Sometimes, great things begin in the unlikeliest places. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his college dorm room. Hemingway wrote many of his stories in a Parisian bar. Sean Cleary, head track-and-field coach at West Virginia University (WVU), has launched Olympic Game careers from his regular booth at the Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Morgantown, West Virginia.
WVU alumna Megan Metcalfe, one of Sean’s athletes, competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. She sat down for direction, planning, and inspiration at Coach Sean’s “branch office” at Panera.
“The first conversation I ever had with Megan was at Panera Bread,” recalls Sean. “We talked about what it takes to make it to the Olympic Games.”
But Sean’s branch office isn’t just for inspiring future Olympians. He sits down there with every one of his athletes at the start of the their college career and helps them form a four-year plan, then brings them back again as each season opens - and periodically in between. His coaches’ meetings take place at the booth, too, where he and his colleagues plan out their strategies.
For Sean, Panera Bread is the ideal work environment. “It’s a really relaxed atmosphere,” he says, “that puts whomever I’m with in a state of mind where they can talk freely.” Although Sean’s workday starts at the office to look at messages and plan for the day ahead, he doesn’t stay there long. “I head right over to Panera, from 8:30 in the morning until practice time in the afternoon,” he explains. Enjoying the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad or sipping on a Low-Fat Strawberry Smoothie, he meets a constant stream of visitors. “The employees there are awesome,” says Sean. “They recognize my athletes when they come in, and just point to where I’m sitting. And if anybody from the community or the administration - even the local sports reporters - want to talk to me, they know exactly where to find me.”