Rutledge leaves quite the legacy

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Curtis Almeter, The Chart

Men’s Cross Country and Track & Field Head Coach, Tom Rutledge, has had an illustrious career at Missouri Southern and other schools in his 40 years as a coach in the sports. This will be his last season at Southern as he prepares for retirement. 

Shelby Neubeck, Staff Writer

“It’s not about me, it’s really not. I’m just the old man, It’s never been about me,” Men’s Track & Field and Cross Country Head Coach Tom Rutledge said.

“I train them and I work them hard. But, they’re true athletes and great guys. I just push them to do what they already know they can do.”

Rutledge has been coaching for 40 years anywhere from Colorado, Missouri or Arkansas.

In 1974, before beginning his coaching career, Rutledge received a bachelor’s degree in physical education and social studies from Ouachita Baptist University and went on to receive his masters degree in physiology of exercise at Henderson State University in 1976.

Rutledge worked at Arkansas Tech as head coach of cross country and Track from 1980-85, earning five top-15 national finishes and five top-three conference finishes.

Rutledge was also named conference coach of the year twice.

Rutledge continued on, moving to Adams State College in Colorado, where he guided the cross country squad to the 1985 NAIA championships, finishing in fourth place, the same year he won District Coach of the Year.

In the following year, Rutledge led them to a third-place finish in the 1986 NAIA Nationals.

In 1988, Rutledge began his decorated career at Missouri Southern as an offensive line coach and special team coordinator for the Lions’ 1988 football team.

When Southern established the track and cross country teams in 1989, Rutledge was more than happy to help develop on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Since then, Rutledge has been turning cubs into Lions for almost 25 years. He has expanded the Lions’ track and cross country teams into national competitors, a legitimate threat in both sports.

“Tom’s a visionary,” Women’s Head Coach Patty Vavra said. “He started the cross country program and started a cross country meet, with almost nothing to work with. It takes a special person and a special time and place to do that.

“To me, Tom’s just the best person for the job. He’s very dedicated to working, passionate, and he committed himself to Southern.

“I couldn’t imagine the program without him. He’s been the program, he’s the only coach we’ve had. There are big shoes to fill. It’ll be a lot different without him here. I’m very proud of him and all that he’s accomplished.”

As Vavra mentioned, Rutledge also spearheaded a meet that brings more than 2,000 athletes to Southern each year, the Southern Stampede.

Rutledge also trained former Lion Tongula Givens in the triple jump, as she bid for the U.S. Olympic Team in 2000.

With the lessons from Rutledge under their belts, the Lions have won eight cross country championships and two MIAA Indoor Track & Field championships.

“He really does have a big heart,” said senior distance runner Nick Niggemann.

“Some of my favorite memories are on the course. We’ll just be going pedal to the floor and he’ll be out on his little scooter, he’ll come flying up beside us on the hill, yelling at us to go faster. If you don’t go faster he’ll just drive past you and go to the next guy.

“Makes you laugh a little bit and push you to go harder.”

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever had; he really is a great guy. Sometimes, he can get onto the team pretty hard and it can be pretty tough. But, if you ever need anything, Coach Rutledge has always got your back,” said junior distance runner Jake Benton.

Over the years at Southern, Rutledge was named MIAA Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year five times and Indoor Coach of the Year two times.

Rutledge also earned South Central Region Coach of the Year in both indoor track and cross country four times. In 2008, Rutledge was  inducted as a member of the MSSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

“I believe in Missouri Southern State University. This will be my last job,” Rutledge said. “I’ve been blessed with 61 years of good life, so, I’m better off than some people. What really made me realize—and this is the truth—is when I was in the hospital in St. Louis and I was seeing my hematologist.

“I saw all those children going through chemotherapy.  I’m pretty damn lucky and that’s a fact.”

This will be Tom Rutledge’s final year of coaching at Southern, but he’ll always be a Lion.