Updated at 1:20 p.m. April 18, 2018
Steve Scott, the former American record-holder in the mile, has announced his retirement as track and cross country coach at CSU San Marcos at age 61.
“Tears, sniffles and sadness” attended his surprise announcement Tuesday at the northeast corner of the college track, according to a witness.
Scott and his wife, JoAnn, reportedly have sold their home in Carlsbad and plan to move to Pacific Grove in Monterey County after the end of the track season.
Two-time Olympian Scott, a member of the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, guided the Cougars’ cross programs since their inaugural season in 1999.
“Working at Cal State San Marcos for the last 19 years has been a wonderful experience,” Scott said in a statement. “It has been a joy working with the student-athletes. It has been an experience that I will treasure forever.
“I would like to thank the administration at Cal State San Marcos, from President Karen Haynes to Director of Athletics Jennifer Milo. They have provided tremendous support not only for me but also for the program. I am indebted to them for the rest of my life for this experience.”
Milo was caught off-guard by the decision, according to a school source. But when a home was available in the Pacific Grove area, where he has vacationed, Scott made the decision to retire.
A mandatory team meeting was called for 2 p.m. Tuesday near the 100-meter-dash starting line to announce the finish of Scott’s career.
About 60 to 70 people attended, including the men’s and women’s teams, Milo and other athletic department staff, according to the witness, who said many thanks were offered.
No successor head coach has been named.
“It is a significant loss to CSSM and his student-athletes,” said former Competitor Group executive Tracy Sundlun, who has known Scott since the 1970s. He and Scott helped Elite Racing launch the Carlsbad 5000 in 1986. (Scott won the first three races.)
“Never again will they have the opportunity to be mentored by a person of such character, integrity and real-life experience (both on and off the track). Steve is a truly special person — a once-in-a-lifetime person, and both the university and everyone he dealt with — athletes and staff alike — will be poorer for his retirement.”
Scott, who overcame testicular cancer in the 1990s and again four years ago, started the cross country and track & field programs from scratch, turning CSUSM into a perennial powerhouse in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. He guided the women’s cross country team to three straight NAIA national titles from 2009-11.
Before CSUSM’s transition to NCAA Division II membership, Scott coached 34 cross country NAIA All-Americans, 86 outdoor track & field NAIA All-Americans and 13 indoor track & field NAIA All-Americans.
He was a three-time NAIA Women’s Cross Country of the Year and an 11-time Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) Cross Country Coach of the Year.
According to transparentcalifornia.com, Scott had a base salary of $116,868 in 2017.
“This news is bittersweet,” Milo said. “I hate to lose Steve’s leadership in our department, but he has built his legacy and is leaving here having accomplished everything and more he could have hoped for. His student-athletes are better people because they had Steve Scott in their life.”
Scott is among the most decorated runners in U.S. history. As a collegiate runner at UC Irvine, he won the NCAA Division II 1,500-meter championship in three consecutive years from 1975-77. He won the 1,500-meter Olympic trials in 1980, but wasn’t able to compete because the United States boycotted the games. He competed in the Olympics in 1984 and 1988.
In 1981, Scott set the American record for the mile (3 minutes, 48.68 seconds) and the 1,500 meters (3:31.96). He bettered his mile record to 3:47.69 the following year, setting a mark that stood for over 25 years.
Scott was the national outdoor 1,500-meter champion six times and ran a world-record 136 sub-4 minute miles. In 1996, at age 40, Scott set an American age-group record in the mile — a 4:10.43 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon.
Scott’s longtime assistant coach, Wes Williams, will also be retiring at the completion of this season. A former world-class quarter-mile hurdler, Williams barely missed the American record when he ran 49.3 for San Diego State University in 1969.
The school’s Department of Athletics says it will host a farewell Open House in Scott’s honor from 2 to 4 p.m. May 10 in the courtyard of The Sports Center.
The celebration is open to the public. Light refreshments will be served, and parking will be first come first served in The Sports Center/The Clarke Field House Parking Lot L.