete, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I thought about this for a while, and of course, there are a host of people I’d want to meet. There are some folks who I think I would have a connection with. So it would be Christian Okoye,a former NFL player, or the NBA’s Hakeem Olajuwon because both these men are Nigerians from villages close to my mom’s. My uncle went to school in Missouri and met Christian Okoye when he played for the Chiefs. He was called the Nigerian nightmare, a nickname most Nigerian athletes know. Hakeem Olajuwon, as you know, is a legend. He was a Houston Rockets basketball player and a huge humanitarian. I would love to hear their perspective on transitioning from being an immigrant to attending school in the United States to being at the highest level of their sport. I’m not typically around a lot of Nigerians, so hearing from individuals who came from the same background, who grew up in the same kind of strife that my mom grew up in, and then reached the pinnacle of their sports would be incredible. I want to sit down and have conversations with them because I know they would sound like my parents and family.
Do you have any advice for student-athletes?
I’ve got tons of advice, but I won’t bore you with all of it. When it comes to being a student-athlete, take advantage of the time you have. It is a finite time we have with you as coaches and that you have on a college campus to be an athlete, to be the big dog, to be noticed, and to represent something more than yourself. You have this time to be the best version of yourself before you have to close this chapter. Now your next chapter is going to be great; it could even be monumental. But make this chapter as a student-athlete mean something. The next piece of advice: please ask for help. There’s absolutely no reason you have to do this alone. Don’t let the Instagram reel of the Guru who’s doing it by himself and not asking questions fool you because that is just a snapshot of life. That’s not a reality for everybody, and in your reality, you don’t have to mimic theirs. If you want something, be good at it, and don’t expect to be great at it all at once. You have to put time and effort into it. You can really enjoy your college experience as a student and as an athlete, but you have to put the work into it. Also, buy an alarm clock that wakes you up on time that’s not your phone. Those are my quick hitters: take advantage of the opportunity, ask for help, and buy a better alarm clock.