Story written by EPelle
A rainy-day, exclusive Athletics in the News conversation with Brandon Couts.
(Original interview conducted in June 2007 and saved for such an occasion as this)
Brandon Couts was part of a great tradition at Baylor University, and lived outside of Michael Johnson’s long, far-reaching shadow to make a name for himself with his circle of peers.
Baylor University’s 4x400m team was once synonymous with Johnson's exploits, having once shut down his jets with 50m remaining in the NCAA qualifying rounds and still managing to split under 44-flat (43,5). Couts created his own ways in high school and emerged as a prolific and high-stakes player on the NCAA scene after choosing Baylor University -- a team with a rich tradition of excellent one-lap running.
Couts, by the time he turned professionial, had become synonymous with Baylor University, and had even raised a question on an the Track & Field News message board years later debating who had been Baylor’s best anchor man in its history - a discussion which generated lively answers from fans around the globe.
The Baylor Bears provided Couts a tremendous opportunity to grow personally and athletically, and he took an opportunity to discuss some of those events in his life which are most memorable -- including witnessing Baylor set a new school record at the NCAA championships in June 2007 -- a mark which continued building on the deep, rich heritage of which he had been a part.
In order to help give readers a better understanding of what the magnificence of the Baylor tradition, why Couts, himself, chose to sink his teeth into Clyde Hart’s training methodology and what legacy he left in the sport in general, I asked Brandon, now an assistant coach at the University of Colorado, a series of questions via e-mail in the first of two interviews -- questions which both required a few seconds of thought and others which took more time to reflect and consider.
This is the first of a multi-part exclusive Q&A session which Athletics in the News had with Couts.
Athletics in the News: What was your first experience with track and field as a fan?
Brandon Couts: The first race that I remember watching was the 1993 World championships. All I remember is Roger Black getting a distant second. I’m going to beat people like that one day.
AIN: What was the first sprint race you ever saw in person?
BC: I was at 1996 Texas Relays. I’m not sure who won the invitational 100m race, but Henry Neal got second. He’s from my Hometown. Would you believe he ran 20.1 on me in practice!!! I ran a distant 20.6 that day, lol
AIN: When did you begin competing in track and field, and what was your first event?
BC: My school had a rule it may have been statewide were you couldn’t compete until the eighth grade. It was changed when I went to the eighth grade L. My Coach Pat Brown, who went to college with my mother, made me a 400m runner. I wasn’t happy at all, but on a funny note. I couldn’t break 13 flat.
AIN: What was the first time/mark you recorded?
BC: I think that I ran 55 as an eighth grader. My first high school meet that I remember I ran 52.81. I hurt my back trying to triple jump and became infected with chicken pox from my sister. I didn’t run again for almost a month.
AIN: When did you first lose a race?
BC: This question should be “ when did I win my first race. , lol” I open up my sophomore year with a 50.0 in 40 degree weather. I didn’t lose again until the state meet with a 4th place finish 48.17. On the bright side, I learned to run the 400m dash that night.
AIN: What did losing that race teach you about the spirit of competition?
BC: It made me very hungry. I was supposed to win. I had too many people telling me that I couldn’t win. I couldn’t let go. I made up my mind that I would win the next year. I did with a 46.40 at the state meet. During my first season of summer track, I ran no slower that 46.30 and pr with 45.83
AIN: Who was your first role model in life?
BC: I’m going to have to say my paternal grandfather “Tommie Jay Couts” I wanted to be just like him growing up. I can’t even put into words what he means to me.
AIN: Who was your first track and field role model, and why? What did their winning/losing efforts teach you?
BC: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Henry Neal. In preparation for the 1996 trials he came back and trained in Greenville. I tried to beat him everyday, lol. He worked hard and wouldn’t let me slack up in my training.
AIN: Who was the first high school student you competed against who later became an Olympian?
BC: Ja’Warren Hooker… He won my 2000 semi-finals heat. If I would have executed my race instead of trying to imitate what Michael Johnson did in his semi-heat. I most likely would have medaled that year. I learned a valuable lesson. Do what it took you to get there.
AIN: Did you have Olympic aspirations as a child?
BC: Nope, I just wanted to beat people. I always thought I would be scoring touchdowns on Sunday afternoon.
AIN: What lessons did you learn about yourself during your grade-9 school year?
BC: It’s an adjustment year from junior high school, and the expectation level is raised by default. At the regional meet my freshmen year, my teammates asked me to false-start because we would be in the race. I couldn’t do it, but I gave them a 49sec leadoff leg, so they were in the race. I was still only a 52.8 open runner at the time. I learned people will doubt you until you have proven yourself.
