Helping Hand: Byrd's staff key behind Shorter's national success
By Jim O’Hara
ROME – Like any head coach does when a season ends, Scott Byrd met with his assistant coaches to review the year that had just concluded and start thinking about the future.
The Shorter University head track and field coach, however, already knew before the meeting began that those who sat at the table with him already had proven that what they do works quite well – combining their expertise, devotion and faith to help make the program the best in the nation.
Less than a week after Shorter’s men won their second consecutive NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championship and the Lady Hawks posted another top 10 finish in the women’s national meet, Byrd, the NAIA National Coach of the Year for the second straight season, is quick to acknowledge just how important the SU “brain trust” really is.
“You’re only as good as your staff and to be successful you have to surround yourself with great people,” Byrd said about his assistants who have formed a team within a team to put the track program on a high pedestal. “We work together, we hang out together and we look out for each other.
“I’ve got two big advantages over what other teams have: I’ve got the complete backing of our administration and I’ve got the best staff in the country,” the coach added. “They’re not just coaching athletes. It’s about caring about the men and women they work with. It’s about developing relationships. They teach life skills.”
Yet while those student-athletes have learned lifelong lessons, they clearly have possessed the skills that have been fine-tuned by the coaching staff.
Case in point: this year’s outdoor meet.
On their way to keeping the crown, the Hawks won three events with Randy Dameron winning the 400-meter championship, Daniel Sorenson taking first place in the 3,000 steeplechase (edging teammate Oscar Ogwaro) and the 4x100 relay team of Allen Huntley, Nigel Talton, Kirk Wilson and Bradley Moon crossing the finish line ahead of the pack.
All told, the meet saw the Hawks roll up an incredible 18 All-America honors while at the same time the Lady Hawks ended the meet picking up another nine All-America awards.
“We have a good mix of coaches,” Byrd, who works with those competing in the 400, hurdles and 4x400, noted about the strengths of all the coaches. “They all bring something different to the team.”
Assistant head coach Rochelle Black brings multiple things to the track table.
A former standout at Radford University in Virginia, who has been with Byrd for four years, Black not only is in charge of Shorter’s sprinters, he also coordinates travel logistics for the team and is in charge of coordinating recruiting.
At this year’s outdoor meet, however, Black’s ability to maintain SU’s sprint strength was underscored. Despite losing the core of last year’s male sprinters, including the national champion in the 100, the coach not only equaled last year’s outing, he bettered it by producing the national champion 4x100 squad and seeing three Hawks – Wilson, Talton and Huntley – finish second, third and fourth in the 100.
“He did it this year with an almost entirely new group,” Byrd said of Black. “That’s a sign of a very, very good coach. And if I need him to coach another group, he can do it.”
Like Black, assistant coach Tom Saint has become a fixture for the team in more ways than one.
As Shorter’s “Man in Back” (he always wear black during meets), Saint is an ordained minister and serves as the team’s chaplain, always lending an ear or offering support to every athlete. More than that, Saint has always set an example of a Christian helping others as he actively helps children in need as well as taking part in mission trips.
Still, when it comes to track, Saint knows what to do as Shorter’s jump coach.
After spending 18 years coaching at Lehigh where he coached record-setting athletes and while on a mission to Mexico helped coach a national champion, Saint has in his four years at Shorter has produced four national champions.
“Tom has a steady influence on everyone and is an outlet for the kids to go to,” Byrd said. “He’s one of those guys who has done a lot in life helping others and is someone we all can learn from. He brings reality into focus.”
With Black and Saint having established themselves as a solid foundation for Shorter, two of the newest assistant coaches have come in to make it even stronger.
Assuming the position as SU’s first throws coach this year was Nik Kay, a five-time All-American and two-time NAIA national discus champion at Concordia (Ore.) who has transferred his prowess as a competitor to that as a coach.
“Coach Kay’s athletes broke every school record this year,” said Byrd. “He has a grasp of what it takes and he relates it to both the men and women.”
Rounding out the talented staff is Martin Hernandez, who is the first former Shorter track star to return to coach at his alma mater. A two-time All-American in the marathon and half-marathon when he competed at SU, Hernandez worked with the team’s distance runners while he was completing his Master’s degree.
“He’s been a great asset to the staff,” Byrd said.
And it’s a staff that bonded with each other in more ways than one.
“We all work well together,” said Byrd. “We hang out together and we help each other out.
“There are things they all have in common,” the coach went on to say. “They are all strong in their faith, all of them have a love for track and young people, and they have all coached All-Americans with some of them becoming national champions.
“It’s been a team effort by everyone at Shorter.”