Courtesy: University of North Texas
The North Texas track & field program was going through a number of monumental changes when Rick Watkins was named head coach in February of 1997. The program was re-classifying into the ranks of NCAA Division I-A, was moving from the Southland Conference to the Big West Conference and the two teams were being combined into one squad.
Watkins succeeded his mentor, Ken Garland, who had coached Watkins at Denton High School, and under whom he had served as an assistant for three seasons. The program had been successful in the sport of cross-country under Garland, winning seven Southland Conference Cross-Country Championships, but was missing success as a team in track & field.
Watkins inherited a track & field program that had not won a conference track & field championship in 26 years, whose highest finish in the previous eight years in the Southland conference was fifth and that had not had an individual qualify for the NCAA Track & Field Championships for 13 years.
With Watkins at the helm, North Texas has made a steady climb back onto the national landscape, and has become entrenched as one of the top teams in its new conference, the Sun Belt.
Since entering the Sun Belt in 2000, North Texas men’s and women’s track & field and cross-Country has produced a team finishing either first or second in the Conference standings nine out of 10 years in at least one of those sports. North Texas has won five Sun Belt Conference Championships and had 11 runner-up finishes.
On a national level, North Texas has been represented at the NCAA Championships 10 out of the last 12 years, and the last six years in a row.
At the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the North Texas women’s 4 X 100 Relay team [Missy Barnes, Brittani Simmons, Brittany Blaylock and Alysha Adams] finished 11th, while Adams was also 16th in the 100 meter hurdles at the National Meet. Watkins has been named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the year four times, and was named the 2002 Men’s South Central Regional Coach of the year by the US Track & Field Coaches Association.
During his tenure at North Texas, the Mean Green has produced 434 all-conference performers, with 108 athletes winning individual conference titles. North Texas athletes have also broken 104 school records under Watkins.
The 2010 season started off on the right foot for the Mean Green under Watkins as the men’s team finished higher than it ever has, second, in the Sun Belt Conference indoor meet. Overall, there were 22 All-Sun Belt Conference athletes in the indoor season for North Texas, which advanced Keyth Talley to the NCAA Indoor Championship in the 55 meter dash.
When the team moved outdoors, the focus shifted to the women’s side as Adams claimed three conference titles (six on the year) and advanced to the NCAA Outdoor Championships individually in the 100-meter hurdles as well as part of the 4x100 meter relay [Missy Barnes, Brittani Simmons and Brittany Blaylock].
Expanding on another productive year on the national stage, Watkins also led freshman hurdler Steven White to a second Place finish at the USA Junior Championships and a spot on the US Junior team which competed at the IAAF World Championships in Canada.
In 2008, Watkins helped coach Ciara Smith (400-meters) and Toby Edwards (high jump) to the NCAA national meet. Smith and Edwards advancing to the NCAA Championship marked the first time since 1983 that North Texas had multiple athletes in different events competing for a national title.
Edwards broke the school record with a jump of 7’ 1/2” and became the first high jumper in school history to make the NCAA Championship. Smith was the school record holder in the 400-meter dash clocking in with a time of 53.41 and became the first ever North Texas athlete to earn a trip to the NCAA Championships in the 400-meter dash.
Watkins mentored his second All-American performer in 2006. Freshman Brandi Stanfield competed at the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships. She earned indoor all-America honors after an 11th place finish in the triple jump. Other accolades included winning the Sun Belt indoor triple jump title, being named the conference’s Indoor Field Athlete of the Year as well as the Freshman of the Year in both seasons.
In 2005, North Texas sent 21 student-athletes to the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in Norman, Okla., the most in the program’s history. The Mean Green followed that accomplishment by sending 19 athletes to regionals in 2006.
In 2000, the North Texas men’s cross-country team and the track team won the Sun Belt Conference Championships, marking the first time since 1933 that North Texas had won double titles in the same calendar year.
Placing the Mean Green back on the national map has been a priority since Watkins took the helm. In 1999, cross-country star Paul Ndachi became the first North Texas athlete in 13 years to qualify for the NCAA Cross-Country Championships.
Earlier that spring, the Men’ s 4 X 100 relay became the school’s first NCAA Track and Field qualifiers in 11 years, after breaking the Big West conference record on its way to the conference title. In 1998, the Women’s 4 X 400 Relay advanced to the USA Indoor Championships for the first time ever. Since that time, North Texas has produced 91 NCAA regional or national-qualifying marks.
Watkins has served as the meet director for several high-caliber events, including the 1999 and 2000 USA Track and Field Jr. National Championships, the NCAA South Central Regional Cross-Country Championships from 1997-2000, and several Conference Championship events in the Big West and Sun Belt Conferences.
Watkins also heads up the UIL Class 4A Region II Championships every spring, in which the top athletes from the Dallas-Fort Worth area compete to qualify for the Texas High School State Championships.
During his collegiate days, Watkins helped lead Abilene Christian to three NAIA and NCAA Division II National Championships, where he was an All-American high jumper and also competed as a decathlete.
As a post-collegian, Watkins finished third at the United States Track and Field Federation Indoor Championships and fifth Outdoors. He was a 1984 Olympic Trials qualifier in the High Jump, and twice represented the United States in the International Friendship Games in Tiapei, Tiawan.
Watkins was an assistant track coach at North Texas for three years, also serving as the facilities coordinator for the athletic department. Prior to coming to North Texas, Watkins served as the plan review coordinator for the prestigious Las Colinas real estate development in Irving, Texas, where he was responsible for reviewing and approving all construction plans in the 12,000 acre mixed-use real estate development.Watkins received his bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian University in industrial technology (’84) and his master’s degree in public administration (’95) from the University of North Texas.
He and his wife, Carol have been married 23 years, and have two children, Kacie (20), and Cody (17).