By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports
When Centenary College track and field coach Brandon Graham learned that his college coach, Louisiana Tech’s Gary Stanley, would be retiring at the end of the spring season, his emotions got the best of him and tears welled up in his eyes.
“Coach Stanley taught me so much,” Graham said. “He taught me about running, but he also taught me more about life. He taught me how to be a man. And he was the only one to give me a chance.”
Stanley, who coached Graham from 2015-2017, took over the track program at Tech in 1984 after serving six years as assistant for his mentor, former Fair Park star Jerry Dyes.
“I didn’t go in the office for three months after Coach Dyes left,” Stanley said. “It didn’t feel right. In my mind, it was still his office.”
After making the decision to retire a couple of months ago, the coach, who has survived five conference changes and “eight or nine” different athletic directors, would find himself in that same office late at night crying as he reflected on 40 years of service to Tech.
“I confided with another head coach about it recently at a meet,” Stanley said. “He said ‘Gary, I find myself crying too. I cry on Monday morning when I have to get out of bed and go to work.’”
Among the five different conferences he has coached in, Stanley has been named Coach of the Year in four. As head coach, he has won 19 conference titles. There were two additional conference titles when Stanley was Dyes’ assistant.
“I think back to those championship meets and I’m most proud of the fact that we found a way to get it done,” Stanley said. “It’s never easy, right? I’m just happy for those kids who were a part of those championship teams. But, I also think about the ones that got away. Conference meets lost by one or two points.”
Graham wasn’t the only Shreveporter who was taken aback by the news.
“When a friend of mine told me on Friday, my first thought was — it’s a sad day for track and field in Louisiana,” former Tech distance runner Mark Weldon said.
“All of the other coaches who were at Tech when I got there in the mid-1980s have been gone,” Weldon said. “Coach Stanley loved the sport and it’s that love which kept him there coaching all of these years.”
Weldon recalls Stanley as a “ruthless” recruiter.
“He was a nice guy,” Weldon said, “but he was ruthless.”
Weldon was a star distance runner for Trinity Heights in the mid-1980s. He was supposed to sign with Northwestern State and iconic head coach Leon Johnson.
“Coach Johnson pulled into my driveway with the whole team on the bus,” Weldon said. “They were on their way to a track meet, but Coach Johnson wanted to stop in Shreveport and get me to sign my paperwork to run at NSU.”
But Johnson discovered the scholarship papers were in his office back in Natchitoches.
“He told me not to worry about it,” Weldon said. “He promised me he would come back on Thursday.”
Stanley, who was an assistant at Tech at the time, seized an opportunity. On Tuesday, he went to Trinity Heights, picked Weldon up and drove him to Ruston for a workout with some Tech runners, and then drove him back to Shreveport.
He signed with Tech the next day…on Wednesday.
“That’s when I met John Ratcliffe, James Terrell, and those guys,” Weldon said. “I really fell in love with the place and felt at home around those guys.”
Many former Tech competitors will return to honor Stanley at the program’s only home meet of the year, the Jim Mize Invitational on March 19.
Photo courtesy of LOUISIANA TECH