While at Texas, Thornton has produced 21 NCAA Champions, a relay champion and 57 athletes who have combined for 144 All-America honors (indoor and outdoor). His athletes hold 16 of the 19 indoor school records and 11 of the 22 modern outdoor records. Overall, during his time as a men's head coach, Thornton has produced 24 NCAA Champions, seven relay champions and 69 athletes that have combined for 167 All-America honors.
In addition to his time as a collegiate coach, Thornton has had a strong presence on the international scene. After years of service, Thornton was selected to coach the U.S. men's track and field team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While at the helm, Thornton guided the American squad to the most medals of any team (14) and the most gold medals (four), including sweeps in the 400 meters and the 400-meter hurdles. Thornton earned the Order of Ikkos medallion for his service to the U.S.O.C. and its athletes. The medallion recognizes a coach for their integral part in the success of Olympians, since it is not tradition for them to receive a medal or recognition from the IOC.
Prior to his selection as head Olympic coach, Thornton led Team U.S.A. at the 2003 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Paris, France. He helped the team 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 U.S.A. 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 won the most medals at the 1996 World Junior Championships in Sydney.
During the 2009 season, Thornton led the Longhorns to a fourth Big 12 Indoor Championship in as many years and Top 20 finishes at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, including a seventh consecutive Top 10 finish indoors. The Longhorns tallied nine All-America and 48 All-Big 12 honors, including a national title and seven Big 12 titles. Jacob Hernandez won the Longhorns' NCAA title in the indoor 800 meters finishing nearly a full second ahead of the field. Tevan Everett finished second at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 800 meters. Everett also set two school records in the indoor 600 yards (1:08.51) and the indoor 800 meters (1:47.82). On the international stage, former Longhorns Trey Hardee (decathlon), Andra Manson (high jump) and Leo Manzano (1,500 meters) earned spots on the U.S. World Championship team. Hardee went on to become the first Texas men's track and field alum to win a World Championship when he took the decathlon with a score of 8,790 points, which ranks him as the No. 9 all-time decathlete and No. 3 American.
The 2008 season saw the Longhorns claim the program's third consecutive Big 12 Indoor Championship, a third-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The Longhorns finished in the NCAA's Top 20 in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field for the third consecutive year, the only program nationally to do so in that time span. Leo Manzano claimed his second consecutive national title in the mile and teamed up with Tevan Everett, Danzell Fortson and Jacob Hernandez in the distance medley relay (DMR) to secure the program's first ever relay national championship. Earlier in the indoor season, the team of Fortson, Hernandez, Kyle Miller and Manzano set the world record in the DMR with a 9:25.97, which bettered the previous mark by almost two seconds. Texas' three individual national titles at the outdoor national meet from Manzano (1,500m), Hernandez (800m) and Maston Wallace (pole vault) tied for the most in school history. Manzano also broke a 42-year-old school record in the mile, while Hernandez eclipsed the 20-year-old school record in the 800 meters. For the year, the Horns racked up five individual NCAA Championships and 14 All-America performances (indoor and outdoor). In addition, the Texas program produced five Longhorns that competed at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials (Trey Hardee, decathlon; Jacob Hernandez, 800m; Andra Manson, high jump; Leo Manzano, 1500m; Jake Morse, 3000m steeplechase), with Hardee, Manson and Manzano advancing to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In 2007, Thornton was honored by his coaching peers as the 2007 United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association (USTFCCCA) South Central Region Indoor Coach of the Year after leading the Longhorns to their second consecutive Big 12 Indoor 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 team finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships (third-place) and accumulated 34 points, which is tied for the second-highest UT point total for an indoor national meet. The Horns finished 14th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, but finished first among Big 12 schools.
Texas was one of only two men's programs in the nation to finish in the top seven in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field in 2006. Texas took seventh at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships and added a fourth-place showing at the NCAA Indoor Championships, which tied for the program's best finish up to that point. 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, indoor and outdoor track and field seasons. Thornton was named the Big 12 Indoor and Outdoor Coach of the Year after the Longhorns swept the conference meets, and he also was honored as the USTFCCCA South Central Region Indoor and Outdoor Coach of the Year. In addition, senior Trey Hardee set NCAA records in the heptathlon and the decathlon, and the Longhorns broke school records in two more outdoor events - the shot put and DMR - plus the indoor mile and 3,000 meters.
The 2005 Longhorns were 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 and field. Leo Manzano claimed the 1,500-meter title and 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 a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships behind National Championships from Donovan Kilmartin (heptathlon) and Andra Manson (high jump). Manson went on to sweep the national meets by winning the outdoor national title in helping UT to its sixth consecutive Top 25 finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Despite being one of his younger teams, Thornton's 2003 squad won the Big 12 Outdoor Championship and was the runner-up at the conference indoor meet. As a result, Thornton was named Big 12 Outdoor Coach of the Year. For the fifth consecutive year, the Longhorns finished among the Top 25 at the NCAA Championships, finishing tied for ninth at the indoor meet and tied for 21st at the outdoor championships. The Horns set seven school records and had seven athletes garner All-America honors. Thornton's athletes also combined for eight individual conference titles. 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 school record in the deuce with a 20.84 clocking. 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 meters.
In 2002, Thornton guided the Longhorns to a pair of conference runner-up finishes and a ninth-place showing at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. 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 the outdoor national title in the pole vault, while Tre Gardner (60m) and Jermaine Cooper (60m hurdles) both eclipsed school records during the indoor season. Cooper swept the indoor 60m and outdoor 110m-hurdle crowns at the conference meet 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 led Texas to Top Three finishes at the Big 12 Indoor (third) and Outdoor (runner-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 for 13 All-America honors after the Horns claimed five conference champions. Leading the way was 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. In addition, Jermaine Cooper won the Big 12 indoor 60-meter hurdles championship and set the school record in the event for a second consecutive season, while Dylan Armstrong shattered UT's 35-pound weight throw and hammer school records, becoming UT's first conference hammer champion.
Thornton directed the 2000 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 finished his decorated Longhorn career by capturing the Big 12 Conference 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 Nathanael 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 Indoor Championship, but they also secured their best finish at the indoor national meet since 1986 when they finished tied for fifth. Texas went on to win its second Big 12 outdoor crown before placing sixth 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 highlight of the outdoor campaign occurred when Davis, who finished third at the national outdoor meet, registered the second-best vault (19-4.25) in collegiate history at the Texas Relays.
In 1997, 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. 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 and '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 and '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 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. 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 41 years, Kay, have two daughters, Courtney and Piper.