Men’s Track and Field Head Coach Bubba Thornton retires

Shay Hoffman

The athletics department announced June 17 that Bubba Thornton, Texas' men's track and field head coach, will not be reprising his position next year, as he and men's athletics director DeLoss Dodds reached a mutual agreement to terminate the last year of his contract. 

"It has been a singular honor to serve as track and field coach for the University of Texas men's indoor and outdoor track teams, as well as oversee the cross country team, for the past 18 years," Thornton said after the announcement was made. "It was a privilege to serve this great university with its extraordinary heritage of developing scholar athletes." 

Thornton arrive at Texas after coaching at Texas Christian University, spending 18 of his 31 seasons of coaching with the Longhorns. While a head coach, Thornton produced 26 NCAA champions, one relay champion and 19 NCAA top-10 finishes, while leading 94 student-athletes to 222 All-America honors. 

This past season, the Longhorns finished No. 6 with two individual championships. Thornton finished his career with 12 conference championships. At Texas, athletes hold 18 of 29 indoor school records and 14 of 29 modern outdoor school records. 

"Not only has he amassed a notable record here at UT, but his capabilities have been recognized internationally when he was named head coach of Team U.S.A's 2008 Olympic Men's Team," Dodds said. 

In addition to his work at Texas, Thornton worked on the Olympic ad World Championship circuits. He served as an assistant coach for Team U.S.A. at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, working with athletes competing in the 400-meter dash, 400-meter hurdle and the 4×400-meter relay. He coached athletes to three gold medals and one silver medal. 

In 2008, Thornton was selected as the head coach for the U.S. track and field team at the Beijing Summer Olympics. The U.S. finished with 14 medals overall, including four gold, at those games, more than any other country. Thornton was awarded the Order of Ikkos medallion for his serve to the United States Olympics Committee for his work as a coach. 

Following Thornton's retirement, which becomes effective Aug. 31, Dodds and women's athletics director Chris Plonsky will be restructuring the track and field program, combine the men's and women's programs under one head coach for the first time at Texas. Merged track programs have been on the rise and Texas is currently the only Big 12 Conference school with a split program. Texas announced Thursday that the new, combined head coaching position would be filled by Mario Sategna. Sategna, who has spent the last 10 seasons as an associate head coach under Thornton, ran track for Louisiana State University and has experience coaching on both the collegiate and Olympic level.

 "Mario's a really hard worker," senior hurdler Keiron Stewart said last week. "He's been here for a while, he's worked in Bubba's shadow for a long time. He knows the ropes, he knows the institution, he knows what it stands for and he will push everyone to do their best, to give the most that they can give to the team." 

Thornton's decision to step down comes on the heels of women's track and field head coach Beverly Kearney's departure this past January, after the revelation of her relationship with a student-athlete in 2002. Kearney resigned upon learning that Texas was prepared to begin the termination process. 

Based on documents obtained from 2004, Kearney filed a complaint with Dodds, stating that Thornton tried to undermine Kearney and accused her of breaking NCAA rules. The two head coaches had a history of friction and Thornton spoke openly about eventually hoping to take control of both programs. 

"With everything that happened here, the good, the bad or the ugly, he always remained Bubba," Steward said. 

According to a statement released by Texas, in retirement Thornton plans to take a a greater role in community interests and spend more time with his wife of 43 years, Kay, daughters Courtney and Piper and his two grandchildren, Sam and Sophie. 

"I think it was time," Stewart said. "Bubba's been here for 18 years. He's done his time, put in a lot of work and now he gets to relax. He gave me great opportunities here." 

Thornton, who is currently on vacation, could not be reached for further comment.