KEEPING TRACK, Two Iconic Coaches

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KEEPING TRACK, Two Iconic Coaches

Written by Rod O’Donnell on 04 August 2016.

As I sat down to write this month’s article, I had a topic and a plan to develop; however, that idea quickly changed when I learned that two iconic coaches had passed away – Pat Summit, the legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, and Sam Bell, renowned former track coach at Indiana University.

I never met Coach Summit, but followed her career, success, and coaching style. Fortunately, I did know Coach Bell for many years, listened to his advice, followed his workouts, and emulated his coaching style.

Even though they coached different sports, the formula for their success was very similar. Both were fierce and fiery competitors who demanded the best from their athletes, on and off the court and field, and both were widely respected by their peers. Passion for their profession was evident, whether it was during competition, at coaching clinics, in practice, or at public appearances. They always promoted their respective sports and wanted nothing but the best for their student-athletes.

As I remember Coach Bell, there are an endless number of traits and many more examples that made it easy to understand why he was successful. He constantly promoted our sport by leading the National Coaches’ Associated as its president. Indiana was noted for conducting outstanding, well-organized meets; the NCAA cross-country regional and national cross-country championships, indoor and outdoor invitationals, and USATF National Junior and Senior Meets were held in Bloomington. Bell also played a pivotal role in bringing the Olympic Trials to Indianapolis, and, for a period of time, made that city a national and international location for major meets. I am sure, to the chagrin of this great coach, that is no longer true.

His relationship with his athletes is illustrated in two publications, Running Back, the story of IU distance runner, Steve Heidenreich, who was struck by a car and nearly killed while training in Bloomington, and Sam Bell in the Track and Field Locker Room, a collection of the pre/post-meet commentary that he used with his teams, along with copies of letters that he sent to friends of IU track and cross-country. To fully appreciate the coach and collegiate track and field in the ‘70’s, this is a must-read. His honest and direct advice that was passed along in these reports reflects his high expectations, his intolerance for mediocrity, and his desire to see that his young men could perform to the best of their abilities, all traits that took Indiana to the heights that the program achieved.

To Coach Bell, track was a team sport with a schedule filled with many dual meets and a few invitationals. Unlike today, because of his philosophy, track and cross-country were vibrant and interesting sports that the public understood and related to. Obviously, this did not hurt the program, as Bell’s teams won many Big Ten Championships, were always competitive on the national level, and produced multiple numbers of All-Americans.

In the last report in The Locker Room, Coach Bell emphasized three life lessons that reflect his winning philosophy:

1)      “If you are part of something, give all that you have to give.”

2)      “Don’t be satisfied with a good effort when you are capable of a great effort.”

3)      “Character is illustrated by recognizing challenges, then figuring out how to meet them with   

           all of your strength, wisdom, and will. Your will is probably the most important.”

He went on to say, “The things I’ve spoken about refer to all of life. They reflect on outlooks about yourself and what kind of contribution you make to those you come in contact with.”

Sam Bell, the contributions that you made to those whom you came in contact with, to the sport of track and field, and to this writer, were priceless, and, for that, we are forever grateful. Thank you for all that you did and for the positive differences that you made.


Yours in track, Rod O’Donnell

Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on -

KEEPING TRACK -  Caldwell Story -

KEEPING TRACK - Furman Elite Training Group -

Keeping Track - 2 Divisions for 120 Lacrosse teams?

Boy's Division II and Division III -

Boy's Division I -


KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes -

 The Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross-Country Championships -

Cross Country -

 Track Faces Challenges that could have adverse effects thus causing severe damage -

Marketing Track & Field -

Student Athlete’s Questions -

The Need to Speak Up -

A new book by John McDonnell -

KEEPING TRACK - From September-October 2013 print RUNOHIO -

Random Thoughts -

Another Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program -

 Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision -

Life Lessons from Cross Country -

Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches -

London Olympics -

 Improving as a Coach –

You Only Go Around Once -

Dear Jesse Owens –

West Virginia State Cross Country Championship –

SPIRE Institute -

Why is the OHSAA Treating Cross Country Different than All of the Other Sponsored Sports?

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