Loran Smith’s sports column: Coach Caryl

Published 12:52 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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Caryl Smith-Gilbert is the director of men’s and women’s track teams

at the University of Georgia; if you yawn and move on about your day, be

aware that track in these parts is likely to be sensational on her watch—just

give her competitive facilities and you’ll see.


The more you learn about her, the less you will yawn. It is

reasonable to forecast that a volley of hosannas will come to pass in the

future. The ingredients are there, and there is no holding her back. Before

she cleaned out her desk in Los Angeles’ University Park neighborhood,

the home of the University of Southern California, there was a commitment

from UGA to build an Olympic sized track facility, including an indoor arena.

It will be the best such facility east of the Mississippi.

One of her reasons for coming to the opposite side of the country was

the influence and commitment of Georgia Athletic Director, Josh Brooks.

He is an Olympic sports advocate, but you could say he has the same

goals and aspirations for all UGA teams. Track and field, however, was

more in need of a facility upgrade.


Already, she has brought some of the nation’s top recruits to Athens

and has enjoyed such finishes as 2 nd at the ‘23 men’s NCAA indoor

championships and a third place by the women at the ‘24 NCAA indoor


The forthcoming track facilities will be of such magnitude that UGA

will be able to host international competition in due course. High school

and grade school kids can come to this facility for training and expert


Her eyes gleam with passionate excitement when she connects you

with an assistant coach at a rival SEC school who shares this poignant

data: There are more kids keen on track along the I-85 corridor from

Virgina, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida than any other

geographical area in the country and that includes California, her last

address. More kids, she says, “do track” in this corridor than “anywhere

else” which is why the Southeastern Conference is about to dominate track

like never before, making the best better.


A factor of elevated significance is that track coaches in Georgia and

sister states are becoming elite coaches. Sprinters and runners, jumpers


and throwers are the beneficiaries of preeminent instruction and advanced

training. The Smith-Gilbert effect will enhance it even more.

This is a coach who is all about the classroom, too. She has three

degrees: Film and TV production at UCLA; Masters in sports management

and doctorate in sports psychology at Tennessee. The graduation rate with

her girls and boys is 100 percent.


Here is how she lets her charges know what the importance of

classroom attendance and homework are. Cut class and she will sit you

down the next meet.

Say you are a superstar from Orlando and you come with a faux pas

that brings about an academic shortcoming, she will leave you home when

the Florida Relays take place.

She will lead a contingent of 17 current and former Bulldog track stars

to Paris for the Olympics in July and August where she will connect with the

elite hierarchy in track and field circles with whom she will not be a

stranger. And, not coincidentally, she will get in some shopping at Louis

Vuitton, 101 des Champs-Elysees. After all, she, the well-rounded sports

person, has occasions to be best dressed.


An accomplished coach whose attention to detail makes her not miss

anything that might be most valuable for success, she enjoys her life in

Nike warm-up gear, but transitioning into Louis Vuitton attire for the right

occasion befits her taste and style.

Born in Denver, she took to track competition early on, turning heads

when outrunning the boys was as easy as fielding an A in the classroom. “I

didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to beat the boys,” she smiles. Now she

wants to take it to signature status—she wants to be the first female head

coach to win a men’s national championship.

She had parents who wanted the best for her, but challenge was ever

present, discipline forever underscored. She became so addicted to track

competition that she quit saxophone lessons and resigned from the Girl

Scouts which did not please her dad who boycotted her meets with the

proviso that he would come watch her run only if she made it into the finals.

Winning, when she got to the finals, was especial in that it wasn’t just

a victory, she won with a handicap—she broke the tape wearing tennis

shoes. Dad couldn’t wait to buy her spikes the next day.

UCLA claimed her signature for collegiate competition, and while it

was not the best of times, she enjoyed the college experience and returned


home with a degree. She paid a visit to her high school coach, Tony Wells,

to whom she owes so much. “He took me from ‘just being fast’ to being

No. 1 in the U. S. in high school. He taught me the work ethic, he taught me

that it takes more than talent, teaching me how to do the small stuff. Most

of all he taught me to never quit.”

When she left Westwood and returned home at 23 years of age,

there was Coach Wells, always accentuating the positive, making another

crucial influence on her career. He told her about a high school track

coaching opportunity, but she was not interested. At least initially.

She was as green as the infield grass of the track where she

coached, without savvy and seasoning. It was tantamount to being in a

raging river without a lifejacket. Immediately, she found she enjoyed the

challenge of coaching, however, along with the rewards of seeing kids

improve and become winners and champions with compassion to get a

college degree, serve their communities, become good citizens, and do

some good for the world. You expect that from a Renaissance woman.


At USC she won the NCAA women’s titles in 2018 and 2021. Her

credentials are stacked as high as cordwood in a Swiss forest. “I’ve been

fortunate to have experienced a great career but there’s more I want to get


done. I want to win national titles at Georgia so I can say I have done that

at more than one school. I want to win the women’s hundred, which I

haven’t done yet—that is the event I ran.”

Her husband Greg Gilbert played football at Alabama—and with the

Raiders and the Bears in the NFL. “My middle son Spencer played football

at USC and my youngest son, Osiris, is playing football for Peachtree

Ridge and has about 15 offers in football,” she smiles.

She is an overt fan of football coach Kirby Smart. “Our family is really

into football. We love the ‘Dogs.’ I look at Kirby’s roster and see all those

starters from the state of Georgia. This state has such a rich talent base. I

tell our prospects, ‘You gotta come see how amazing this place is and be

part of a championship culture. Our goal is to win championships. You will

be amazed at what Georgia really is. And don’t forget, it is one of the best

universities in the country. You can take your degree from here and go and

do whatever you want.”

This confirms that she is not succumbing to expediency with track

athletes—use up their eligibility and bid them adieu. She wants to meet up

with them twenty years from now and see them successful in business with

their own kids benefitting from the teachings, motivation and discipline they experienced by having come Coach Caryl’s way.