FLAGSTAFF, AZ– May 19, 2022–HOKA NAZ Elite announced today the organization has hired two-time Olympian Alan Culpepper as its new head coach. Culpepper will take over for Ben Rosario, who will now focus on his role as Executive Director.
Culpepper was most recently the Director of Operations and Assistant cross country and track and field coach at the University of Texas at El Paso. Culpepper’s multi-year contract with NAZ Elite will allow him to re-enter the professional running world—where he thrived as mainly a self-coached athlete from 1996 to 2008.
Culpepper said he is thrilled for the opportunity to join the NAZ Elite team.
“I have the highest level of respect for all that Ben and Jen [Rosario] have done to create an environment where elite runners can thrive. Their vision and desire to continue to progress as an organization along with the support of HOKA was just the combination I was looking for at this stage in my coaching career. As a former professional I can appreciate all that is required to be successful while also understanding that the current landscape requires an even higher level of attention in all regards. The NAZ Elite model covers all those necessary components, and I am certain that my inclusion will add one more effective layer.”
Rosario, who co-founded NAZ Elite with his wife Jen in January of 2014, has served as the group’s head coach and executive director since its inception. During that time, NAZ Elite athletes have produced 82 wins, ten World Marathon Major Top 10s, participated in eight World Championship races, won five International medals, 12 national titles, and appeared in the Olympic Games—courtesy of Aliphine Tuliamuk’s Olympic Marathon Trials victory in 2020. In his role as Executive Director, Rosario helped NAZ Elite forge its now longtime partnership with HOKA as well as its sponsorship agreements with Final Surge, Picky Bars, and Rudy Project.
Stepping away from coaching to focus solely on his role as Executive Director will afford Rosario more time to build the NAZ Elite brand.
“My number one priority from day one has been to do what’s best for NAZ Elite and our athletes,” Rosario said. “Over the last year, as our brand has continued to grow and as the professional running marketplace has become increasingly competitive, it became clear to me that we needed to bring in a head coach who could focus solely on coaching. Alan’s coaching style and tenure in the industry make him a perfect choice. I am grateful to him and excited to take our brand to the next level by bringing on additional sponsors and most of all through increased inspirational content for our fans all over the globe.”
Rosario has been working with HOKA’s director of global sports marketing, Mike McManus, as well as the NAZ Elite Board of Directors, on the coaching search that eventually led to Culpepper.
“We are thrilled to welcome Alan to Flagstaff as the new head coach for NAZ Elite,” said McManus.. “Alan brings a tremendous amount of experience to the team, not just as a coach, but as an athlete in his own right with a long career of accolades and podiums from the high school track to the Olympic stage. Alan will be crucial in NAZ Elite’s growth and success, and we couldn’t be luckier to have him join us and our athletes during this pivotal time.”
Stephanie Bruce, who along with Kellyn Taylor, has been a part of NAZ Elite since its launch in 2014, believes that bringing in Culpepper is a bold move that will pay off in a big way for the team.
“When Ben and Jen decided it was time for a change and expansion I had no doubt in my mind they would find the best possible coach to join our program and have an impact we all believed in,” Bruce said. “I was lucky enough to watch and cheer for Alan in his professional running career as I began mine. I am sure that he will bring the skills, dedication, work ethic, and professionalism he exemplified as an athlete to NAZ Elite as our coach. I am thrilled to get to witness this transition in my last year as a pro and 100% believe it’s just another stepping stone in what Coach Ben and Jen [Rosario] have built alongside HOKA in continuing our program to be the best in the country in all that we set out to do.”
The NAZ athletes should expect a smooth transition from Rosario to Culpepper as the two share similar training philosophies, and similar backgrounds. Assistant coach Jenna Wrieden, who was hired in January of 2021, will remain in her current role—providing another layer of stability as Culpepper takes the reins.
Wrieden said that hiring Alan is an example of the organization’s willingness to do what it takes to reach the next level.
“Alan is that missing link that will bring everything together and complete our staff,” Wrieden said. “Not only does he know the training concepts and philosophies from the 1500m to the marathon, but more importantly he is extremely approachable, easy to trust, and believes in his athletes–I can’t wait to work with him.”
Culpepper, a two-time Olympian, who himself thrived as a versatile athlete competing at a world class level in everything from the 1500 to the marathon, takes over a squad with similar range, collectively. Veterans like Bruce, Taylor, Tuliamuk, and Lauren Paquette have already proven themselves over a variety of distances while younger athletes such as Matt Baxter, Tyler Day, Wesley Kiptoo, Alex Masai and Katie Wasserman were all top performers on the track at the NCAA level. Add in up-and-coming marathoners Julia Griffey, Nick Hauger and Alice Wright and the team is already strong, and getting stronger.
Culpepper said recruiting will be key as the team begins its next phase.
“My two highest priorities are to first and foremost come alongside the current team members and ensure their training and support is aligned with their specific needs and goals. The second is without question to recruit new team members who are ready and willing to make the step from the collegian system to professional athlete. Identifying and recruiting athletes that understand all that we are looking to accomplish, are a good fit with the team and have the right combination of tools is an area of immediate focus.”
Rosario, who will still be involved on the coaching side—particularly with marathon training where the team has had so much success, believes athletes will be attracted to Culpepper as well as the overall organizational approach of NAZ.
“You cannot find a more respected person in the running industry than Alan Culpepper,” Rosario said. “He’s a pro’s pro and I know our current and future athletes are going to love working with him, with Jenna, and with our entire support team. I can’t wait to get started.”
Culpepper, who will move to Flagstaff next month along with his wife Shayne and their three youngest children, was formally announced in a press conference this morning, May 19th. The conference will be featured on the NAZ Elite YouTube channel.