AIN: Who was your high school coach, and what is the greatest lesson s/he taught you about yourself? About teamwork? About sacrifice? About college? About humility? About believing in a dream?
BC: Darren Duke was my high school coach. He basically taught me track workouts hurt, lol. It was a good lesson but a bad one as well. As I got older, I ran a lot of races hurt. Believe it or not I only lost 4 or 5 races healthy my entire collegiate career. Most of the championship races, I wasn’t healthy but I was a team player.
AIN: Who on your high school team most mentored you to achieve your goals?
BC: A guy named Calvin Hale who was a sophomore. He was a 50.0 400m runner. He would always tell me to come with me. I would try and die the last 100m, lol. He didn’t run anymore after my freshmen year.
AIN: Whom did you repay the favor to before you graduated?
BC: I mentored most of the underclassmen before I left. I had to other guys that ended up getting collegiate scholarships. I couldn’t help them with their grades, lol.
AIN: Tell me about your first state meet. What events did you compete in, and how did you qualify to the state meet?
BC: I went the first time my sophomore year in the 400m dash. In Texas the 2 top from each region go to state. I won because I was starting to live in the weight room. The top 4 times were 48.23, 48.23, 48.23, and 48.25
AIN: Who has the old scrap books of your newspaper clippings and all of your awards?
BC: Different family members have different things. I have a scrapbook with a lot of my high school articles in it and a couple of NCAA championship rings. My grandfather has all the plaques. My mother has a few items. One of my uncles has a couple of rings as well.
AIN: When did you first stand in the spotlight as a prep athlete and have your first interview?
BC: My first real interview most likely came after winning the National Scholastic Meet in 1997. At least 6 of the 9 runners ran under 47.0 seconds with Geno White and me run under 46 seconds.
AIN: Is Texas the most difficult sprint-state to compete in, and, if so, why? Many will argue that California has had a significant number of high school athletes fair well on the all-time lists – the prep ones, the NCAA ones and the USA lists.
BC: Yes, I think it is one of the most challenging states for sprinting. If we had a huge state meet with prelims times would be even faster. California has better weather year around.
AIN: What are you most proud of concerning your high school achievements?
BC: I was a clutch performer in both football and track. Whenever I was asked to step up, I was able to perform.
AIN: What are your parents most proud of with respect to you and high school?
BC: I’m going to say that I graduated and stayed out off trouble. I’m sure it help that I earned a full ride for college, lol.
AIN: What goals did you leave unfulfilled and unrealized?
BC: I really felt that I could have ran around 45.0 It’s hard running out front. I wished that we would have broken our school’s 4x400m record. If I had a little more help. The record was 3:16.50. My team ran 3:17, and I split 45.5
AIN: What one race sticks out most in your mind when you look back on your high school career?
BC: My last high school 4x400m anchor comes to mind. My coach clocked me at 44.5. I got the stick in seventh and it came down to a photo finish. We lost by .01
AIN: Who was your one main rival who continued to threaten – or defeat – you in invitational and championship high school events?
BC: It would have been Obea Moore if anybody. We raced in the 1996 Junior Olympics in Houston, TX. He won 45.83 – 46.10 It was my first big-time race and the only time I lost that year. We never raced again because of injuries.
AIN: When did the recruiting letters (or phone calls) start arriving at your home and/or to your high school?
BC: My letters started after my sophomore season, but I received more football offers than track offers at the time.
AIN: What was your first reaction to the very first recruiting letter you’d received?
BC: I thought the coaches had placed it in the wrong locker, lol. I saw the seniors receiving letters. It’s when I first started thinking about the possibility of an athletic scholarship.
AIN: Which universities did you visit on your recruiting trips?
BC: I visited Rice(football before I decided I was playing), Tennessee, Arkansas, and Baylor.
AIN: What did Baylor University have to offer on your recruiting trip?
BC: Honestly, it was about my teammates and having my own room in an apartment. I realized early on that my teammates would be my family if I didn’t like them then I wouldn’t be happy. My host was Brandon Terry. He was a state qualifier that I knocked out my in the photo finish my sophomore year. Marlon Ramsey was there, so he was my next target. I felt he would also be a good training partner as well. I liked the small classes also. I most of the classes had 30 to 40 people in them. I got a chance to chat with Michael Johnson as well. It was cool putting a name with the face. He called me a couple of times before my visit.
AIN: What was the interaction like with the Baylor track and field athletes with whom you spent time? What were some of the tougher questions you asked them to help you decide if, on the surface, Baylor could be a right fit for you?
