By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Michael Johnson. Trayvon Bromell. Tiffany Townsend. Stacey Bowers. Felix Obi. Jeremy Wariner. Rachel Johnson. Todd Harbour. Willie Caldwell. Annie Rhodes.
Baylor track legends one and all, and that’s only a sample of the history of Baylor track and field. Baylor has produced a staggering nine Olympic gold medals, 36 NCAA championships and 606 All-American seasons. Runners from Baylor have gone on to compete on some of the biggest stages in the world, leaving their names etched into the annals of athletic history.
Rachel Johnson, a six-time All-American during her four years at Baylor, said she feels that there’s something in the water at Baylor.
“The coaches and the mindset and atmosphere that they built on the team is a really, really good one,” Johnson said.
Johnson is far from alone in this sentiment.
“Every program has a reputation,” said Kirsten Stepcick Howard, a 1994 graduate of the program. “Baylor has a legacy.”
Many of these athletes point to one man as a key point of their success: coach Clyde Hart. Now the director of track and field at Baylor, Hart coached the Bears from 1963 to 2005.
The resume he left behind is nothing short of legendary.
Hart coached Olympic gold medal winners in six straight games, including the champion in the men’s 400 meters from 1996 to 2004. That unforgettable streak in the 400 led to Baylor becoming known worldwide as “Quarter-Miler U.” Michael Ford, associate head coach of the Baylor men’s track team and a member of the national champion 4×400 meter relay team in both 1995 and ‘96, said Hart taught the team togetherness above everything else.
“We’re more of a family … [that’s] one of the things Coach Hart did well,” Ford said.
Tony Miller, another member of Hart’s 400 squad, said the coach was very devoted to seeing his athletes succeed off the track, as getting a degree was always the No. 1 focus, no matter how fast they ran.
“Coach Hart’s impact on that team was immeasurable. You can’t put one thing that Coach Hart meant to that team. He embodied what that track team stood for,” Miller said.
Those values persist in the team today, as associate women’s head coach Stacey Smith, formerly Bowers, said they care about the athletes as more than what they can do for the team.
“When you bring in the type of kids [Hart] was recruiting at that time, it was just fireworks,” Miller said.
But what was it that made Baylor so appealing to all these top-shelf talents?
“Coach Hart had made a tradition of excellence there. … I wanted to be the best, and be coached by the best,” Miller said.
“I bleed green and gold, so when the opportunity came with the offer, I decided to come back,” Ford said on his return to Baylor as a coach.
Every corner of the Baylor track program has Hart’s fingerprints all over it — from the short sprints, to the world-renowned quarter miles, to the long-distance events. Even after he stepped away from coaching, Hart has continued to have a strong influence on the team.
Hart had a heavy hand in the first women’s Big 12 track title in Baylor history, coming in 2017.
“You could see the women start to evolve. You could see them start to really enjoy what they were doing,” Smith said.
In the post-Hart era, Baylor has continued to be the program that Hart designed it to be. The family dynamic, strong basis in faith and heightened sense of team camaraderie remain core tenets of the program. A specific point of head coach Todd Harbour’s vision for the team is making sure that program strives to “build the total person.”
Going back more than 60 years, Baylor has been a fixture in the collegiate track and field landscape, producing champions and elite competitors time and again. From Jack Patterson to Clyde Hart to Todd Harbour, Baylor has been led by coaches that combine their strong desire to win with a strong desire to see their athletes grow as people and in their faith.