By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
The last time the Hood brothers were both living in Abilene, they were curious little boys who would play in the long jump sand pits and swing from the “jungle gym” underneath the bleachers while their father coached Wildcat track and field national champions.
Now, many years later, Don D. and Derek Hood are rejoining their father, Don, on the ACU track and field coaching staff. Don D. will serve as head track and field coach, and Derek will coach the Wildcat men’s and women’s cross country teams and distance runners during the track and field season. Their father, Don, who won eight NCAA Division II national championships as ACU’s head coach from 1978-88, now volunteers as the Wildcat pole vaulting coach.
Don D. said his family had dreamed about this situation for years.
“We’ve talked about this opportunity forever, to have the two of us and our dad, along with our brother coaching 45 minutes away in Roby,” said Don D. “To actually get to do this is incredible.”
After former head coach Jon Murray’s resignation July 25, Athletic Director Jared Mosley, wasted no time replacing him. Within days, Mosley and Vice President of the university Gary McCaleb contacted Don D., who was intrigued and honored by the head coaching position offer, but had one request before he could accept.
“I got a phone call from [Don], saying, ‘Hey, the job’s opened up, and they only contacted me, but I’m only going to go if you go,'” Derek said.
On the Friday following Murray’s resignation, Mosley and McCaleb interviewed Don D., and followed by interviewing Derek on Monday. In the end, Mosley decided to split the duties of head coach and distance coach between Don D. and Derek, respectively.
“We had to talk each other into it, but once the interviews were done, it was pretty much a done deal; we were on board,” Derek said.
Don D. said he is convinced Mosley made the perfect decision.
“You won’t find two guys that love this program any more than we do,” he said.
One could say the Hood boys’ destiny was in coaching track and field.
They practically grew up running around the tracks at ACU and Howard Payne University, where their father spent most afternoons during the winter and spring.
“If we wanted to see our dad, we came up here to the track,” Derek said.
Don D. went on to run for ACU and serve as student-assistant while his dad was head coach before graduating in 1987.
“I wasn’t very good, and they say, ‘If you can’t do it, coach it,'” he said. “So I figured I’d get into coaching pretty quickly.”
And he did. Don D. spent six years as head cross country and track and field coach at Temple High School, two years as head coach at Sam Houston State, six years at the helm at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) and the past three years as an assistant at Texas Tech under former ACU head coach Wes Kittley.
“I’ve had the chance to learn from the years growing up with my father, as a student-assistant here and running for him,” Don D. said. “I’ve had three other coaches I’ve had a chance to learn from. I think that’s what will be so good about this being at this point in my life – I’m not a beginner. It’s going to be a little bit easier to take what I’ve learned and apply it to what I’m doing here.”
Don D. said he’s a little more relaxed entering this head coaching position than the others he’s started.
“This is the first program I’ve been in where there wasn’t rebuilding to go into it,” Don D. said. “Every place I’ve been before was an opportunity to go in and build something. Here, I think the foundation is just tremendous, and there are places to improve, but it’s not like we’re scraping the bottom or having to put something together.”
Derek began two high school programs from scratch at Keller Fossil Ridge High School and Keller Central High School. He served as head track and field and cross country coach at Fossil Ridge from 1995-99, served in the same role at Bethany College in Kansas from 1999-2000, and was at Keller Central from 2003-05.
He said he’s not too worried about making the jump from coaching at high schools and small colleges to conditioning world-class athletes.
“Coaching is coaching,” he said. “What it all boils down to is how I can motivate these athletes and provide leadership. It’s kind of like baking a cake: I’ve got to make sure I’ve got all the ingredients, and that I check on it, and make sure that it comes out OK. I feel really comfortable making the jump to this level at Abilene Christian.”
Running the Race
The Hoods come to ACU in the middle of a string of successful track and field and cross country seasons. Don D. takes over a program that has won eight straight NCAA Division II track and field titles (four indoor and four outdoor), while Derek is inheriting a cross country program at its very best. The men’s cross country team has won 14 straight Lone Star Conference team titles, five straight NCAA Division II South Central Region titles and finished in the top three at each of the last five NCAA Division II national championship meets. ACU has also produced the first two individual national champions in school history in the past five years, Alfred Rugema in 2000 and 2002 and Nicodemus Naimadu in 2004.
While Don D. recognizes the program’s past and present successes, he foresees even greater things in the future.
“I think we’ve got enough confidence to know that what we’ve done in the past has worked, and there are a lot of different ways to win,” he said. “So we’re not going to tip-toe; we’re going to hit the ground running, and really get after it and see what happens.”
Derek met with the cross country squads Sunday night to acclimate them to his family, and practice will begin Wednesday. He said Murray built two very good-looking teams for the 2005 season.
“From what I see on paper, it is depth, and that is a luxury that hasn’t been afforded in the past,” he said. “ACU’s always had some really good runners and teams, but this year it looks like we might have some more depth than other years. If I can keep these guys healthy and the training goes along as I expect, we ought to have a good shot at doing really well at nationals – in the men and women.”
Both Hoods already have seen coaching success, but they see their most recent opportunity as the most exciting and important of their careers.
“This is a great opportunity for this program to flourish a little better than what it has,” Don D. said. “They asked me what our goal was to come here, and I said, ‘Well, man, it can’t be to win – we’re already winning. I guess to win by more.’ I think we’ve got a chance to do that.”
And adding up the almost 80 combined years of coaching between Don, Derek, and Don D., along with all the national champions and Olympians between them, one has to believe what coach says.