Head Coach Bubba Thornton
Date of birth: March 9, 1947
For Texas head men's track and field coach Bubba Thornton, the 2007-08 season will be a memorable time in his storied coaching career. In March of 2007, the United States Track and Field Olympic Committee officially named Thornton as the leader for the men's squad at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Starting his 13th season on the Forty Acres, Thornton has transformed the men's program at UT into a Big 12 powerhouse and perennial national title contender. He has produced 69 All-Americans (indoor and outdoor), and his athletes hold 15 of the 19 indoor school records and 11 of the 21 modern outdoor records. The Horns have produced 14 NCAA individual champions and 74 athletes who have combined to secure 113 All-America honors during his tenure
Thornton has become one of the most highly respected coaches in the sport and has served USATF at international meets throughout his time at Texas.
Prior to his selection as head Olympic coach, Thornton led Team USA at the 2003 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Paris, France. He helped Team USA to a meet-high 20 medals including 10 golds, as the men's 4x100- and 4x400-meter relay teams captured gold in two of the meet's final three events to secure the medal count victory. As an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Thornton tutored the Americans in three events - the 400 meters, 400-meter hurdles and 4x400-meter relay - and his athletes captured three gold medals and a silver. He also led the United States men's national team that was successful in winning the most medals at the 1996 World Junior Championships in Sydney.
Under his leadership, the Longhorns have logged 13 top-10 NCAA finishes (seven indoor, six outdoor) and nine Big 12 conference titles (four indoor, five outdoor). Most recently, Thornton led UT to back-to-back NCAA Indoor top-four finishes for the first time ever.
This past year, Thornton was honored by his coaching peers as the 2007 United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association South Central Region Indoor Coach of the Year after leading the Longhorns to its second consecutive Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championship and producing three of the top competition marks in the nation (Donovan Kilmartin - heptathlon, Andra Manson - high jump, Leo Manzano - mile). He capped the successful season off with the best indoor national team finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships (third-place) and the second highest UT point total for an indoor national meet (34 points; second to 35 points scored in 2006).
The 2006 season may also go down as one of the most productive all-around campaign during Thornton's tenure at Texas. UT was one of only two men's programs in the nation to finish in the top seven in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field. Texas took seventh at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships and added a fourth-place showing at the NCAA Indoor Championships to tie for the best indoor finish in the program's history. UT placed third at the NCAA Outdoor Championships after garnering All-America showings in eight events. The Longhorns crowned another NCAA heptathlon champion in Donovan Kilmartin, and Texas collected 24 All-America honors during the cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field seasons. Thornton was named the Big 12 indoor and outdoor men's track and field coach of the year after the Longhorns swept the conference meets, and he also was honored as the South Central region's indoor and outdoor men's coach of the year by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. In addition, senior Trey Hardee set new NCAA records in the heptathlon and the decathlon, and the Longhorns rewrote school records in two more outdoor events - the shot put and distance medley relay - plus the indoor mile, 3000 meters and heptathlon.
The 2005 campaign proved to be one of Thornton's most successful seasons, as the Longhorn men's team was one of only four men's or women's track and field programs in the country to place in the top 12 nationally in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. Freshman Leonel Manzano claimed the 1,500-meter title and junior Trey Hardee captured the decathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Championships to help lead Texas to an eighth-place finish. The Longhorns also placed 10th at the NCAA Indoor Championships and 12th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
In 2004, Thornton led Texas to the best finish in school history at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The Longhorns claimed fourth-place behind National Champions Donovan Kilmartin (heptathlon) and Andra Manson (high jump). UT also finished fourth at the Big 12 Indoor Championships. Jermaine Cooper won the conference title in the 60m hurdles while Manson won the high jump. In the outdoor meets, UT finished in the top 25 at the NCAA Outdoor Championship for the sixth consecutive year. Manson swept the NCAA meets by winning the high jump and earning All-America honors. Brendan Christian also claimed All-America accolades by finishing eighth in the 100m. The team of Quincy Boles, Christian, Ashton Collins and Jermaine Cooper finished seventh in the 4x100 relay, which was good enough to earn All-America honors as well.
