After 18 years as coach of the Texas men’s track and field team, Bubba Thornton said Monday “it’s just time” for him to retire. In the process, the Longhorns also acknowledged it was time for an unprecedented change to their men’s and women’s track programs.
Thornton, 66, said his retirement will be effective Aug. 31. With his departure and the head-coaching vacancy in the women’s program after the resignation of Bev Kearney in early January, Texas said it will combine the men’s and women’s programs under one coaching staff for the first time in school history.
The athletic department posted the coaching vacancy to oversee both programs on the university’s Internet site Monday.
Speculation about combining the programs began shortly after Kearney resigned after acknowledging a consensual relationship with one of her student-athletes about 10 years earlier. Assistant coach Rose Brimmer served as the interim head coach of the women’s team for the rest of the academic year.
Combining men’s and women’s programs is a growing trend in the sport at the collegiate level. According to information supplied by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, only 11 BCS conference schools had split programs in 2012-13. Texas was the only program from the Big 12 that had separate teams.
Kearney said she faced a “severely hostile work environment at UT” in a complaint she filed in March with federal and state agencies. Among the issues Kearney listed were accusations of insulting treatment by Thornton.
He declined to discuss Kearney’s complaint Monday. “That’s a university issue, and that’s where it’s going to stay,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Thornton said of retiring. “It’s just time. I don’t know if there’s ever a right time, but this is the right time for me. You wake up and ask yourself, ‘You’re how old? You qualify for what?’ ”
Thornton has one year remaining on his contract, which pays him $203,800 annually, excluding incentives. In its release, the university said it will honor the final year of the contract.
“DeLoss (Dodds, the men’s athletic director) and I had a mutual agreement on that,” Thornton said, “and I feel really good about it.”
A UT spokesman said Dodds was not available for comment, but in the school’s statement, Dodds praised Thornton.
“Not only has he amassed a notable record here at UT, but his capabilities have been recognized internationally,” Dodds said of Thornton, head coach of the 2008 U.S. men’s Olympic team.
Thornton arrived at Texas in 1998 after spending the previous 13 years as head coach of the men’s and women’s teams at TCU, his alma mater, where he was a football and track star. At Texas, his teams won 12 league championships, including both the indoor and outdoor titles this year.
His Longhorns never won an NCAA team title — their best finishes were a second place at the 1997 outdoor meet and third-place showings at the 2007 and 2008 indoor meets — but Thornton coached 26 individual NCAA champions. That includes two at the recent NCAA outdoor meet, shot-putter Ryan Crouser and decathlete Johannes Hock.
“When I think about all the athletic performances, and about all the guys who came in as kids and left as young men, I get a little teary-eyed,” Thornton said. “It truly is one of the singular most important honors of my life for me to get to lead this program.”
Coaching highlights at Texas
A former college football and track star who was a rookie teammate of O.J. Simpson’s with the Buffalo Bills, Bubba Thornton led the Texas men’s track and field program for 18 years, from 1996 to 2013. Here’s a look at some of his coaching highlights during that span:
- Nineteen top-10 finishes at the NCAA championships, 10 in the indoor meet and nine outdoor.
- Twenty-six NCAA individual indoor or outdoor champions, plus one relay champion. At the 2013 NCAA outdoor meet, shot-putter Ryan Crouser and decathlete Johannes Hock won titles for Texas.
- A dozen conference titles at UT, split evenly between indoor and outdoor.
- Ten-time honoree as the Big 12 men’s coach of the year.
- Head coach of the U.S. men’s track and field team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The American men won 14 medals, four of them gold, and swept the 400 meters.
- Head coach of the U.S. men’s team at the 2003 world championships in Paris.
— John Maher