I recently had a real treat, interviewing Leroy Burrell, the two-time "World's Fastest Human" (1991 & '94) and the current University of Houston Track & Field Head Coach. Leroy invited me to join him in his office for a truly enjoyable conversation, one that I hope you will enjoy here in text as well.
DD – Good afternoon Leroy, thanks for inviting me over today. Let's get the "Hot News" out on the table first, what can you tell me about the star of the 2002 Southwestern Bell Texas High School All-Star football game, UH track & field recruit Vincent Marshall, who scored three touchdowns in the North team's victory?
LB – Well, Vincent is an excellent athlete, he sat right there where you are and told me that he wanted to come to UH and be a part of the track program. He asked if there might be an opportunity to play football, but it was more of inquiry. I said that it was up to the football coaches whether or not he would get the opportunity, so he went ahead through his spring track season thinking he was just going to run and jump here at UH. I think that in his mind he was wavering, actually I know that in his mind he was wavering on playing football, so we just went on with the idea of getting him in here as a track athlete and going to school.
DD – Did he have any football offers?
LB –I think Sam Houston and SW Texas offered him.
DD – Was that because of his size (5'9", 160 lb.) and his interest in track?
LB – I think so, his size was a concern, but he is a heck of an athlete. He has a 40" vertical and I look for him to be a great jumper and relay guy for us, he has 400-meter speed as well. I don't know his 40-time because we don't look at that, but he was on a two-time state championship football team so he knows how to win. He is a real direct to the point, decisive guy and I really like that. Let's not leave out that he is also a two-time state champion triple jumper as well. Last time that I looked he had the third best mark in the country for high school this year. We feel like we got one of the best high school track guys in the country, he turned down a track offer from Arkansas, I don't know how many national titles they have. He put some faith in us and we are really appreciative of that.
DD – Has there been any talk of him working out with the football team or I guess that I should ask can he work out with the football team?
LB – Well, I'm not a compliance officer so I don't want to speak to that.
DD – It is my understanding that if you sign as a track athlete that you have to compete for a year in track before you can become available for another sport, is that correct?
LB – Well, one thing is that football never recruited him and the other is that we only have 12.6 scholarships available so we have to divvy them up a lot. I'm a Cougar and an alumnus and I want the best athletes here, he landed in my lap, but it is incumbent on all of us that want to see him develop that we work together for what is best for Vincent and all parties involved.
DD – Segueing from Vincent into the men's program, I find it a little odd that the program has fallen on hard times or so it seems here of late. We have always had a strong group of sprinters and jumpers here at UH, why aren't we stronger in those areas now?
LB – Well, as far as the sprints are concerned, we lost the developmental link, Sam Jefferson was the last great sprinter we had, we had Carl Lewis, then Stanley Floyd, then me and Joe DeLoach, there was always a great sprinter here for a long time to work with a push with to achieve a higher standard. It has been difficult since Sam left because we do not have a model sprinter out there to attract other sprinters here like we have had in the past and the type that we are accustomed to.
DD – Even with your presence here and that of Coach Tellez?
LB – Yeah, there are other factors of course as well, one being that we are in Conference USA and it was a terrible track conference when we entered it. Look at some of the results when we came in, it was a shock, we had collegiate level runners and the others, for the most part, did not. Unfortunately during that period we were winning championships, but we were actually get worse as a team. It was a slow decline, but sometimes the worst death is a slow death. That slow decline masked the fact that we really didn't work hard every year and finally it came to a head and we lost the conference championship and we realized that we had to change how we were doing things.
DD – Now that TCU is in the conference, I see the level of competition rising, they have had a good program for quite a while, right?
