|Clyde Hart is in his 43rd year as track coach at Baylor University.|
After a 43-year run, Baylor coach still not winded
By Toby Druin
WACO--Maybe it was coincidence, but more likely divine intervention. That's how Clyde Hart describes a trip from Hot Springs, Ark., to Glorieta, N.M., in 1952 that led through Waco and to his becoming a student at Baylor University instead of Louisiana State University.
Hart is in his 43rd year as track coach at Baylor. His latest protégé, Jeremy Wariner, won the 400 meter run at the Olympics in Athens in August, and he and his Baylor teammate, Darold Williamson, ran the last two legs on the winning 4x400 meter relay team.
They and former Baylor runner Michael Johnson, also coached by Hart, have won eight gold medals in Olympic competititon.
But had it not been for that Waco trip in 1952, Hart easily could have been coaching at LSU, and those gold medals could have hung around the necks of Tigers instead of Bears.
Hart was a star athlete at Hot Springs (Ark.) High School, playing halfback on the football team and winning the 100-yard dash in track in his senior year in 1952.
That spring, he recalled, his uncle called to tell him he had arranged for a scholarship for him at LSU and for him to come to Baton Rouge to talk to the coach.
|Baylor University Track Coach Clyde Hart poses with Olympic medalists Darold Williamson and Jeremy Wariner.|
"For the son of a Baptist pastor," Hart said, "the offer of a full scholarship was great. We had a parsonage furnished and never hurt for anything, but my dad did a lot of weddings and revivals to help us out."
After an all-night bus ride to LSU, Hart was taken by his uncle to the LSU stadium to meet a Coach Moreau, who apparently didn't know he was coming. He was busy putting on a track meet, and Hart said it was obvious he didn't know anything about a scholarship. Hart's uncle, however, asked if Hart could run in the track meet, and Coach Moreau said it would be OK.
"There weren't as many restrictions then," recalled Hart. "We could never do that today."
Nevertheless, wearing borrowed shorts, shirt and track shoes, Hart competed in the freshman junior varsity division and won the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.8, which was faster than the varsity runners posted that day. He left for home with a scholarship in hand. Later that spring, he won the 100-yard dash in the Arkansas high school track meet with a time of 9.3 seconds.
He had not thought about going to Baylor, he said, although he was somewhat familiar with the university. His father had several Baylor preachers in his church for revivals.
"I just thought Baylor was this school in Texas, and I would never get to go there," he said.
His father, however, was on a committee to select a site for a new Southern Baptist conference center in the West, similar to the one at Ridgecrest, N.C. In early summer 1952, after his high school graduation, Hart, his father and mother drove to New Mexico to see what was being developed as Glorieta Baptist Conference Center near Santa Fe.
"I know that Waco is not on the way from Hot Springs to Glorieta," Hart recalled, "but on our way to New Mexico, we stopped in Waco. To his dying day, my dad denied it was a setup to get me to come to Baylor and so did Jack Wilson, the track coach at the time. So maybe it was coincidence or divine intervention.
"Coach Wilson and I talked awhile. He said he had not tried to recruit me because he thought I was going to LSU. He gave me his card and told me to see the campus. I walked around on my own, and I liked it. After we got back in the car, my dad never said I had to come to Baylor, but I had a calling after that visit that Baylor was where I wanted to do my running."
Hart came to Baylor, competed in Southwest Conference track for four years, and graduated in 1956 with a bachelor of business administration degree with a major in personnel management and a minor in marketing. He also met and married his wife, Maxine, a twirler and aspiring majorette from Gladewater, who had been offered a band scholarship to LSU but whose parents had insisted she go to Baylor. Mrs. Hart is emeritus professor of information systems at Baylor.
After graduation, Hart worked for an oil company in West Texas for a year but had decided to quit to become a track coach at a Houston junior high school when his father called one day to tell him the coach at Little Rock Central High School had resigned to go to the University of Tulsa.
"Central was the premier high school in the South, educationally and athletically," Hart recalled. "I didn't have much hope of getting the job since I had no coaching experience and no teaching certificate, but Maxine and I drove all night to get to Little Rock for an interview."
After pledging to begin work immediately on a teaching certificate, he was given the job, and over the next six years his teams rewrote a lot of Arkansas track records. They won a state championship in 1958 before the school was closed for a year because of the integration dispute. After it was reopened, his teams won 50 straight track meets.
