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Mel Rosen

Former track and field coach

Mel Rosen has been involved with the Auburn track team for 58 years. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native began his career as an assistant professor in physical education before becoming the assistant to then-head coach, Wilbur Hutsell. In 1963, Rosen took over as head coach and guided the team to four consecutive SEC championships from 1977-1980. Rosen stepped down as head coach to lead the U.S. track and field team for the 1992 Olympics in Spain. Under the direction of Rosen, the team brought home 20 medals. He has been named both the NCAA and SEC coach of the year three times. Rosen has been inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Track Coaches Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He is still actively involved with the track team and has served as a consultant for 17 years. This year, Rosen was honored with the 1992 track and field team at the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic games.

1. You came to Auburn in 1955 as an assistant professor in the physical education department. How did you get involved with the track program?

To give you a little background, I started as the track coach at Fort Benning, where I was stationed in the Army. I coached a national champion pole vaulter and we needed a better pit to practice on, so we came to Auburn to use theirs. That's where I met Coach Hutsell. After I got out of the Army, I asked Coach Hutsell if I could come on board. He said he could give me $60 a month, so I took the job. I also worked in the physical education department as a gymnastics coach. I was teaching 280 kids gymnastics and I didn't know anything about it except what I read in a book. So that was my only investment, buying a book for $1.50.

2. You were assistant to then-head coach, Wilbur Hutsell, until 1963 when he retired. How was the transition into the head coach position?

I knew Coach Hutsell was going to retire at some point. He was 62 years old when I came on. He retired at 70, and then I got the job. We basically just changed jobs. He ended up helping me out like an assistant for 17 years and right now I've helped Coach Ralph Spry, Auburn's current head coach, for 17 years. College wasn't my only coaching experience. I was a sprint coach in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The events I was involved in won 10 gold medals. Because of this experience, I became head coach of the world championship team in 1987 and then became the overall Olympic coach in 1992 - the same day we played Alabama in the Iron Bowl and I missed it.

3. Being the head coach of the Olympic team in 1992 must have been an amazing experience. Is there a difference between motivating college athletes and professional ones?

Professional athletes are doing this for a living. That's their motivation. College kids may miss a meeting or practice, so they need a little more motivating. I made it simple: If athletes missed, then I dismissed them. The thing about watching the professionals is the way they warm up and take care of themselves. It's something to see guys like Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis work out and see their focus on what they're trying to do.

4. You're still involved with the track team today. What has made you stick with Auburn all these years?

Well, I have a home here, my children were raised here and I like Auburn. Coach Spry gave me a great deal. He lets me help the team out and travel with them. He jokes that he told me I could go to two or three meets a year and I ended up going to all of them.

5. If you could win gold in one event in the 2012 Olympics what would it be?

It would be the 4x100-meter sprint relay. Everyone thinks there's no way the United States can win since they have to compete against Usain Bolt and the other Jamaicans, but I think we have some sprinters here that are awfully good and if they get their act together, they can compete with the Jamaicans. If I could compete personally, it would be the 100-meter sprint, just to be the fastest man in the world. In 1976, I coached Harvey Glance, an Auburn student, who came in fourth at the Olympics. Everybody was disappointed he didn't win. I asked them, "Wouldn't you like to be the fourth-fastest man in the world?"

July 30, 2012