Rutledge rides into history

Mens cross country/track and field coach Tom Rutledge, clears a path for runners during the Southern Stampede on Sept. 20.

Cody Dyer

Men’s cross country/track and field coach Tom Rutledge, clears a path for runners during the Southern Stampede on Sept. 20.

Meagan Morrison

Twenty years ago Tom Rutledge was hired as an assistant football coach, but tomorrow he will be inducted into the Missouri Southern Sports Hall of Fame as the man who brought cross country and track and field to MSSU.

“I never thought that I was that good at track and field or cross country,” Rutledge said. “I thought I would be a football coach for the rest of my life.”

Rutledge began his collegiate coaching career in 1980, at Arkansas Tech University. He was hired as an assistant football coach and the head coach of the cross country/track and field teams.

“It was tough,” Rutledge said. “I was putting in 15 hour days, seven days a week. The distance program was weak and I wanted to make it better.”

While there, Rutledge became friends with legendary University of Arkansas track and field coach, John McDonnell.

“I begged, borrowed, and stole any bit of information I could get from him,” Rutledge said. “I wanted to be able to coach the program better, especially since I had always coached more football.”

After five years at Arkansas Tech, Rutledge went on to coach women’s cross country at Adams State. Two years later, Rutledge took the job at Southern.

“I was a football coach for a year,” Rutledge said. “I thought I was destined to always be someone’s assistant.”

Then, in 1989 Rutledge was asked to start the cross country/track and field walk-on programs for Southern.

“Starting the program from ground zero was hard,” Rutledge said. “It was hard to make people stay. I only had one men’s and one women’s scholarship to give out. I thought I was a rich man, but we finally started getting kids who believed in the program and believed in me.”

In 1991, Rutledge organized his first meet for Southern, the Southern Stampede. The meet boasted 39 runners. Now, 18 Stampedes later, the meet boasts more than 3,000 runners. Southern has also hosted numerous meets, including last year’s Division II Cross Country Nationals.

“I wanted to prove to people that track and field/cross country is profitable,” Rutledge said. “I still want to prove that to people. It is generating money for the community. My goal coming here, was to show people that this sport is worthy and profitable.

I wanted to show people that we could host a national meet and other meets. And we’ve done that.”

While at Southern, Rutledge has been named MIAA Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year four times and Indoor Coach of the Year twice.

Rutledge was also honored as South Central Region Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year in 1999, 2004 and 2007, and South Central Region Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2007.

“I’m a very lucky man,” Rutledge said. “I’ve had a lot of help from people to get where I am today.”

Rutledge has mentored seven cross country All-Americans and 33 in track and field, several of the 33 achieving multiple All-American status. One of those All-American’s was former Southern assistant coach, and Rutledge’s son, Kyle.

“As a coach, I was proud to have a three-time All-American,” Rutledge said. “But as a parent, I was proud of my son period. My wife helped me to raise him to be a good athlete and person.”

Tomorrow, the men’s and women’s cross country teams will run in the Oklahoma State Jamboree, while Rutledge is being inducted. The men’s team will be coached by former Southern runner Dustin Miller.

“We’re improving,” Rutledge said. “I’m waiting on the freshman to step up. The question is whether or not we are improving fast enough. My upperclassmen are doing exactly what they need to be doing.”

Despite the “loss of his step” and not “being as young as he used to be,” Rutledge has no plans to leave Southern anytime soon.

“God’s been good to me,” Rutledge said. “I’ve got a great family and great athletes. I’m not done. I’m still kicking. I still hate to lose. When I lose that, then I’ll quit coaching.”