LB – Now, that has changed the whole dynamic. Basically, that changed our perspective, we had to say ‘wait a minute' and we need a guy who can run a 10.1 in the 100, we need a long jumper who can go 26 feet. We will need a better athlete to compete with TCU than with the rest of the conference as we have known it thus far. TCU will do wonders for C-USA and us by raising the level of competition. Although we have a great history, our credibility over the short-term has been shot. Up to this point, there have been times that we have had a hard time getting our guys in the right frame of mind for competing in C-USA because the level of competition is not what we had been used to, TCU will help take care of that. At the conference championship a couple of years ago I'm giving the guys the pep talk and I can see that it just not there for them, the next day I come and say ‘guys we are in trouble'. We have let the men's program slip and we are in the processing of rebuilding it now with the help of guys like Vincent Marshall and others. So we've stepped it up and have a few guys who are real ‘winners' now.
DD – Who else do we have that you look to see as stars for the men's team?
LB – We have Derek Randall coming in, he is a discus thrower from Beeville High School. He was the 2000 and 2001 Texas High School state champion with a throw of 191-11. He also won the discus at the 2000 and 2001 Texas Relays. He has real All-American potential and we haven't had a thrower in a while so he will help a lot. We still have found that super star sprinter yet to get that part of the team really going again.
DD – Let's talk a little about the success of the women's team, how did this develop?
LB – Well, we had a star in Jenny Adams and we had Ifoma Jones, they were perennial All-Americans, Jenny was a two-time NCAA Champion. Jenny, Ifoma and miler Dawn Charlier were out front and due to their tremendous efforts we were able to get some pretty serious talent in here and things just started to take off.
DD – With the 2002 C-USA Indoor and Outdoor Championships in hand and the fact that we have Lady Cougar Olympians still competing in this year's Golden League prospects look very bright indeed for the ladies team. Should we expect more successes?
LB – Well, that's just it, we still have that development chain working on our side for the ladies, plus we have Michelle Collins, Sandra Glover and Jenny representing the program on the world stage in the Golden League events and it is a recipe for success. The ladies are established and if you take a look at our history, the women's program has always done a little better than the men. The men always had super stars, but the women always scored a lot of points.
DD – What about facilities, obviously this is a grand facility (AAC), but how would you rate our current situation?
LB – Obviously, we have great facilities here, but our fans don't see the rest of our conference's facilities, for the most part, like they did when we were competing in the SWC, almost everyone has great facilities now. For example, Louisville has outstanding facilities, PaPa John's Stadium is unbelievable, their Olympic sports facility is as well and then they have Freedom Hall. Memphis and Charlotte have great sports complexes as well. It's not quite like 1995 when we opened the AAC, thanks to John Moores, any longer the others are catching up.
DD – Looking back at your career here, I think a lot of people think that you and Carl Lewis came through UH at about the same time, but there was a few years between the two of you, right?
LB - Yes, Carl arrived in 1980 and I got here in 1986. I think that there are a couple of reasons that some might think that, we ran on the same 4x100 team that set the world record in 1992 and won the Gold Medal at Olympic Games that year and I set my first 100-meter world record (9.90) while still in school in 1991.
DD – How many years does a sprinter have to be truly world-class?
LB – Well, it really depends on the sprinter. I was around for a while and obviously, Carl was around for quite a while, but yes, the regimen necessary to be world-class makes it very difficult to maintain that level for very long.
DD – The last topic that I wanted to cover was the influence and legacy of Coach Tom Tellez, how would you characterize his tenure here?
LB – Actually, I think it is important to go back and talk about Coach Johnny Morris, we have had a great track history for years, he is remembered more for his distance and cross country guys, but an important part of the history of UH track & field nonetheless.
When Coach Tellez came in he got things going and took the program in a totally different direction by bringing in more sprinters and jumpers. Of course, he broke through with Carl, is a member of the Hall of Fame and produced some of the greatest track & field performers of all-time.
So I guess it depends who you ask, if you ask the older guys who is the face of UH track they will say Johnny Morris and the guys of our generation will say Tom Tellez. I'm following two twenty plus year coaches and trying to get the program where I feel comfortable with it and bring it to a standard that all Cougars can be proud of.
Coach thanks again for taking time out of your schedule to fill Cougar fans in on the latest here in the track & field program.
Eat ‘Em Up!