The year off during the integration crisis helped teach him a valuable lesson, Hart recalled.
"I was an assistant football coach," he said, "Central was the largest school in the state, and we had contracts with other teams we felt we had to fulfill. So we played a full schedule, even though there was no school being held.
"When we started the season, we had more than 100 kids in uniform, but when it became apparent the school was not going to reopen and some realized they had enough credits to graduate, they began to drop out. On Thanksgiving Day, when we played our last game, we had only 24 or 25 kids in uniform, and some of them were our managers and trainers."
"They did a great job," he said. "Some of them had been told they weren't good enough and had accepted roles as third and fourth stringers in junior high. But you'd be surprised at what happens when you tell one of those kids he's starting and it's his job. For a young coach, it showed me you have to go with what you've got."
He applies the lesson to facilities as well as athletes.
"When I came to Baylor, we didn't even have our own track," he said. "We ran at old Waco Municipal Stadium. Now, we have excellent facilities. They are not the best in the Big 12; but they are not the worst. They've been good enough to have helped us produce eight Olympic gold medallists."
"I tell coaches that you don't recruit with facilities," Hart said. "You sell what you've got and Baylor was and is Baylor. We will never be Texas or Texas A&M. If someone gave us $100 million today to build new facilities, we aren't going to surpass Texas or A&M.
"The good news is they can never be us. They can't reduce the size of their institutions. They can't have the freedom we have at Baylor. Baylor is a private university, the only one in the Big 12.
"Baylor is a Christian institution, and we live by those values. The last place I take an athlete is to the athletic fields. I bring them to the Baylor campus."
Hart said when Michael Johnson came to Baylor to visit, he went home and told his mother he liked what he had seen and liked what Hart had done with sprinters and quarter-milers. Mrs. Johnson told Hart that Michael said there wasn't much to do in Waco at night and on weekends, however.
"She said she told him he could study," Hart recalled. Johnson got his degree in business.
"If Michael had based his decision on where he would go on where he could have the best parties and the best facilities, he wouldn't have come to Baylor," said Hart. "But a lot of coaches who sell their recruits on those kinds of things are the ones who are in trouble today."
Hart said he has never applied for another coaching job but was offered one at the University of Alabama. After an interview with Athletic Director Bear Bryant, he agreed to take the position, Hart said, "but the closer I got to Waco and my family and when I considered the intangibles we have at Baylor, I made a commitment to staying here."
In recruiting athletes for his track team, Hart said, he first looks for a kid "who wants to be successful, who has focus and a good work ethic."
He has had athletes who have been faster than Michael Johnson, he said, but who did not have Johnson's focus or his work ethic, and he gives the credit to Johnson's parents.
"They would sit down with him at the first of the year and ask him what his goals were for the year. When he told them his goals, they would tell him it wasn't enough to have goals, that he had to have a plan to reach them. He taught me that. He came in as a goal-oriented person. Track was second for him; academics was first, and even when he got a taste of success at track, he never let his academics suffer."
Hart credited both Johnson and Jeremy Wariner with having the ability to focus, to not show fear and not to be self-destructive when things go wrong. Wariner, he said, was more focused on breaking Johnson's school record in the 400 meters than he was in winning the Olympics in Athens, both of which he accomplished.
"His first words to me "after winning the gold medal," Hart said, "was, 'Coach, I broke the school record.'"
Track teaches great lessons for life, Hart said.
"I don't know of any other individual sport where you can be on a mountaintop one moment and then in the valley the next. You learn to keep coming back. You learn self-motivation and discipline. It's like being in combat by yourself.
"There is success one minute and a pulled hamstring the next. Life has its ups and downs, and you have to learn to cope with them. You learn that in track."
Hart is a committed Christian, but said he would rather show it in his actions rather than words.
"Although I will give a devotional and tell folks that I am a Christian and how I got saved," he said.
"I am a deacon and member of First Baptist Church of Waco, and I speak everywhere; but I feel that my faith is a personal thing."
Outside of coaching, he enjoys hunting and fishing and is playing more golf and enjoying it more "since I decided I was never going to be real good."
As for any retirement plans, he said, "As long as I am happy and healthy and doing the job, I don't have anything I enjoy more."