Thornton led one of his youngest teams in 2003 to the Big 12 Conference Outdoor Championship, his fifth overall conference title with the Longhorns, and a runner-up finish at the Big 12 Indoor for the second straight season. In addition, Thornton was named Big 12 Outdoor Coach of the Year for his accomplishments. For the fifth consecutive year, the Longhorns finished among the top 25 at the NCAA Championships, finishing tied for 9th at the indoor meet and tied for 21st at the outdoor championship.
Lucky number seven proved to be a good number for the Horns as they set seven school records and had seven athletes during the year garner All-America honors. Thornton's athletes also combined for eight individual conference titles. Freshman Brendan Christian was named Big 12 Outdoor Performer of the Year after finishing with a meet-high 22 points and league titles in the 200m and as a member of the 4x100m relay team, while also earning three All-America certificates (two outdoor, one indoor). Christian also captured the 200m indoor conference crown and established a new school record in the deuce with a 20.84 clocking. Seniors Ben Dawson and Kevin Barra both earned All-America honors, as well, as Dawson set school records in both the 3,000 and 5,000. Freshman sprinter Ashton Collins earned Big 12 Indoor Freshman of the Year honors after winning gold at the indoor meet and setting a new school record in the 400m with a time of 46.22.
In 2002, Thornton guided the Longhorns to a pair of conference runner-up finishes and a ninth-place showing at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, the program's sixth top-10 national finish under his tutelage. During the season, Longhorns combined to win one national title and five conference crowns, earn nine All-America honors and set two school records.
Brian Hunter won UT's ninth national title under Thornton's tenure with an 18-8 1/4 clearance in the pole vault at the NCAA Outdoor, while Tré Gardner and Jermaine Cooper both eclipsed school records during the indoor season, Gardner running 6.62 in the 60m and Cooper clocking a 7.69 in the 60m hurdles. Cooper also swept the indoor 60m and outdoor 110m hurdles crowns and earned All-America honors in both events. Hunter also won the conference outdoor pole vault crown, while Einar Hjartarson and Jason Ward claimed Big 12 Indoor titles in the high jump and long jump, respectively.
In 2001, Thornton guided Texas to top-three finishes at the Big 12 Indoor (third) and Outdoor (runners-up) Championships and a pair of top-15 finishes at both NCAA Championships (T-14th indoor/T-15th outdoor). It marked the fifth time in his first six seasons that the Longhorns finished among the top 15 at both national meets. UT featured 11 athletes that combined to secure 13 All-America honors, and the Horns also boasted five conference champions in 2001. Leading the way was horizontal jumper Chris Hercules, who closed out his stellar four-year run by placing second in the triple jump at both national meets. Hercules, who tied Leonard Cobb's (1996-97) school record with six horizontal jump All-America honors, also swept the long and triple jumps at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships and finished his career with eight conference titles overall.
Thornton's squads have continued to show the fruits of his outstanding recruiting efforts. Jermaine Cooper won the Big 12 indoor 60-meter hurdles championship, set the school record in the event for a second consecutive season, won his third Texas Relays 110-meter hurdles title in four years (he won prep crowns in 1998, '99) and was an outdoor All-American. Dylan Armstrong shattered UT's 35-pound weight throw and hammer school records, becoming UT's first conference hammer champion and was a two-time All-American in 2001.
In 2000, Thornton directed the Longhorns to second-place finishes at the Big 12 Conference indoor and outdoor meets and 14th-place showings at both NCAA Championships. Individually, high jumper Mark Boswell, who announced that he was turning pro following the outdoor campaign, finished his decorated Longhorn career by capturing the Big 12 Conference's indoor and outdoor crowns, as well as both NCAA titles. In fact, Boswell won his final 19 meets as a collegian and participated in the 2000 Summer Olympics for Canada. Jacob Davis (T-8th/indoor pole vault) and Chris Hercules (2nd/outdoor triple jump) also earned All-America honors at the national meets. Davis (indoor pole vault), Hercules (outdoor triple jump), Lawrence Armstrong (100 meters) and the Longhorns' 400-meter outdoor relay team of Armstrong, Amar Johnson, Calvin Williams and Nathanaël Esprit each won Big 12 titles.
