EL PASO – UTEP Director of Athletics Bob Stull has announced the hiring of current track and field assistant coaches Mika Laaksonen and Paul Ereng as head coach and associate head coach respectively, replacing retiring head coach Bob Kitchens. Ereng will retain the title of head cross country coach.
“UTEP track and field will not miss a beat with Mika Laaksonen and Paul Ereng assuming the leadership role from Bob Kitchens,” Stull said. “Together they have been a part of the program for nearly two decades. They have coached numerous national champions and All-Americans, and have a clear understanding of UTEP's storied history and what it will take to maintain that level of excellence."
Laaksonen first came to UTEP in 1992 as a student-athlete and is in his 12th year as an assistant coach. He was the 1992 NCAA Indoor Champion in the weight throw, becoming Kitchens’ first national champion at UTEP. Laaksonen also took gold in the hammer throw at the 1992 NCAA Outdoor Championships and finished second in the event in 1993.
The Finland native remained in El Paso following graduation in 1995 to pursue a master of science in economics. He received his masters degree in July 1998 and was immediately hired as an assistant coach.
In 12 years, Laaksonen has coached two national champions, 28 conference champions and 19 All-Americans.
“Obviously I’m very excited and I want to thank Coach Stull and [Senior Associate Athletic Director/Senior Woman Administrator] Lisa Campos for this opportunity,” Laaksonen said. “I have enjoyed my 12 years under Coach Kitchens’ tutelage. UTEP track and field is an elite program and the bar has been set high, but I think I’m up for the challenge.”
In seven years in El Paso, Ereng has coached an NCAA champion, 19 All-Americans, 47 conference champions, three NCAA Midwest Regional champions, six conference athletes of the year and six conference freshman of the year winners. Following the 2006 season, Ereng was named the national Assistant Coach of the Year for distance by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
The Kenya native has directed the Miners to four Conference USA cross country titles and has been on staff for five conference track and field crowns. In 2007, Ereng was named the C-USA Coach of the Year for the third time after leading UTEP to its third consecutive cross country title.
“First of all, I want to say how thankful I am to Coach Kitchens for giving me this opportunity seven years ago,” Ereng said. “I wouldn’t have ever ended up in El Paso if he hadn’t brought me here. I want to thank Coach Stull and Lisa Campos for the chance to continue Coach Kitchens’ legacy and the UTEP track and field tradition of success. I’m excited about what this new experience will bring.”
Kitchens will retire at the end of the 2010 outdoor season after 22 years at the helm of the UTEP program.
“Handing over the baton to Mika as head coach and Paul as associate head coach is a very pleasant and enjoyable thing for me,” Kitchens said. “They are excellent coaches and they will make the program proud. I am delighted that the Miners will be in such good hands.”