Tuesday, June 28, 2016

V 6 N. 46 Sam Bell, legendary coach passes away


Sam Bell,  track coach at Indiana University, Cal Berkeley, and Oregon State passed away this week.   Though I did not know  him or work with him, my friend Bill Schnier who coached under Mr. Bell knew him very well.   I never heard anything except positive words about Sam coming from that source.  He was a no nonsense guy, but one that knew what was best for his athletes and pointed them always in the right direction.  George Brose

The following is Bill Schnier's tribute to Sam:

Sam Bell


My friend and mentor has died.  So has as good a track and cross country coach who ever lived.  Sam Bell will be recognized for coaching 11 Olympians, 2 NCAA cross country champions, 147 All-Americans, 233 Big Ten individual champions, 26 Big Ten team champions, and 23 teams which placed in the top ten at the NCAAs.  He was known as the head coach of the US team at the famous 1964 Cold War dual meet with the USSR at the LA Coliseum and later served as the US distance coach at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.  He left his mark at Oregon State University, the University of California, and Indiana University.  He was a meet manager second to none.  Sam was a giant in our sport.


But those facts pale in comparison to the enormous influence he had upon the lives of so many athletes and coaches.  I have been privy to hundreds of conversations with others who knew Sam personally, and the words exchanged always recounted the same story, about a man who made a real difference in our lives.  My years with Sam at Indiana University were only five (1975-80) but they were life-changing years for my family and me.  He made everything else which followed at the University of Cincinnati possible.  Because he fully understood all aspects of the job, he was able to pass that information on to others.  Some coaches are good with technique, or motivation, or teaching, or administration, or vision, or relationships, or expectations, or strategy, or emotion, or knowledge.  Sam was good with all of these, and even more.  There was not one facet of coaching which escaped his attention.  Those other coaches who emphasized a limited number of these qualities dropped by the wayside, one by one.  They just couldn’t keep up with Sam who excelled at all of them.


I first met Sam at a clinic he and Charlie Baker conducted at Indiana University about 1972.  Each one would alternate teaching technique about a track and field event, and each would know more about it than any specialty expert you could ever find.  They were part of an era when each school had only one or two coaches, but in their case two was enough.  I wanted to coach the very best, to switch from high school to college coaching, so I chose Sam Bell to help me get there.  He was more than a helper, he was a coach of coaches.  He was demanding and difficult to work with, but he would do anything to assist a person along the way.  I never had to write anything down because what he said was usually unforgettable.  When I asked him in Oregon one day how Oregon and Oregon State were able to make track and field so important there, he told me “dual meets are the life blood of track and field.”  When I asked him why he left California to come to Indiana he replied “weather is overrated.”  When I asked him once about the importance of an up-and-coming meet, he noted “we treat every meet like the Olympic Games.”  After a heart attack in 1979 when he heard the doctors say to each other that they didn’t think he would make it, I asked Sam if he had been scared.  He said matter of factly “no, if I die, I die.  It would be my time.”


Sam was always vocal at track and cross country meetings, whether local or national.  Whenever he talked the room would grow silent.  Always there would be grumbling among lesser coaches who could not beat him, but Sam never favored a decision which would help the Hoosiers that year or even the next if it conflicted with the bigger picture.  His goal would be to benefit the sport in the long run.  He kept us centered and focused on why we were there in the first place.  All Sam did was based on his Christian faith, one which surely changed over his lifetime but never wavered, at least in outward appearance.  While writing individual workouts for athletes he would always prescribe going to church on Sunday.  I often wondered how many did so because of Sam.  Our country, and even the world, is populated by people who are better because of Sam Bell.  As one of them I simply say “thank you, Coach Bell.”


Bill Schnier,  Coach-emeritus,  University of Cincinnati
Indiana University grad assistant and assistant coach, 1975-80.

1 comment:

Richard Trace said...

quite a testimonial.