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Veteran track and field coach Wes Kittley enters his second season at the helm of the Texas Tech track and field program following his hiring in July of 1999. Although this is only his second year at Tech, Kittley is keenly aware of the history of the Red Raider athletic program.
"I'm a West Texas boy, born and raised," Kittley says. "I'm aware of the excellent tradition and mystique of Texas Tech athletics and I'm excited to be here."
And Texas Tech is just as excited to have him. His reputation for developing athletes and producing championships is unparalleled in college athletics.
Kittley moved to Lubbock after leading one of the most successful programs in the history of track and field. At Abilene Christian University, Kittley won an unprecedented 29 national track and field championships, the most in Divisions I and II combined. His total is only three short of the all-time record held by Division III Kenyon College swimming and diving coach Jim Steen.
Kittley was born in Rule, Texas, and attended Rule High School, where he was a state champion in the 800 meters. He was a three-time NAIA All-American in the 800m at Abilene Christian, earning a bachelor's degree in physical education and a master's degree in school administration from ACU. In 1983 he was hired to coach the women's track and field team at his alma mater, beginning his illustrious career at the helm of the Wildcat program.
Kittley won his first national championship in 1985 when his women won the Division II outdoor championship, a title he would win again in '86, '87 and '88. When ACU combined their programs in 1993, Kittley was selected to head the men's team, as well. He wasted no time taking a floundering men's program to an elite level, winning the Division II indoor title in his first season.
Aside from his coaching duties, Kittley had also assumed an administrative role at ACU. In 1997 he added the additional duties of associate director of athletics to his resume.
His 15-year tenure at ACU included coaching 12 Olympic qualifiers, three Pan-American Games athletes, five World University Games athletes, 16 athletes who have qualified for the world championships and one United States national champion.
As head coach at Texas Tech, the environment may be different, but Kittley's philosophy will remain the same.
"Looking at it realistically, I'm proud of what we accomplished at ACU, but this is a new level," he said. "It's Division I, it's the Big 12, it's tougher competition, it's stricter rules. It may take time to build it, but it will be really sweet when we do, and we will.
"My philosophy is, and I believe this is especially true in today's track and field world, that you need to have an overall team concept," Kittley says. "You need to have great sprinters, jumpers, throwers and distance runners and must have a coaching staff in place that has an opportunity to attract those types of kids."
Kittley immediately set out to put together a coaching staff that could accomplish his goal. He brought Cliff Felkins, a longtime assistant at Abilene Christian, along with him to help coach throwing events. A former Division I and Division II national champion and a NCAA Track and Field Hall of Fame member, Felkins knows what it takes to develop throwers and help them win.
Kittley then brought in Diane Wholey from the University of Texas to help coach the jump events. Along with distance coach Dave Smith and field events coach Chris Beene, both former champions in their sports, Kittley had a full staff of coaches in place that could attract top student athletes and develop them to their full potential.
He added former Tech All-American Dion Miller to his staff before the 2000-01 school year to help coach sprinters.
"It gives me great satisfaction and encouragement to know that Gerald Myers has committed to the program now and we have a new commitment from Texas Tech," Kittley said. "We have great coaches who are respected and accomplished in their fields and will be able to develop the athletes we have and help them realize their full potential."
Looking back on what has so far been a remarkable career, Kittley recognizes some high and low points.
"I guess a high point has to be winning four national championships in one year, both men and women indoor and outdoor," Kittley said. "It was something that had never been done before and hasn't been since and we did it twice.
"The low point I think would probably be losing a national championship by one point, and I did that twice also. I probably remember those as much as the ones we won. That might sound stupid, but when you really hate to lose, you remember those things. And I really hate losing."
It is that type of competitive fire that drives a man to win. After winning 29 national championships, Kittley is looking forward to the new challenges awaiting him at Texas Tech.
"I'm definitely thinking long-term with this program. We want to start laying the foundation so that we can improve all the kids who are here. We're looking to build a base of kids in Texas, to really recruit the whole state and especially not miss out on any of the kids in West Texas. I really think there are a lot of talented kids from this area."
Kittley is married to his high school sweetheart, the former Linda Rhoads, and the couple has three boys, Zachary, Christopher and Jonathan.