AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn track and field coach Leroy Burrell once held the title of the “World’s Fastest Human,” evidenced by world records he held simultaneously in the 100 and 200-meter dashes in the mid-1990s.
A humble superstar, Burrell adds context to his conquest.
“I think I’m the fastest person who was measured,” said Burrell, who twice held the 100m record and whose 200m mark stood for more than six years. “There’s always another one out there.”
Burrell credits training and coaching for his development into an Olympic gold medal sprinter, a formula he seeks to duplicate on the Plains.
“That’s what I want to build here,” said Burrell, who replaced the retiring Ralph Spry last June after coaching 23 seasons at his alma mater, the University of Houston. “I want to build an environment where student-athletes can thrive, grow, learn and reach those levels of performance.
“I feel like I’m just getting started. The opportunities here are plentiful. I think I’ve left a legacy at my alma mater. There are some things that can be done here to ensure the longevity and success of this program for years to come. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Burrell, like countless others in the 80 years since Dr. George Petrie wrote it, draws inspiration from the Auburn Creed.
“The belief in hard work, teamwork and family,” he said. “I’m really thankful and excited about the opportunity to lead this program and build this program to a bigger and better situation. Auburn’s a wonderful town and university, amazing people.”
As Auburn sends a team of 10 student-athletes to this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas, to conclude the first season in the Burrell era, the Tigers’ program boasts individuals who can run, jump and throw as well as anyone in the country. The challenge will be to recruit and develop more of them.
“The level of talent needed to be competitive in the Southeastern Conference is basically the same talent level you need to be competitive at the NCAA Championships,” he said. “On the macro level, we’re far from where we need to be to be competitive in the conference. That requires some depth.”
Blending sport and science, Burrell refers to the periodic table when casting his vision for Auburn track and field.
“The designation for gold is Au,” Burrell said. “We’re trying to set a gold standard in this program that the Auburn family can be proud of.”
In a sport where centimeters and hundredths of a second can mean the difference between winning and finishing fifth, Burrell measures ultimate success in years, even decades.
“The very best parts of coaching happen well beyond practice and successes and failures in competition,” he said. “They earned their degree and moved on into the world and found a way, and you can see the benefits of them having earned the education and learned the things that come with being in a competitive environment. To me that’s the most rewarding part.”
Not surprisingly for the one-time World’s Fastest Human, Leroy Burrell wants to move quickly to create the home-track-and-field advantage other Auburn athletic programs enjoy. To consistently compete with SEC peers, he says, will require elite recruiting and facilities upgrades.
“We’re going to need our alumni to support that,” he said. “We’re a little off the beaten path but if you come find us, there’s a little nugget of gold there.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer