As a state-of-the-art stadium bearing his name rises along the Brazos River, Clyde Hart, BBA ’56, says he continues to sell Baylor to track and field recruits in the same way he was sold on it: by starting with the University’s distinct offering of an outstanding Christian education within a beautiful campus setting.
“That’s the way I’ve recruited ever since the beginning,” says Hart, a Hot Springs, Ark. native and son of a Baptist minister. With a combined 55 years of experience as a Baylor coach and student athlete, the director of track and field/400 Meters and architect of “Quarter-Miler U” still believes in selling the University first and then the program and facilities afterward. “I used to do that partially because of necessity—because when I arrived, Baylor didn’t even have a track,” he says.
When Hart was a teenager, he was impressed by visiting Baylor student athletes, such as Bill Sharpton, Jerry Coody and Jackie Robinson, Baylor’s first Olympian and who preached at Hart’s church in Hot Springs. A state champion sprinter, Hart had committed to Louisiana State University before learning Baylor also would offer him a scholarship.
A key moment for Hart was when his Baylor teammates accepted the freshman as an “official Texan” when—exceeding their expectations—he won the 100-yard dash against highly touted Texas sprinter Joe Childress at a meet in Waco.
Hart credits his former Baylor coach Jack Patterson for jump starting the Baylor track program and inspiring Hart to become a coach. Since 1952, Hart’s time at Baylor has been interrupted only once—after graduation, he spent one year working for an oil company in Wink, Texas, and six years as a teacher and coach at Little Rock (Ark.) Central High School.
Hart’s first day on the job at Central High was one of national historical significance. Sept. 4, 1957, happened to be the day when the Little Rock Nine arrived to enroll in the formerly all-white school.
“My first day on the job, we’re going through police barricades and all of the people screaming and yelling on the streets and the National Guard stopping the integration,” Hart recalls. “Finally, President (Dwight) Eisenhower sent the 101 Airborne in on Sept. 25. We had school that year, but the next year, 1958, was an election year in Arkansas. Gov. (Orval) Faubus had promised that the schools would never be integrated as long as he was governor. We get ready for school to start, and at the last minute they said, ‘We’ve got some bomb scares. The school is not going to open.’”
Although the school did not open for the rest of the year, the football team still played its schedule with a heavily depleted roster.
“That experience just showed me you don’t know where the talent is and to give kids a chance,” he says. “I’ve had talent at Baylor, but I’ve always had a philosophy to never cut anybody off my team because you don’t know how a kid is going to develop down the road.”
Central High’s cinder track was a casualty of military tank treads. When temperatures grew cold, the troops also burned the school’s wooden hurdles.
Since Central High had no money for repairs, Hart and his wife decided to write President Eisenhower requesting funds. It worked.
“We got new aluminum hurdles, they fixed the track, and we became Republicans,” quips Hart, whose teams won five state championships and more than 100 track meets during his tenure there.
In 1963, Hart accepted John Bridger’s offer to become Baylor’s head track and field coach, a position he held for the next 42 years until retiring in 2005 to become Baylor’s director of track and field/400 meters.
He has coached nine Olympians, including Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner and Sanya Richards-Ross, who have won a total of 13 Olympic gold medals, two silver and two bronze. Hart’s pupils have won one or more gold medals in six straight Olympic Games.
His Baylor men’s 4x400-meter relay teams have earned outdoor All-America status in 24 of the last 25 years and captured 20 NCAA titles combined in indoors and outdoors. Hart has coached 34 national champions and 545 All-America performances—419 times by men and by 126 women. Hart’s teams have turned in 10 World-Best performances and nine NCAA record efforts.
Selected as USA Track & Field’s 1996, 2004 and 2006 Nike Coach of the Year, Hart is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the USA Track & Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Baylor Wall of Honor and the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus and has received the W.R. White Award and the Herbert Reynolds Service Award. He served as an assistant coach on the United States’ 2000 Olympic team and was named the U.S. Olympic Committee’s National Track & Field Coach of the Year in 1996, 2004 and 2006. A two-time NCAA National Indoor Coach of the Year, four-time Southwest Conference Indoor Coach of the Year and one-time Big 12 Coach of the Year honoree, Hart received the highest track coaching honor of all in 2009 when he was named the International Coach of the Year by the International Amateur Athletic Federation.
Baylor roots run deep within the Hart family. His wife, Dr. Maxine Barton Hart, BBA ’56, is professor emeritus of Information Systems at Baylor. Their family includes sons Greg and Scott, MBA ’98, daughter-in-law Kim and grandchildren Ryan, MBA ’13, Mason, a Baylor junior, and Kennedy Ann.
The advancement of the women’s track program is one of Hart’s proudest accomplishments, having volunteered to take the sport from being a physical education course in the early 1970s to a distinguished NCAA Division I program today.
“If somebody told me that I could only coach men or women, it would be an awfully tough decision,” he says.
While Hart worked to piece together the Hart Patterson Track facility over a 50-year period, he says the new Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium will be complete from Day One.
“It is a first-class design, and there won’t be a better running track in the country,” he says.
Although he had many chances to coach elsewhere during his 51 years as a Baylor coach, Hart has never found a better place to call home.
“I believe that Baylor is different than any other school in America,” Hart says. “It is as nice and modern as any university—not as big as some, but no one can duplicate what Baylor has. I don’t know how we could do much better than we’ve been doing. What’s happened to the campus over the past 10 or so years—it is amazing.
“Never in all of my years have I come across a Baylor person across the nation that isn’t proud to be a Baylor graduate,” he continues. “They know that Baylor is a unique place. I think people come to Baylor for a certain reason, and that reason never changes: you get a Christian education.”