When Mark Robison took the helm of the BYU men's track program eight years ago, there were a lot of ways he could have handled it.
He could have rested on the reputation of his legendary father, a former Olympian and architect of the Cougar program, which he built into one of the most dominating track and field legacies in the region. He could have coasted on the draft of his predecessor, Willard Hirschi.
He could have bungled the baton handoff, dropped it to the ground in mid-race and embarrassed himself with the program.
But Robison's done quite the opposite. A man with a permanent Eagle Scout attitude, he's a person without guile. He's used his affable, easygoing personality to recruit talent, persuading many to accept partial scholarships.
Robison just finished putting the puzzle together for
an 11th straight BYU conference title over the weekend in Fort Worth.
That 11th consecutive title sets a school record at BYU, transcending any stretch of titles in the WAC or MWC by his father, or Hirschi, who is now retired. This 26th conference outdoor title surpasses any sport at BYU including the 23 in football.
Since he's been BYU's head track coach, Mark Robison has never lost a conference track championship. For his efforts, he was named the MWC track coach of the year for the fifth straight season.
Robison's found the cruise control switch for BYU track.
It could also be argued the competition in these parts just isn't there. Utah, for instance, doesn't have a men's track team. Wyoming barely does. TCU, however, fields some of the top sprinters in the country if not the world and nearly won the title merely with its sprint and relay teams.
The key may be in the numbers. Since Title IX, the sport of men's track has stripped scholarships to 12.69. A school like TCU, which placed seven of the top eight sprinters in the 200, may hand out full scholarships, limiting how many events the Frogs can compete in. BYU spreads those dozen through a squad of 60 athletes and routinely challenges in most events except the sprints.
A big help is getting a packhorse like sophomore Leif Arrhenius to win the discus, shot put and come in second in the hammer. He scored 28 of BYU's 210 points. It's also helpful to get a football player or two to compete in track without a scholarship. A recent grid commit, Adam Timo, a junior state record holder from St. George (7-foot-2 high jumper), could prove valuable two years from now.
Balance. Perhaps that's Robison's secret. And it can only be achieved by selling recruits on sharing grant-in-aid money, something the NCAA prohibits in football and basketball.
Former BYU and Alabama athletic director Glen Tuckett said maintaining athletic success is the toughest challenge of winning programs.
Robison did well to add former All-American Ed Eyestone (distance runner) and Leonard-Myles Mills (sprinter) to his staff.
Unranked BYU's win over a surging 17th-ranked TCU on Saturday underscored the chemistry Robison has achieved.
"Mark was always a favorite of our athletes," said Hirschi. "He is friendly and close to our athletes. He is young, close enough to their age to easily relate to them. Plus he has a special quality, a likability, which is unique to a few people."
Robison is heading into his 21st year as a coach in the program after competing as an athlete himself in the early '80s. Combined, he and his father, now deceased, have 60 years with the Cougar track administration.
"I remember his father who I worked with for 26 years as well as being one of his athletes in the early 1950s," said Hirschi.
"I figure I knew Robby well, and Mark has his father's gracious, kindly qualities."
Mark Robison worked as an assistant to Hirschi before being appointed his successor in 2000."Mark has had high standards and worked hard and was a good recruiter. He had good common sense and an intense interest in the young men he worked with. He was loyal to me and the BYU community. There was never any question about his support of University standards. He willingly did whatever I asked him to do," said Hirschi.