Bill Bowerman’s legacy in track and field is undeniable. He served as the University of Oregon’s head track and field coach from 1949-72 and remained active at the University and in the coaching world even as the shoe company he cofounded, Nike®, grew into a global sports giant.
Bowerman was born in Portland, Oregon and graduated from Medford High School before attending the University of Oregon. At Oregon, he played basketball and football and joined Bill Hayward’s Ducks as a quarter-miler. After graduation in 1934, he began his coaching career at the high school level, first in Portland and then as the head football and track and field coach at Medford. He continued to coach at the high school level until 1948, with an interruption while he served in the Army during World War II.
The greatest improvement is made by the man who works most intelligently.
– Bill Bowerman
In 1948, Bowerman returned to his alma mater, and a year later, with Hayward retiring, Oregon hired him as the head track and field and cross country coach. Over the next 23 years, the Ducks experienced new levels of success, winning four national team titles and finishing twice as runner-up. Individually, Bowerman’s athletes were equally successful; he coached 24 NCAA individual champs, 33 Olympians, 64 All-Americans, and athletes who have achieved 13 world records and 23 American records. Among his Olympians were Gold Medalist Otis Davis, Dyrol Burleson, Jim Grelle, Bronze Medalist Bill Dellinger, Ken Moore, Wade Bell, and Steve Prefontaine.
Bowerman’s contributions extend far beyond the University of Oregon. Bowerman served as the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association’s (NCTCA) vice president in 1958-59 and took the helm of the organization as its president in 1959-60. The NCTCA is one of several predecessor organizations that now form the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
The timing of Bowerman’s NCTCA leadership could not have been more significant, as tension between NCTCA coaches and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) came to a head in 1960-61. In response to the concerns of NCTCA coaches over the operating practices of the AAU, Bowerman was one of the primary leaders in the formation of the United States Track and Field Federation, which was the first step in establishing the system of autonomous federations to control individual sports in the United States that exists today.
Bowerman also served as head track and field coach for the 1972 Olympic Team and played a leading role in Eugene’s successful bids to host the 1972, 1976, and 1980 Olympic trials.
Bowerman also helped inspire the jogging boom in the U.S. in the 1970s. During a trip to New Zealand in the 1960s with the Oregon track team, Bowerman witnessed the jogging boom in that country, which led him to write a book on jogging and to start a jogging/running club in Eugene. As the cofounder of Nike®, Bowerman also achieved international recognition. He famously invented the waffle sole by pouring rubber on his wife’s waffle iron.
Although Bowerman’s tenure at Oregon is long over, his impact on the University, on track and field, and on the global sports arena continues to be felt. For his numerous contributions to the sport of track and field and to the profession of track and field coaching, Bowerman was an inaugural inductee into the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame in 1995.