CA Coaching Legends: University's Jim Tracy

The first California state cross country meet took place on Saturday, November 28, 1987. Since then, some of the state's brightest and most successful cross country coaches have amassed multiple team and individual championships. Of course, the roots of cross country in California go back FAR before there was a state meet, and this state was a breeding ground for legendary coaches in the "pre-state meet" time period. Some of the Golden State's best have bridged between the two eras, starting before the state meet came into being and continue to coach to this day. Every week through the end of cross country, we will feature one of these Coaching Legends, a past or present figure that helped shape the sport in the Golden State and make California the best state in the nation for cross country!

Our first featured coach in this series was Jesuit coach, Walt Lange, who has amassed 9 state meet team titles on the boys' side (tied for most with McFarland coach, Jim White). When it comes to state meet titles for the girls, one coach stands alone and that is University HS coach, Jim Tracy (photo courtesy of UHS). During his legendary tenure at the San Francisco school, Coach Tracy's teams won 10 state championships, one more than the Saugus girls coached by Rene Paragas. 

Jim Tracy got a late start with his coaching career as he started coaching in his 40s at University HS in the fall of 1994. During his tenure at the school, his girls' XC teams won 12 league and NCS cross-country titles (10 in a row from 1995-2004) and the already mentioned 10 state team titles. Kira Morser was a two-time state individual champion in 1997 and 1998. The 1997 team scored an incredible 18 points to win the state meet that year (a record that may never be surpassed). To prove that the 1997 team was no fluke, the 1996 team scored 24 while the 1998 team scored 20 (both at the state meet). Those are the three lowest scores in state meet history in any division.  During that same time span, his boys' teams won 17 league titles, 11 NCS titles (7 in a row from 1999-2005) and five podium (top 3) finishes at the CA state meet. The combined NCS titles are the most by any NCS coach in any sport. On the track, Jim's teams won 8 North Coast Section Class A titles (7 girls and 1 boys) and had multiple individuals qualify for the CA state Track and Field meet.

Coach Tracy was named the California Coaches Association Cross Country girls' coach of the year in 2004. He was inducted into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame in 2013. He raised the bar for the rest of the teams in his own league, section and division and as a result, many NCS teams went on to find their own success at the state level. 

Check out my 2009 interview with Jim Tracy


Coach Tracy sadly passed away on Sunday, April 6, 2014 after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) a few years earlier. His last few years as the University coach were publicized nationally after one of his top runners (junior Holland Reynolds) crawled over the finish line at the 2010 California state meet to help clinch UHS's 8th state title. You can check out the following Outside the Lines feature by ESPN detailing the event. If you have not seen this, it is highly recommended and you should share it with your team. Very inspiring!

A documentary "Running for Jim" was produced and directed by Robin Hauser Reynolds (Holland's mom). On its website, runningforjim.com, the documentary is described as follows: "Running for Jim tells the inspiring story of record-breaking high school running coach Jim Tracy, his battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, and his 2010 championship team that brought his story to international attention."

You can check out the trailer here.


To truly capture Coach Tracy, here are several comments from University athletic director, Jim Ketcham.

 "Coach Tracy, more than any coach I have ever seen, had the ability to connect the dots between a training plan and a race outcome. Runners would hear him say, 'If you run these times for these distances in practice, you will run this time in the race and that will be 15 seconds better than your personal best.' His runners would not believe him until it actually happened. At that point, his runners became not just engaged in training plans, they became training zealots. Of course, not all runners would achieve the training plan goals. And Coach Tracy would not mince words. He would say after a below expectations race 'What can you expect when you are not putting 100% effort into your training?' And his runners came to respect and appreciate his honesty because when he did tell them they ran a 'Good race', they knew it was not just words but genuine and very well earned praise."

"Coach Tracy also had no real idea of the impact he had on his runners. After his ALS diagnosis, we organized an evening for him here at school and many of his former runners came back to participate. Runner after runner spoke about the lessons they learned about life from his XC program. One, serving with the Peace Corps in Africa, wrote that he saw impossible-to-solve problems every day with his work in Africa. But then he would think about how he felt about the goals Coach Tracy set for him that also had seemed impossible-until he attained them. And he took confidence that working hard could achieve hard to imagine things even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Coach Tracy was completely and genuinely blown away by the words of his former runners. He told me, Jim, I had hoped that my work had done some good. But I had no idea at all that my runners felt this way about their experience in our program".


More comments from best friend Bob Darling.

"My history with Jim goes back to 1965 tack season. He was one year younger than me. (Class of 1967 for me & 1968 for him. We ran cross country and track together at Archbishop Riordan and City College of San Francisco. Then he went to UCB and I to CSU Chico. We continued to train together after college and run for the Excelsior Track Club from 1972-2010. After I retired from the YMCA, Jim got me hired as one of his assistant XC coach at University HS in 2011. Then in 2012, he told me about a  head xc coach vacancy at the Bay School. My best friend then became a rival coach in the same league. After both of our xc practices in the Presidio, we would get together at Jim's there to discuss XC and his health status. As you well know he was quite a character with a dry sense of humor.  He was my best friend of 50 years. So here are a few items to share with you. I to CSU Chico. We continued to train together after college and run for the Excelsior Track Club from 1972-2010. After I retired from the YMCA, Jim got me hired as one of his assistant XC coach at University HS in 2011. Then in 2012, he told me about a  head xc coach vacancy at the Bay School. My best friend then became a rival coach in the same league. After both of our xc practices in the Presidio, we would get together at Jim's there to discuss XC and his health status. As you well know he was quite a character with a dry sense of humor.  He was my best friend of 50 years. So here are a few items to share with you."

"Looking good, feeling good, running slow" Jim Tracy comment on viewing someone training. 

"We both ran the Bay to Breakers 12 Kilometer race many times and it was our spring peak race. So we know the race inside out and planned that year's strategy to a tee. I was the great pacer and he was the sit and kick specialist. So that particular year we cruised at a steady clip together for four miles. (Averaging 5:20) Jim looked up and noticed a follow running rival about 5 seconds ahead of us. He proclaimed that we must be running too slow if our friend was ahead of us. So he said let's pick it up quickly to catch that guy. So I said OK and we proceeded to put the hammer down and ran from four to five miles in 4:50! We passed our rival so fast that after the race he said he ran that mile in a good time of 5:10. He was stunned. Yet we still had 2 1/2 miles to go. We did slow down slightly after that high octane burst. So I hung on until the last 1/2 mile and then Jim went into his famous death kick and put 10 seconds on me.

Jim was a private person who liked to live alone and moved around a lot.  Yet he could be a gracious person and could talk to most people. He had a great satirical sense of humor and his real calling was to be a standup comedian. Jim was highly intelligent, like classic books, singers & TV movies/shows, He consumed running stats and had a great historical running memory. He was a high school superstar ((9:18 HS 2 mile) and rarely got out kicked in any race ending. His greatest road race effort was in the Bay to Breakers. He once ran it in 37:30 (5:05 per mile) at age 37. That same year he tried to break 9:00 minutes for an organized 2-mile time trial at SF State. He came close as he ran 9:02 literally by himself. Jim also liked Doctor Pepper and cookies a lot. His HS coaching career is unparalleled. (10 state xc championships) He had a great film about him and his XC team. (Running for Jim) Jim was a unique character and a good friend. He legacy lives on and he is missed by many."

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