Oct. 14, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After helping develop Florida State into one of the elite men’s track & field sprint programs in the country, Ken Harnden is embarking on a new challenge.
Florida State head track & field coach Bob Braman has appointed Harnden as the Director of Sprints, Hurdles & Relays for both the men’s and women’s programs. It’s a position the Zimbabwe, South Africa native has earned by continually turning out NCAA Champions, All-Americans and Olympians, who have help cement the Seminoles’ standing as one of the nation’s finest comprehensive programs.
“We felt like we needed to be under one sprint program, one philosophy, and the natural way to go is to put Ken in charge of both the men and women,” said Braman. “The men have had unbelievable success and the women have had some success, but we felt like we could have better recruiting – a better combined program – and feed off each other, both in recruiting and in the training methods.”
The approach is certainly not unique among elite Division I programs. Texas A&M, LSU and Florida all employ a single person to coordinate their highly-successful men and women sprint, hurdle and relay personnel.
“It usually works well to have the same coach in both,” Braman said “The combined philosophy tends to work, particularly in technique-type events.”
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Harnden said. “We’ve got to get the women’s program to where the men’s program is on a regular basis. I want to contend for national titles on both sides and if you don’t have sprints on the women’s side it’s just not possible. There are just too many scholarships. … We’ve fluctuated everywhere from fourth to 30th (at the NCAA Outdoor Championships). We’ve got to be in the top five every year.”
While Harnden has not previously worked with the Florida State women, he does have some experience working with elite female post-collegiate, world class athletes.
“They are not like coaching the men, but at the end of the day most women want structure, they want communication and they want to be in a good environment,” Harnden said. “I think we offer that on both sides.”
One of the added benefits of the dual role is recruiting, which is critical when pulling together a contending women’s program, which has six more scholarships to offer than the men.
“We’ve just got to go out and get the right kids who want to be here, want to get to the next level, and want to be great,” Harnden said. “That’s the same thing we had on the men’s side. That’s how we built it.
“We’ve had some superstars, but we’ve also had a lot of Greg Boldens, Michael Ray Garvins, Brandon Byrams, Kevin Williams and David Amblers that have been an integral part in making it a national championship team.”
Harnden’s sprinters helped lead the Seminoles to the 2006 and 2008 NCAA Outdoor National Championship titles.
The opportunity to recruit elite athletes – men and women – simultaneously makes sense, especially with both genders competing at the same meets, whether that’s on the high school, club or international levels.
“The key is feed off each other; piggyback in recruiting,” Braman said. “We quite often get [siblings] and club teammates. “LSU, Texas A&M, Florida – the other major track compatriots that we have to beat – that’s what they do.”
Equally important, Harnden will also integrate a singular coaching philosophy, which has produced countless NCAA champions and All-Americans, as well as Olympic and international competitors.
That philosophy is already in place within the program as associate head coach Harlis Meaders directs the men and women weight events, while Dennis Nobles handles all of the jumps, multi-events and the pole vault.
“It’s one voice, one philosophy, one program,” Braman said. “I think that’s been successful in our program in many, many other event areas. It’s just a natural progression and Ken’s the one to do that. He’s the one to run the program.”
Harnden has been associated with the Florida State program in some capacity for nearly two decades and is in his 13th season . A two-time Olympic hurdler representing Zimbabwe, Harnden won NCAA titles for North Carolina in the 400-meter hurdles and as a member of the 4×400 relay team. He is entering his 13th full-time season at Florida State, where he’s helped develop an impressive cast of Olympic and World Championship performers. The list includes Brian Dzingai, Ricardo Chambers, Charles Clark, twins Kevin and Jonathan Borlee, as well as Dix, Makusha and Mitchell.
He has twice earned NCAA National Assistant Coach of the Year, and East Region Assistant Coach of the Year. His Florida State pupils hold five outdoor school records (100, 200, 400, 4×100 and 4×400) and five indoor school marks (60 dash, 60 hurdles, 200, 400 and 4×400).
Harnden’s position was created when former women’s sprints coach Jackie Richards departed after nine seasons to join her husband Kareem Streete-Thompson – a former FSU volunteer assistant – who has taken a full-time coaching position at Missouri.
“With Jackie’s husband taking the job at the University of Missouri, she’s going to move up there and for now she’s retired from coaching and going to raise their child,” Braman said. “I hope she gets back into coaching. She’s a good coach.”