In 1999, Thornton led Texas to top-six indoor and outdoor NCAA finishes. The Horns not only captured their first Big 12 Conference Indoor Championship that
season, but they also secured their best finish at the NCAA indoor meet since 1986 when they finished tied for fifth. Texas followed the 1999 indoor campaign with its second Big 12 outdoor crown and a sixth-place showing at the 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships. It marked just the second time in school history that Texas recorded top-10 indoor and outdoor finishes in the same season (1986). Boswell (high jump) and Davis (pole vault) each secured their first NCAA titles when they swept both the indoor and outdoor national titles in their respective events.
Thornton's 1998 squad posted third-place finishes at both the Big 12 indoor and outdoor meets. The team featured three conference champions and six All-Americans, including Boswell, who was the runner-up at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The 1,600-meter relay unit of Matt Ellis, David Aaron, Terrence Wakefield and Williams finished seventh at the NCAA outdoor meet, but the highlight of the outdoor campaign occurred when Davis, who finished third at the national outdoor meet, registered the second-best vault (19-4 1/4) in collegiate history at the Texas Relays.
One year earlier, the Longhorns enjoyed a great season under Thornton. UT recorded three individual titles at the inaugural Big 12 Conference indoor meet en route to a fourth-place finish. Texas then went on to post a 15th-place finish at the 1997 NCAA Indoor Championships. However, Thornton had the UT squad at its peak during the outdoor campaign. The Longhorns won the first-ever Big 12 outdoor title and capped off the year with a second-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, matching its best finish in school history. Sophomore Ivan Wagner highlighted the finish by capturing the NCAA high jump title.
During Thornton's first season at UT in 1996, he led the Longhorns to a runner-up finish at the Southwest Conference Indoor Championships. At the NCAA Indoor Championships, Texas finished in a 14th-place tie, an improvement of more than 40 spots from the previous season (55th). More success came during the outdoor season, as Thornton and UT won the final SWC Outdoor Championships, marking its fifth consecutive title and 45th overall. That squad proceeded to finish fifth at the national meet, as seven-time All-American Richard Duncan led the way with a long jump title and a sixth-place showing in the high jump.
Running a successful program is nothing new to Thornton. He came to Texas following a 14-year run as head coach of TCU's men's and women's track and field programs where he was renowned for producing some of the most talented sprint units in the country. Among his numerous achievements at TCU, Thornton recruited and developed 72 NCAA All-Americans and guided the men's squad to five NCAA top-10 finishes (1983-87-88-89-91) and 11 top-20 finishes. He coached the Horned Frogs to 39 major relay titles, including five NCAA 400-meter relay championships (1986-87-89-91-95) and the 1983 1,600-meter relay national title. Thornton also tutored Raymond Stewart, the No. 1-ranked sprinter in the world in 1989.
In 1986, Thornton's 400-meter quartet set a then-Texas Relays record (38.97) and went on to win the NCAA title. His team won the national sprint relay title the following year and set a then-NCAA meet record with a victory in 1989 (38.23).
Thornton's 400-relay teams also were victorious in 1991 and '95, when the Horned Frogs tied Texas for 13th place at the NCAA Championships. In addition, he coached TCU to a pair of world bests during his tenure - the indoor 400 relay (1983) and 800 relay (1986).
The TCU graduate also saw his share of success as a collegiate student-athlete. He played football and ran track for the Horned Frogs from 1967-69 after earning honorable mention All-America honors as a defensive back at Navarro Junior College. As a wide receiver and defensive back for TCU, his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown helped the Frogs to a 24-17 upset victory against Texas in 1967. He went on to lead the Southwest Conference in kickoff returns as a senior. As a sprint and relay performer in 1968-69, he was the top point producer for TCU.
Thornton was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 14th round of the 1969 American Football League draft and started as a rookie wide receiver. He led the Bills and finished third in the AFL in kickoff returns with a 25-yard average as a first-year player. After professional football, he doubled as athletics director (1977-81) and head football coach (1979-81) at Keller High School, his alma mater. He returned to TCU as head track and field coach in 1982.
The Keller, Texas, native became the inaugural member of the Keller Hall of Fame in October 1999. In addition, he is a member of TCU's Lettermen's Association Hall of Fame, as well as an Alumni Frog O' Fame Award recipient. Thornton received a bachelor's degree in physical education from TCU in 1969 and he and his wife of 36 years, Kay, have two daughters, Courtney and Piper.