Tiger tracks: Pat Henry always has the LSU men's and women's track teams in the hunt.
COACH: How do you explain the Lady Tigers' overwhelming dominance-11 straight NCAA outdoor titles and eight indoor crowns, including five consecutively-in 11 years?
HENRY: A lot of it has to do with the kind of people we recruit and our expectations for them. They get a little extra motivation from the fact that the group before them won and the group before that won, and the group before that won. It kind of snowballs from there.
When young people train with winners in a winning tradition, they begin feeling that if they work hard, they too can be successful.
COACH: Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, what sports did you play at Del Norte HS?
HENRY: I ran cross-country and track and even wrestled a bit. But I did not achieve any real success. But I came from a family of coaches and I persevered.
My grandfather had been the head football coach and track at Kansas, Missouri, and New Mexico, and my dad was a track coach at the U. of New Mexico. I competed in the 800-meters at college.
COACH: You went on to receive a Bachelor's degree at New Mexico in 1973, and then went right into high school coaching at Hobbs H.S. You won four state championships in 10 years and then moved on to develop a powerhouse program at Blinn Junior College in Brenham, TX.
Did you have any mentors at the time-coaches from whom you learned the sport?
HENRY: I always felt good about my family's involvement in sport. So I emulated and watched. I know that my grandfather, Gwinn Henry was once declared the "fastest man in the world." I just naturally gravitated to sports and coaching.
COACH: What events did you specialize in as a coach during your formative years?
HENRY: At Hobbs HS, I had a couple of assistants and so I could basically work with the runners. At Blinn, I had no assistants and so I coached everything from the hammer throw to 100-meters.
COACH: When did you begin coaching women?
HENRY: I coached women all during my 10 years of high school coaching, but not at the junior college level.
COACH: Do you have any preference between men and women athletes?
HENRY: No, I just think of athletes as good or bad.
COACH: How many assistant coaches do you have?
HENRY: Five. My sprint assistant, Dennis Shaver, works with my female sprinters and my male and female hurdlers; Boo Schexnayder works with our multi-event athletes and all of our long, triple, and high jumpers and pole-vaulters; Kent Pagel works with our throwers, and Mark Elliott works with our middle-distance, distance, and cross-country runners.
COACH: How many scholarships do you have for track and field? How intensive is your recruiting process?
HENRY: For men we have 12.6, which is the NCAA limit. And for the women, we have 18, which is also the NCAA limit. We recruit talent no matter where it is.
COACH: How do you account for your staff's uncanny ability to develop unheralded talent?
HENRY: We've had our share of great athletes who simply got better, as well as our share of pretty good athletes who ended up being great.
I think environment and continuity play a big role in the development of athletes. My assistants have been with me a number of years and help give us the stability and consistency that enables us to do the most with what we have.
COACH: What kind of athlete do you recruit at LSU?
HENRY: Like everyone else we have to look first for the kids who can get into our school and stay eligible. Then we have to decide whether the great athletes we are considering fit into our environment. We want people with the personality and mentality to fit comfortably into our program.
That's not always true with the great athlete. We want the people who are best for us and what we are trying to accomplish. Of course we realize that if you can't recruit great athletes, you can't be successful at this level.
COACH: How do you account for the slump track and field has been in over the past decade or so?
HENRY: I would contest that statement. If you look at the participation figures, track and field continues to grow at the high school level. It may be the second biggest sport (most participants) at the high school level, with cross-country right up there beside it. Track is a participant sport, a sport that involves people and not necessarily watchers.
At the collegiate level, there is a saturation level. There are only so many dollars with which to promote sports. And for one reason or another, track and field has not had the money to promote itself. Unlike the rest of the world, which doesn't have football, baseball, or basketball to the extent that we have, the promotional dollars are spent on soccer and track and field. Those are the big sports so they attract the people.
If you don't put your promotional dollars into a sport, you're just not going to get anything out of it.
COACH: Do you have any theories about ways of reversing the trend?
HENRY: I don't think track has done a very good job of selling itself. I think we take too much time to run a track meet. Some-times it appears to run on forever, maybe even six or seven hours. That's bad. I just don't think you can get people to come out and sit there for that long a period.
COACH: Have you entertained any thoughts about coaching one of the U.S. Olympic track teams?
HENRY: I really look at myself as a college coach. The political involvement at other levels is something I never really got involved with. I am happy to be coaching on the college level.
COACH: How do you feel our men's arid women's teams will fare at the Summer Games in 2004? In what events will we have an advantage?
HENRY: I've heard negative things about our teams. Where are our sprinters? Where is this? And where is that? And then I look at our college athletes and it amazes me. We have great people everywhere! We continue to have great athletes coming through our system.
But we have to find a way of keeping our young people in the sport after their college careers are over. Right now that's a major problem. If we can accomplish that, I believe our Olympic programs would surely prosper.
As far as what events we'll do well in, I'd say the relays, sprints, and jumps. They have always been our stand-bys and I think they will continue to remain so. But I also believe we have great athletes in every event area. I'm very optimistic.
COACH: How do our American track coaches stack up against international coaches?
HENRY: I think we have the best coaches in the world. It's obvious when you look at the history of the sport and the Olympic movement. And we always have a lot of young coaches coming up to perpetuate our status.
COACH: Can you envision anyone in the foreseeable future challenging the Kenyans in the distance events? Can their success be directly attributed to the altitude factor?
HENRY: Environment has a lot to do with your success in various areas. Kenya is a great example of the high altitude theory. They believe in their invincibility and never stop working at it. It's quite possible they could produce two or three athletes who could run a pretty good 200, 400, or 100-meters--if anyone cared enough to give them a chance!
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|Title Annotation:||Interview with Louisiana State University's coach|
|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||May 1, 2003|
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