Jan. 5, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Eight years after stepping down as Baylor's head track and field coach to accept a less-taxing role as director of track and field, 78-year-old Clyde Hart doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit.
"He coaches as hard as he's ever coached," said former pupil and current head coach Todd Harbour. "I don't think he's ever slowed down."
The honoree at a surprise dinner Friday night celebrating his 50th anniversary at the school, Hart says if he wanted to be politically correct, "I'd probably say I'm still coaching because I enjoy it and it's fun and I just love being out here."
"The truth of the matter is I hate yard work," he said. "I'm going to keep coaching until I'm too crippled to do the yard work. If you ever see me in a wheelchair, I'm out of here."
Since returning to his alma mater in 1963 to replace Jack Patterson, his former track and field coach, Hart has seen Baylor develop into one of the elite programs in the country with a world-wide reputation as "Quarter-Miler U."
As part of his lasting legacy, he has trained athletes that have won an Olympic gold medal in six straight Olympics (1996-2012) and at least two gold medals in five consecutive Olympic Games (2000-2012). His list of pupils includes gold medal quarter-milers Michael Johnson (1996, 2000), Jeremy Wariner (2004) and Sanya Richards-Ross (2012), and his Baylor 4x400-meter relay teams have won a total of 20 NCAA national championships.
"I chose to come to Baylor because of Coach, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made," Johnson said in a prepared statement read by 14-time All-American Deon Minor. "Proof of that is the fact that I only had one coach my entire career. I can't even imagine being coached by anyone else. . . . At different times, he has been like a father, a best friend and a role model."
Wariner, who still trains under Hart, also sent a message that was read at Friday's dinner:
"I never thought when I got to Baylor that I would be where I am today with my career," he said. "We are just getting started. Not only have you been an amazing coach, but you have been a great friend and mentor. Thank you for being the greatest coach that anyone could ever ask for."
All told, Hart has coached nine Olympic athletes that have combined to win a dozen gold medals, one silver and three bronze. At Baylor, he has coached 34 national champions (14 individual and 20 relay) and 537 All-America performances - which translates to roughly 11 per year.
"In a day and age where coaches change schools, chasing dollars, coach Hart could have been anywhere," said 15-time All-American Tony Miller, now an assistant coach at SMU. "He is one of the best coaches that you will ever see blow a whistle. He was an amazing coach. But not only that, he was an amazing man. . . . In my darkest hours, coach Hart was there for me. He helped me wipe my tears, he celebrated with me and he always asked about my family. He was just an amazing person."
That sense of family was a recurring theme at the unofficial Hart tribute dinner. Harbour said he still remembers Hart driving eight hours to his home in Port Isabel, Texas, to attend his mom's funeral service.
"I never called him, never said my mom had passed, and he was there," Harbour said. "If there's anything that I can share, the legacy that coach Hart has passed on to me is about being a family. . . . The improvements we've made and continue to make are amazing. And we're moving forward with an on-campus track. But that's never been what Baylor track and field has been about. It's been about family; it's been about support; it's been about the amazing tradition and legacy. And I think that's what coach Hart has left us more than anything else."
"We work at Baylor because it is a special place," said Hart, who came to Baylor from Central High School in Arkansas in 1963 for the princely sum of $8,000 per year.
"It isn't brick and mortars. I remember telling recruits that I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that we'd never have the facilities of Texas or A&M or Oklahoma. We'll never have those facilities. But the good news is we didn't want to be an A&M or Texas. We wanted to be Baylor University, because we had the smaller classes, we had the better teachers, we had a better education. And that was something they could never do. They could never get their enrollment down to where they get the personal attention you people get or the friendships you're going to make with the quality people that come to this institution."
As emcee John Morris pointed out that when Hart came to Baylor 50 years ago, the price for a gallon of gasoline was 30 cents, the average cost of a new home was $19,300 and a new car cost a little over $3,200.
"And I came for $8,000, so I'm glad gas was 30 cents a gallon," said Hart, who was presented with a watch and a framed photo collage with a statement at the bottom that reads, "The story is still being told."
"He's truly one of the greatest track and field coaches, not just in this country, but in the world," said Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw, "and an absolute treasure for Baylor University. . . . It's amazing for any coach to stay in the profession for 50 years, let alone at one school. It just doesn't happen."
Hart said one of the things that helped extend his coaching career was his decision to "turn it over to Todd (Harbour)" in 2005.
"I offered to resign, but Ian said, `No, you can set your term, your hours,''' he said. "But I still come to work every day at 8:30 or 9. The coaching is a snap. . . . But I don't have the burden of doing it all. I don't have to figure out that budget. I don't have to take all those midnight calls. I'm an assistant coach, and I enjoy it."
Hart, who still works with the quarter-milers and 4x400-meter relay, officially begins his 50th season at Baylor when the Bears open the indoor season with the Texas A&M Invitational next Saturday, Jan. 12, in College Station, Texas.
"I've told Todd this several times: This is the best group of kids, as far as work ethic and getting out there and performing," he said. "And it's been my experience that those people that work hard, good things are going to happen to you down the road."
And Hart should know. He's been down that road many times.