A Conversation with the Coach of the Year: Bob Braman, FSU Track and Field and Cross Country Coach
By David Yon
Well, he has been the ACC Men’s Outdoor Coach of the Year, Men’s ACC Indoor Coach of the Year, Indoor South Region Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year and his men’s and women’s teams have rewritten virtually every distance record from 1500 meters through 10,000. But he has never been on the cover of the Fleet Foot, so you just might not realize how much he has accomplished since coming to Tally Town. (Oh yeah, did I mention he was also captain of the University of Florida Cross Country team, an all SEC runner and holder of the Gator’s indoor three mile record?)
His men’s team just finished third in the NCAA Indoor Championships, the highest men’s finish ever and the most (43) points ever scored by track and field team in school history while the women took runner up spots in two events to capture 15th place. (The women won an outdoor title in 1984 and an indoor title in 1985. The men’s team also whacked the rest of the ACC in capturing their fourth consecutive indoor and fifth overall title beating second place Clemson 160.5 to 95. Since Coach Bob Braman took the reins of the program as head coach in 2004 and (head cross country coach in 2000). FSU has produced four individual national titles and the FSU track and field record book has been rewritten more times than I can count.
All of that is good enough to get him on page three of the Tallahassee Democrat sports page – somewhere south of the baseball team’s regular season victory over lowly Maryland. But hey, maybe that is why I love the sport so much.
Q. Other than the most obvious difference (inside v. outside) can you contrast indoor track and field with the outdoor sport?
A. Indoor Track has fewer events and contests the Distance Medley vs. the 4 x 100 relay outdoors. The schedule also includes no preliminary races in the long distances, so a distance-oriented team like Arkansas is in a true advantaged position.
Q. There have always been a few great indoor meets – The Millrose Games for example, but is seems to me that in the last few years there has been a greater emphasis on the indoor version, would you agree?
A. There have been some unbelievable indoor meets come on board in the last 4-5 years. Boston has become an indoor track hotbed and they’ve also opened a new facility at the Armory in New York. Arkansas has perhaps the fastest track in the country as well, so there does seem to be an increased emphasis on Indoor track. World Championships in Indoor Track and Field are relatively new too.
Q. How do the two seasons (indoor/outdoor) relate to each other? Is it difficult getting athletes ready for both?
A. We focus on the outdoor track season because we believe it’s hard to peak for two championships in one semester. Our plan is to do all the strength and base training necessary for a good outdoor track nationals performance and simply sharpen up for 2-3 weeks for the indoor championships. Sometimes we’re really good indoors, but normally we’re better in outdoor track using this system.
Q. Trackwire and several other publications had FSU ranked number 1 in the nation for awhile. A number three finish with two individual national titles, three runner-ups and seven All-American honors. It all seems pretty heady stuff. Where do you see the track and field program and the cross country program at FSU right now? Is there a strong foundation for the future?
A. We’re in really good shape for the future. Our biggest two Sprint stars Walter Dix and Ricardo Chambers are only sophomores and we have a very strong group of distance guys returning. We might be able to have three Steeplechase scorers at the 2007 NCAA championships. How well we finish in recruiting will go a long way in setting up our future as well, but the people we’re in the game for are all impact athletes that can score at nationals right away. It’s exciting for sure.
Q. Just how complicated is recruiting for track and field?
A. Track and Field recruiting is a real challenge. 21 events and we have the challenge of recruiting both men and women. For the men we are able now to recruit the absolute top prospects, but with the women we’re still trying to get our foot in the door against the LSU, Texas, UCLA types. We’re getting closer though and now we have a 15th place national finish to help recruit. But women’s recruiting, even for the perennial powers, takes more than twice the time and effort than does men’s recruiting. It’s supply and demand really. 12 men’s scholarships allowed versus 18 scholarships for women.
Q. What was it like taking your team into the Tyson Center? Aren’t there 41 (soon to be 42) national title banners for track or cross country hanging from the rafters?
A. For me it’s just a pretty cool experience, but I’m sure some athletes are looking up at the banners and perhaps being a bit intimidated. I don’t think our kids really noticed, but you can’t help but notice the massive pro-Hogs crowd. Their fans are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and loud.
Q. I certainly hope you were pleased and proud of your men’s team’s number 3 finish, as it was outstanding. But I can’t help but ask, what do you think has to happen to get you over the top to the number One spot?
A. We were very pleased and I think we competed as hard or harder than any team in the meet. Indoors is just a tougher place for a balanced team like ours to win. You can win an indoor title with the right combination of events, like Arkansas does, and perhaps be way off the mark outdoors. So I think we’ve set ourselves up well for the title that we have a realistic shot at and that’s outdoors.
Q. You are a distance coach by background, yet your team scored big points in the shot, the triple jump, the sprints and the mile and, for the women the pole vault. What is the key to such diversity?
A. I simply have trust in my assistant coaches. They’ve all coached NCAA champions and I need to let them do their thing. Scholarship-wise I support them as long as their recruit is a potential NCAA scorer. Sometimes that’s tough when I’d like to add another distance runner, but it’s the right thing to do. Coach Long taught me that.
Q. What was your biggest surprise of the meet? The biggest disappointment? The best performance for FSU?
A. The biggest surprise was Walter Dix. He’s been a bit banged up and within two weeks he goes out and runs the 7th fastest Indoor 200m of all time. And he added a 2nd place in his least favorite event, the 60m sprint. He’s an unbelievable athlete and may be a household name some day. The biggest disappointment was Ricardo Chambers’ injury in the 400m. He was primed to win a title and certainly no worse than 2nd. But that’s Track and Field.
Q. So where does this leave you heading into outdoor season? Should we expect a similar finish?
A. We hope that we’ll stay healthy because that’s what we’ll need to make a title run. We know the competition extremely well, and honestly it’s about us doing our best. We don’t need any help from the other teams to get over the top if we’re able to get it done.
Q. You have worked closely with Gulf Winds to provide support and volunteers to a number of our races and events. Do you believe it is important for a college program to be part of its surrounding community?
A. I put on races to support our scholarship fund at the University of South Florida for 17 years and was lucky enough to really get to know the Tampa running community. It’s a great relationship that can be built and honestly we can do a better job of being involved with Gulf Winds. Our kids volunteer for the races and I’m sure that helps, but we get so much support from Gulf Winds’ members. So many of you come out and support us with the home meets, both on the track and field and in the stands. We can and will do more in the future.
Q. A plug for the FSU Relays which start March 22 – what do you expect in that meet this year?
A. FSU Relays will, for the first time, have a very strong high school competition within the meet. We’ll have some great Sprints relays for men and women and some great night distance races. Friday night is the distance carnival and Saturday afternoon is more sprints and relays.