BC: I felt like I was around my high school friends. Everyone was making an effort to at least come meet me. On the other track trips, I feel most of the athletes were intimidated by me, once we talked about times. I was also very shy, so I really hated talking about myself.
AIN: Did your parents accompany you, and what were their impressions of the university’s education system, student life and activities as well as your opportunities for growth in your athletic pursuits?
BC: I did all my visits by myself. I feel its better that way.
AIN: What did you do the summer prior to making the step between high school life and college life? Did you find yourself closer, as close or more distant to your friends and family as you prepared yourself to turn the page in your life?
BC: I went to Houston and ran summer track my junior and senior year. My Godfather wanted me to have more competition. I spent most of those summers running fast.
AIN: Describe your initial scholarship details.
BC: I was offered full athletic scholarships in both my sports. Even from places that did not normally offer full rides. I think track wise it was related to me consistently running below 47 seconds each week by myself.
AIN: What was the very first day of university life like? What memories do you have of the goings-on that day?
BC: It was exciting, since me and my recruiting class didn’t participate in Welcome Week activities. We did see all the intelligent beautiful women running around. I just remember people walking up to me and speaking. They knew that I was an athlete, but not my talent level.
AIN: What was your very first practice session at Baylor University?
BC: We went to the weight room a lot of the guys were surprised at my leg strength. After we finished lifting, we went outside ran 2 laps around the stadium.
AIN: Were you, in your opinion, transitioned into the program rather easily, or did you hit the floor running, so to speak?
BC: I think that I hit the floor running. I hit the times that I was asked to do then left it on the track after my last one each day.
AIN: What challenges did you face, personally, during your adjustment into college life?
BC: I was shy, so I had to be more outgoing. Otherwise, I would have been truly miserable. I’m an honest person, so I had to learn that some people have good intentions but aren’t reliable.
AIN: What challenges did you face on the practice field which differed from your high school background?
BC: I wasn’t use to off season. I would be in the American football field until late November. I started getting anxious and wanted to race. I had to be more patience.
AIN: What distance did you first time-trial, and what was your time?
BC: We ran a 350m. I’m not sure what the finishing time was that day, but Marlon Ramsey told me that I can through 21 low in my waffles and continued to move. We had this discussion recently it the only reason that I remember it.
AIN: Did you take everything Clyde Hart had to say in like a sponge, or did you incorporate his philosophies in with your own experiences?
BC: I incorporated what he said into my own philosophies.
AIN: What was Hart’s take on young 400m runners competing in the NCAA system, and how did he help you manage his expectations?
BC: I had a tendency to set my goals too high and not be able to achieve them. It’s a long season and I think it was more than twice as many races as I ran in high school. It took it’s toll on me towards the end of my freshmen season. I was pretty much done after the conference meet.
AIN: Did you have an induction program into the Baylor Bears track and field team, and, if so, what did it comprise of?
BC: A couple of the upperclassmen challenged me and I wasn’t the type to turn down a challenge. I got the funny prank phone calls with people disguising their voice and telling me what they were going to do to me on the track. I just listened.
AIN: Did you latch on to any one athlete – or group of athletes – during your first year in order to emulate what they were doing and create a model for your future success?
BC: I can’t say that I latched on anyone. I looked at everyone’s personal records compared to mine and decided I should always lead. I always lead by example. If I showed any weakness my team would most likely feel the repercussions.
AIN: Did you feel as though you were required to carry a big burden on your shoulders when you first put on a Baylor uniform due to the legacy left by others ahead of you?
BC: I knew of the legacy, but it wasn’t as strong for me. Marlon was still competing. It wasn’t my burden to bear. The first time I felt the burden was the frigid 1998 NCAA championship in Buffalo. Everything was going okay until the prelims of the 4x400m when Bayano Kamani hurt his hamstring on his 2nd leg carry. Instead of stopping, he limped home with a 49 sec split. We went from well out front to last place. I remember the announcer saying about Baylor had never missed a final. My third leg Stephan Bragner gave me a lifetime best 44.5 split and I went and got the auto qualifier with a 44.0 anchor.
AIN: Describe the first time you heard your name announced over a PA system as “Brandon Couts from Baylor University”.
BC: Unfortunately, I didn’t look too much into it. I was a school employee then , lol.
AIN: Describe the successes you enjoyed during your first season as a Bear – including your NCAA indoor title. Were they in line with what your coach had stated at the beginning of the training season?
BC: I feel that is something that I missed from my collegiate career. We never sat down and chatted about goals for the upcoming season. It’s something that I sit down and do with my athletes now. Just in case you didn’t now, I’m the sprint coach at the University of Colorado now.
AIN: What goals did you, personally, have set for your first year of college – both scholastically and athletically?
