Clarence Franklin Robison (1923-2006): Tributes

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Franchuk, Jason. The Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, Thursday, 22 Apr 2004:

Name to Remember

Beyond his achievements in track and field competition and coaching, Clarence Robison is most fondly regarded as a tough but fair man who had a better sense of humor than he sometimes would let on.

No joke: The former BYU coach, who will turn 81 in June, is set to have his name seen forever on the Cougars' track. The legions of athletes he produced couldn't think of a better honor.

"When I think of coach Robison, I don't think of him as a coach first," said former BYU athlete Anders Arrhenius. "To me, he's kind of a father figure in some ways. Some coaches teach on the field, and that's it. Others, like coach Robison, really care about the athlete. I think a lot of people feel that way about him. He's a legend there."

Arrhenius was one of those pranksters who just loved to have a good time with his coach. Once, the Swede showed up for a new semester sporting a big beard (a no-no by school standards) and a T-shirt with Viking horns on it.

"I was trying to scare him, and when he realized who it was he gave me a look like I was a big idiot," Arrhenius said. "He just said, 'Oh, you character. Why don't you go home and shave your beard?' But he had a laugh about it."

BYU will have a formal celebration Saturday during the Robison Invitational to honor the event's namesake, preceded by a Friday night dinner that will include many former athletes, nine children and many more grandchildren.

He still keeps busy with his church -- "the church doesn't know what retirement is," Robison joked -- but has had his date book filled to the max this week in preparation of this event. He has known about the honor since February when BYU athletic director Val Hale told him. But the news is still a shock.

Robison said when he signed his first contract to coach BYU in 1949 he never considered such a thing would ever happen.

"Oh, no, you don't dare dream of such things," Robison said. "Back then, I just wanted to have a good track team, one the school could be proud of."

The numbers speak for themselves. In 40 years Robison won 18 conference titles, including two Western Athletic Conference indoor championships, and shared an NCAA title. During a 12-year span, his teams were ranked in the top 10 for 11 times.

He produced 20 NCAA champions, 75 All-Americans and more than 20 Olympians -- including Arrhenius.

The program, under his leadership, developed into a strong part of BYU's athletic success and as a major player on the national circuit, starting with no scholarships when Robison started, to one that had 28, a number he said was "above average" for a track program. His program was so deep, future distance-running Olympian Doug Padilla started in Provo as a walk-on.

Besides having money to spend, Robison built his success through athletes from all walks of life. He had success recruiting non-LDS competitors as well as foreign ones. He enticed international athletes by taking the BYU team to Europe for competitions six different times, allowing the Cougars to spread the ideals of the sport and the school's message to the world.

He'll always have a special place in his heart for Europe, particularly England, where he spent a considerable chunk of his first years following retirement in the spring of 1988. Along with his wife, Monita, they have has served three church missions, a calling in Athens, Greece (although mainly in Turkey, where he was the only missionary for 1Ý years) was served between two stints in England.

"But I don't want to travel anymore," Robison said. "It's not as much fun as it used to be."

He still follows track, especially BYU, where his son Mark is the coach and his grandson Nathan is one of the country's top distance runners.

Robison, who ran the 5,000 meters in London's 1948 Olympics, has a standard answer for anyone who asks if Nathan is a reflection of his genetics.

"I don't know," he'll say with a smile. "I never got to watch myself run."

Robison will also laugh about the training methods.

"You hear about these guys running 90 miles a week now," Robison said. "That was about what I'd run in a season."

That he was ever a runner is a story combining a dash of desire with a touch of rebellion. Growing up in his time, long-distance running was discouraged. Robison's father, who had heart problems, feared for his son racing anything longer than 220 yards. Too much running, the common thought went, could produce an enlarged heart and lead to early death.

The boy from Fillmore, normally the obedient type, saw running as his life. He disobeyed frequently on the way to and from school.

"It must've been a couple miles to get there, and I'd run the whole way," Robison said.

He ran, as it turns out, into immortality.

"This honor means a lot to me," Robison said. "I'm part of the school's athletic hall of fame, but sometimes awards like that are like trophies. They get put on shelves, build up dust and people forget about them. Now people will go to the stadium and they'll get to remember what has been accomplished here."

Jason Franchuk can be reached at [email protected]


The Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, Monday, 2 Oct 2006:

Todd Christensen Column, 10-2

It was the winter of 1976 and I was a distraught young athlete. Heading into my junior year of football, my dream of playing professionally was not coming to fruition as I had hoped.

BYU had been 6-5 the year before and I was not doing much of consequence other than blocking on sweeps and catching a few short passes. But the most significant thing was that my athletic ability was not NFL-level, particularly in the speed department. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, I could only run the 40-dash in about 4.8-something; that certainly would not move the scouts that measured such things.

So I approached BYU track coach Clarence Robison for help.

At this time he was already a nationally renowned coach and, of course, a stellar presence on campus. I was reticent to do this in fear of wasting his time; after all, I was not one of his athletes nor was I anyone of consequence.

But as thousands of athletes and people will attest, he had time for you whether you were the President or an insecure, slow-witted fullback. He must have sensed my ardor for this pursuit as he took out a brand-new program that he had received from a colleague that had come back from Russia. Valeriy Borzov was the reigning Olympic Champion in the 100 and 200-meter dashes at the time and this associate had procured part of his regimen. What it turned out to be was an accentuation of every aspect of the running movement, exaggerating certain parts. It is what is now known as "plyometrics" but back then it did not have a name.

Frankly, I did not care what moniker it had as I pursued it religiously and sure enough, became faster. With the help of other track people like Anders Arrhenius, Tapio Kuusela, Raimo Pihl and Chuck Stiggins in the weight room, I ran a 4.59 for the professional scouts first, and then a 4.50 near the end of the scouting period prior to the draft. My stock rose significantly and I was a second-round pick in the NFL.

To this day, I still enjoy the fruits of plyometrics ingrained in me some 30 years ago by a man that was ahead of his time. Would I have had a professional football career without the intervention of this innovator and facilitator? I only know that I am profoundly thankful for that gentleman taking the time for Ned and June's second son.

Oddly enough, during that same period of time he came out to the back of the Smith Fieldhouse Annex where I was working out and suggested that I try the decathlon. I was profoundly flattered as being raised in Eugene, Ore., I was steeped in the lore of track and field. But realistically, I could not see myself performing the requisite regimen for those 10 events in track and field and still have the ability to play football, so I declined.

The irony is that 26 years later, in a fit of middle-aged crazy, I opted to pursue the multi-events after all. When I won a couple of national age-group titles I made it a point to let him know on the track down at the University one day.

He smiled, happy for me and then proceeded to help me with my hurdling technique-evidently once a coach, always a coach.

As the saying goes, when you acknowledge someone who is profoundly accomplished, "the skins are on the wall." Forty years as a coach, 18 conference titles, one national title, over 100 All-Americans, 20 national champions and 26 Olympians. In addition, many may not remember that he was an outstanding athlete in his own right, possessing school records in the mile and two-mile while making the London Olympic contingent back in 1948.

Plain and simply, Robison was to track and field what LaVell Edwards was to football as both brought their respective sports to national prominence and now both have their competitive arenas named for them - maybe not so coincidentally - side-by-side.

The measure of a man, however, is not in a list of performances but in the people he has influenced. In Jude 22 we read, "And of some have compassion, making a difference."

Clarence Robison made a difference in the track and field world, the community, the University, the LDS church, his athletes and most certainly his family, proffering a level of compassion that will never be forgotten as long as there is a Brigham Young University.

Rest in Peace, Coach Rob, and thank you, very much.