Stan Huntsman, a men’s track and field coach who helped dozens of college athletes achieve national success and led the U.S. team to seven gold medals at the 1988 Olympics, died Nov. 23 at his home in Austin. He was 84.
The cause was complications from a stroke he had two years ago, said his wife, Sylvia Scalzi Huntsman.
Mr. Huntsman’s career spanned 39 years and three schools: Ohio University (1956-1971), where he was promoted to head coach after working as a graduate student assistant; the University of Tennessee (1971-1985); and the University of Texas (1985-1995).
In total, he coached 41 individual national champions and four championship relay teams, and led his teams to 46 conference championships. He was named NCAA national coach of the year six times and inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2004.
While at Tennessee, Mr. Huntsman won the 1972 national cross-country championship and the 1974 national outdoor track and field championship — the school’s first in both sports — and a school-record 93 meets and 31 conference titles.
His success in Knoxville led him to Texas, which boasts one of the most prestigious and best-funded athletic departments in the country but at the time had struggled to find success on the track. Mr. Huntsman transformed the program into a perennial contender, dethroning Southwest Conference powerhouse Arkansas in his first year and twice finishing as a national runner-up in outdoor track.
It was while coaching at Texas that Mr. Huntsman was selected to lead the U.S. men’s track and field team at the 1988 Games in Seoul. The team led the world with seven gold medals, including two each by sprinters Carl Lewis and Steve Lewis, but Mr. Huntsman was not satisfied.
“It’s kind of scary,” he told The New York Times at the Games’s conclusion, lamenting an overall lack of interest in the sport, “because the American public is starting to drift toward just wanting to see the superstars and not a good basic track and field meet.”
“Every four years,” he added, “the Olympic Games save us so that a young American will say this is worthwhile and worth sacrificing eight to 10 years.”
Mr. Huntsman was a vocal opponent of cost-cutting in track and field, and for many years decried what he saw as an increasingly profit-minded approach to college athletics.
He was particularly critical of the federal rules known as Title IX, which require schools to provide equitable funding for men’s and women’s athletics. Although promoting equal opportunity in sports was a worthy aim, Mr. Huntsman said, the law in some cases led to the elimination of entire teams.
In 2007, Ohio University announced that it was dissolving its men’s track teams, along with men’s swimming and women’s lacrosse, to comply with Title IX and balance its athletic budget. The men’s track teams had a collective budget of less than $28,000.
Mr. Huntsman was furious. He mailed his master’s degree back to the school and demanded that a plaque in his honor be removed from the school’s athletic hall of fame.
“The issue is simple,” he told the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch at the time. “It’s about money.”
Stanley Houser Huntsman was born in Scottdale, Pa., on March 20, 1932. His father, J. Owen Huntsman, was a high school football and track coach who moved the family to Indiana to coach at Earlham College and then Wabash College.
Both Mr. Huntsman and his older brother, Jerry Huntsman, were standout athletes at Wabash, where their father coached them in track and they starred, two years apart, on the football team. Mr. Huntsman, running as a fullback, averaged six yards a carry in 1953; Jerry Huntsman, who died in 2005, was a starting quarterback who later became head football coach at Indiana State University.
Mr. Huntsman considered playing in the National Football League after graduating in 1954, but turned down a contract from what was then the Chicago Cardinals to try to make his way as a coach.
At Ohio University, he studied for a master’s degree in physical education while working as an assistant with the football, track and swimming teams — through which he met his wife, an undergraduate who had enrolled in a swimming course that he was teaching. They married in 1963.
Besides his wife, survivors include two children, Stanley Stephen of Los Angeles and Coni Huntsman Stogner of Austin; and three grandchildren.
After graduating from Ohio University in 1956 at age 24, Mr. Huntsman was named the school’s head track and field coach.
In addition to the Seoul Olympics, Mr. Huntsman served as an assistant coach at the 1976 Games in Montreal and 1980 Games in Moscow, the second of which the United States ultimately boycotted after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He also served as U.S. head coach for three International Association of Athletics Federations competitions: the 1977 World Cup, 1983 World Championships and 2003 World Indoor Championships.
In retirement, he helped his wife at an antique shop that she ran in Austin. “He could refinish things beautifully, in a very subtle way,” his wife said. “Just like he did in track, he would fix things up and make them better.”