BC: I just wanted to be a good student. My freshmen year I had the highest G.P.A. on the men’s team. Athletically, I wanted the indoor and outdoor title.
AIN: How did you fare against your goals?
BC: Indoors, I smashed the fast heat which included Angelo Taylor and Milton Campbell, but unfortunately I finished 2nd overall to Davian Clarke out of the slow heat 45.86 – 45.90 Outdoors, the 4x400 leg took too much out of me. I did make finals though.
AIN: What was your biggest disappointment – your greatest challenge unmet – during your first year at Baylor, and what did you do to ensure you climbed past that hurdle?
BC: My biggest disappoint would have been my dismal performances at the NCAA championships. It was no excuse for me not finishing in the top 3 outdoors. If I would have kept running instead of watching the jumbo-tron, I would have most likely broken the collegiate record my freshmen year.
AIN: Did any of your high school peers make significant improvements their first year of university, and, if so, how did this affect your confidence in your own training?
BC: I can’t say any of my high school friends made huge strides our freshmen year. I was the only one that ran track out of my immediate circle.
AIN: Is there an unwritten Baylor Bear motto which you’d like to share with readers? BC: No Comment… It’s unwritten after all.
AIN: What one piece of advice did Clyde Hart give you which has transcended the playing field and continues to be as useful today as it was when he provided it?
BC: If you keep working hard you will eventually reap the benefits. I’m a collegiate coach now, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity at my age if I wasn’t the collegiate runner that I was.
AIN: When did you most please your coach – in which context? Was it a particular race, practice session, achievement?
BC: I’m going to have to say my last NCAA championships. I wasn’t 100% healthy at most maybe 85%. I didn’t want to anchor, because my leg hurt. Avard Moncur seemed to be running his best whenever I was hurt. I ran anchor and Moncur was trying to run me down 50m from the finish my hamstring started popping . We won in a photo finish. We placed 3rd overall with 6 people. I made the 400m finals and I was the last qualifier. I believe that if I didn’t have my name I most likely would have gotten in that year.
AIN: When did you feel you most let him down?
BC: Anytime I lost I felt that I let him down. I talent wise I was suppose to loose. Did I always execute, no where close may be 50/50.
AIN: What was the coach-per-athlete time like at Baylor during your career there?
BC: It was one top dog per event. I was the top collegiate runner but I took a seat to Mr. Johnson. I think that I would have benefited more if Michael had retired a few years earlier.
AIN: Were you well-known on campus, and, if so, did regular people uninterested in athletics support you as you competed during your four seasons there?
BC: Everyone knew of me , but most people did realize it was me burning up the track. I had classmates come to the meet looking to see the “Brandon Couts” run, but they didn’t realize that I was the man. I was just Brandon to them, most didn’t even know my last name. On the bright side, I was able to stay low key which always bode well for me.
AIN: Why does Baylor have a seemingly impenetrable grip on 4x400m racing?
BC: A lot of they guys come from high school teams where they were the only fast guys, so when you get a chance to run with your peers you tend to excel. Baylor normally has a lot of depth as well. Look at the number of people that can split 46.5 or faster on the roster. It’s a true plug-and play team. For example, my freshmen year my “B’ team ran 3.05.xx while we ran 3:02.XX.
AIN: When did you first meet Jeremy Wariner, and what promise did you see in him when you first saw him practice?
BC: I never actually saw Jeremy practice. A few races that I did see him run, I could tell he needed to get stronger. With his foot speed, I knew he should have been beating Darold to the breakpoint.
AIN: Did you have any idea he would find the amount of success he had in such a short stay at the university?
BC: In a way, I could see it coming about. The training methodology changed a lot after I graduated on how to handle the guys coming out of high school running 45.xx. They reaped the benefits of my struggles. Look back at the number of 200m/400m double for him in college. Hopefully you will start to understand.
AIN: Is it discouraged for track and field athletes at Baylor to leave the program early for the professional ranks?
BC: The leaving college early in a new fad in track and field, I would tell anyone that producing to leave if they can get a guarantee to be able to finish school. Track would be a totally different sport if we were guaranteed millionaires by signing a contract. This is one of the main reasons we continue to lose quality track athletes to football. It’s the opportunity for big bucks.
AIN: At what stage of your collegiate career did you consider the fact that you may have had several ingredients to become a successful professional runner?
BC: I realized it my freshmen year. As I look back, if I had made a few different choices not telling what kind of times that I would have run.
AIN: Describe your final NCAA meet. Did you feel yourself turning a corner to newer and greater prospects, or did you feel as though you were severing ties – by name only – with a great experience?
