Sunday, May 15, 2005

Houston Cougars + Leroy Burrell = Championships

The University of Houston Cougars men’s and women’s track and field team won the Conference USA Outdoor Championships yesterday at the Lewis/Tellez Complex on the UH campus. The men’s program became the first team in C-USA history to win the big three: outdoor, indoor, and cross country championships.

I can remember back to the days when track at UH was the primary sport of the university. I worked, and still do, as a track official at numerous meets around Texas. I “cut my teeth” in the world of track officiating at UH. The likes of Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Carol Lewis, and Jenny Adams were always there. It was so very exciting to be in attendance at those meet. Even when they were not in the competition, Lewis, Burrell, and their cohorts could be counted on the inspire those competing to the higher levels of the sport.

When veteran UH Head Coach Tom Tellez retired, many wondered where the program would go? How would it survive? During Tellez’s final years, the quality of track had dropped significantly at UH. Many yearned for the old times when Olympic and world class athletes ran, jumped, and threw at every meet.

I remember when it was announce that Leroy Burrell had been named as Tellez’s replacement. Some said it was public relations stunt to get athletes to sign with the Cougars. Imagine a high school runner, sitting in his living room with his or her parents bring talked to an Olympic Gold Medalist, a person who had gone to the pinnacle in his sport. Many though it was in the same jest as Clyde Drexler being hired as the UH basketball coach. Drexler didn’t last long, but I am sure he gave it is best.

Burrell is succeeding in his sport after being a world class athlete. There are so many people that think they can make the transition from player to coach. You know the mind set: I played the sport, so I can coach it. Many find that the transition is not all that easy. Just because you were a world class athlete does not mean you can be a world class coach.

It is refreshing to see a former athlete succeeding as a coach. Leroy Burrell is such a pleasant individual to be around. I have seen many cases of him being approached by individuals; fans and athletes, young and old, and no matter what time of day or how tired he was, being pleasant and accommodating to all of them.

It is obvious that he is committed to his athletes. He is always there for encouragement, pumping them up and giving them that last bit of coaching advice to help them achieve to their best.

Famous people, athletes and coaches alike, sometimes attempt to live off of their past. They use their success in their chosen sport to fuel their life as long as they can. Coach Burrell is not one of them. That is what sets him above the others. He has lived the dream of every athlete, rising to the top of their sport, with all its glory and everything that it implies. Now he is rising to the top as a coach. That is a wonderful thing to watch.

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