TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As a volunteer assistant coach at Auburn in 2008, Keith Herston had a first-hand look at the Florida State men’s track & field team at its very best, as the Seminoles wrapped up what was then their third consecutive NCAA Outdoor Championships team title by an eight-point margin over the Tigers. A decade later, Herston will have a hand in leading the Seminoles back to the top of the national podium.
Florida State coach Bob Braman has hired Herston to replace 31-year veteran Dennis Nobles, as the assistant coach for the men’s and women’s horizontal and vertical jumpers, the pole vault and multi-events. Nobles accepted a full-time faculty position in the sport management program after guiding 15 NCAA champions, 130 All-Americans, 131 conference champions and sent seven Seminoles to the Olympic Games.
“We are really excited to welcome Keith to our staff,” Braman said. “Dennis Nobles is irreplaceable, but Keith is up to the task of following the legend.”
Braman also said that sixth-year throws coach Dorian Scott has been promoted to Director of Field Events, a position previously held by Nobles.
Herston, 33, joins the FSU staff from the University of Miami. In eight full-time seasons between stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Miami, he has been responsible for developing 27 All-Americans, 38 individual conference champions and 21 school record-holders, while those schools combined for six conference titles. He also produced a pair of 2016 Olympic qualifiers in the pole vault.
“This is an incredible opportunity Coach Braman and Florida State have provided me and I’m extremely thankful,” said Herston. “This is huge for me and my family. This is the area where I was born and raised. I’m very comfortable here, and I understand the culture and the atmosphere.”
He was drawn to the position by Florida State’s “winning culture” and the opportunity to “win national championships.”
“The staff here is unbelievable,” Herston said. “I’ve seen how well-built the team was and how well coach Braman put the staff and all the athletes together.”
And make no mistake, he will have ample talent to work with. The Noles return six NCAA Championships qualifiers in his event group and welcome a signing class which includes the defending NCAA champion in the high jump, a three-time NCAA qualifier in the long jump, the defending NAIA national champion in the high jump and the European Junior Championships silver medalist in the long jump.
“Keith has had tremendous success in developing talent and getting them to the National Championships,” Braman said. “He’ll have a ton of talent to work with and we’re certain he can get the jumps group to score heavily at nationals. He is also known as one of the top recruiters in the country and that’ll be huge for us as well.”
Herston is excited to get started.
“A premier coach like Dennis Nobles’ shoes are impossible to fill,” Herston said. “I hope to come in here and continue to keep doing what he’s been doing the last 31 years. To live up to his expectations is another whole level, but we hope to keep doing the same things he’s been doing; be strong competitors nationally in the horizontals, verticals and multi-events. I think we can do that.
“I have a strong background in all of those events and success at the national level everywhere I’ve been in those events. I have no doubt we’ll do it here, especially with the athletes that we have in place. I’m very excited about the athletes in every event group that we have in place. We should be a very even jumps group across the board nationally. I’m very excited to get to work with them and the opportunity to help them reach their goals.”
Herston has worked and learned alongside some of the very best over the course his coaching career, which began in earnest after graduating from Alabama in 2007, where he was a walk-on long jumper, was selected to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and earned his degree in human environmental science.
“It’s been a long road and there’s doubt that God has had his hand on me, directing me where to go and putting the right people in my life,” Herston said. “As far as mentors go, I stand on the shoulders of giants in this business. What I know and what I’ve learned is because the effort and the time people have put into me and poured into me to help me be successful.”
He joined the Auburn staff as a volunteer assistant in 2008 while pursuing his masters in kinesiology. There he worked alongside coach Jerry Clayton with the throws, jumps, combined events, sprints and hurdles.
“He put in a ton of time with me and he still does today,” Herston said of Clayton, who is now the head coach at Michigan. “Coach Dana Boone, who is the associate head coach at Texas Tech, has helped me along my career; been a great mentor to me and a great friend. Ralph Spry at Auburn has really molded me into the type of integrity coach that I look to be. Jeremy Fischer, the jumps coach for USA Track & Field…
“There are way too many coaches to highlight. I’m very thankful to each and every one of them.”
In his lone season at Miami, directing the jumpers and multi-event athletes under recent USTFCCCA Hall of Fame selection Amy Deem, Herston was instrumental in leading the Hurricanes to the 2017 ACC Indoor team title.
“I want to thank the head coach at the University of Miami, Amy Deem, for the opportunity and the guidance she gave me during my time with her,” he said. “I’m very thankful for the support she has given me.”
Along the way Herston has developed his own coaching style and system, which along with athletic and academic careers, appear remarkably similar to those of Nobles – right down to the floppy.
Still, he’s anxious to make his own impression on a talented group of Seminoles, some of whom he knows from competition last season, and others whom he met during the interview process.
“Seeing them from afar as a competitor, I know for a fact that they have a fierce competitiveness about them,” Herston said. “They know what is expected of them. I could see it. They all want to be great. That’s the first thing to being successful is the drive to be great, above everything else…
“When I met them, everybody was just straightforward and direct. ‘This is what our goals are. This is what we want. How can you get us there?’ They pretty much displayed attitude-wise, exactly what they show body language-wise in their competition. It was exciting. It was pretty much what I expected out of the people that I had met.”
And he is anxious to begin building the kind of relationships which he believes are essential to developing championship-level student-athletes.
“I feel like I have a wealth of knowledge, but in order for us to be great athletes, they’re going to have to understand how passionate I am about their well-being and their success,” he said. “Until they understand how much I care about them and their success, they don’t care how much I know…
“They’re going to understand, ‘Ok, he’s got my best interest.’ Then they’re going to be more willing to commit to the cause of what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s what I’m more about as a coach…It’s going to take time, but they’re going to see that.”
A native of Greenhill, Ala., Herston holds USATF Levels 1 and 2 certifications and is GAIN Network certified. He is engaged to Tina Valenzuela, who is completing her training as a physical therapist.