BC: I was happy to be finished with collegiate running. I couldn’t be force to race anymore when I wasn’t 100% healthy.
AIN: What is the most difficult short-sprint workout that you’d ever done at Baylor? The longest?
BC: We were running repeat 200m relay style. I ran a couple rally fast to get us back on pace. I finished on pace on my last one, but I broke down really bad. Marlon tried to walk across the infield. I ended up lying down halfway across the infield and didn’t get up until 30 minutes later.
AIN: Is there one memorable workout you can describe which made boys men, and grown men cry, so-to-speak?
BC: Mike and I were running a 2x 450m. The first one was on pace the second one, Mike started rolling. We had 4 people running that day. I tucked in behind him and I started to him pulling me. I wanted to stop, but I had to keep the distance respectful. Mike came through 46 flat and I was 47 flat in out tennis shoes. I was hurting bad and Mike disappeared. I found him laid out in the locker room where I joined him, lol. The told me it hot outside “ I’m not going to laid out in the sun lol”
AIN: Did you ever find yourself not buying into the Clyde Hart process, and, if so, how did you overcome your own personal objections?
BC: I thought we should have done more speed work for my teammates. If didn’t do any extra work because I realized it compromised the plan that he had for us.
AIN: When did you turn professional?
BC: After my final NCAA meet, they wanted to redshirt me my senior year after I had a serious hamstring injury at 2001 Big 12 indoor championship. When I look back, I wish that I would have redshirt. It would have worked out better for me. I got a really crappy contract..
AIN: How is the process undertaken to find a reputable agent, sign a shoe contract and seal a short-term future in the sport which rewards you for your merits?
BC: If our not a business person which I wasn’t, it falls on the hands of your coach to me. I don’t think I got anywhere near the deal I should have gotten, but its history now. I promise you that I will look out for my athletes completely.
AIN: I’m going to drop the name Michael Johnson on you. What is the first thought which comes to your mind?
BC: I think Michael was a phenomenal runner. He was blessed with a strong support system and no rival for his coach’s attention.
AIN: Carl Lewis?
BC: He was in my eyes a great team player. He opened many doors for the people in his training group. He was the only other runner that I knew besides Jesse Owens before I heard of Michael.
AIN: Steve Lewis?
BC: He was a freak of nature to me. I wished that I could have produced the times he product at his age.
AIN: Hicham El Guerrouj?
BC: I look at him as the “Pre” of the entire world in middle distance running.
AIN: Did you then, whilst you were in university – or do you now – ever find yourself focusing specifically on your own event and not knowing what occurs in other events?
BC: Only during finals would I focus on my event until I was prepared. After I was ready, I would be spectator until I got in the blocks then I would refocus on my execution.
AIN: Describe the camaraderie built with members of a relay team, and if you or your other three teammates on any given relay squad have ever done something outer-worldly to bring things back together when one person may have faltered a bit on his leg?
BC: We had each other back no matter what the issue. They believed in me as much as I believed in them. My junior and senior year we had ¾ of my summer track team Track Houston. We had run 3:06.xx but did break the record. Everyone stepped up somewhere along the line. I got the stick in 1st 90% of the time.
AIN: What friendships were the strongest you built whilst at Baylor?
BC: I can name a handful of people and were like family. Marlon Ramsey, Stephan Bragner, Bayano Kamani, Damian Davis, Martin Dossett, Michael Smith, and Randy Davis, Edrice Bell (trainer), Blake Rowe (student manager) , and Jeff DaCunha. I’m sure that I going to get in trouble but this was my track family.
AIN: What advice would you have for a high school star like Bryshon Nellum who is on the brink of stardom, but hasn’t hit the NCAA system yet? What are some eventual pitfalls which could await him in his transition period?
BC: I’m going to have to say cherish every moment. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be successful. Make sure you take good care of your body and handle your business in the classroom. If he feels that he not getting what he looking for training wise, don’t be afraid to move on. Being a good collegiate runner takes sacrifices.
AIN: Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix, Xavier Carter. Who wins a one-off?
BC: I like this question for several reasons. It could unfold several different ways. Just looking at it I’m going to say Gay because of the 9.7s, Dix if he doesn’t run the first 100m too hard, and Spearmon. I think Carter is going to be right there but unfortunately loses on the dip. I really expect someone to pull out after the 100m dash finals. J So I’m saying Gay, Dix, and Spearmon.
Stay tuned for more on Brandon Couts, the former boy wonder sprinter from Greenville High School who turned into a leged as a Baylor Bear, then turned his life into one of mentoring as a man.
Greenville High School, Texas (10,59s; 20,71s; 45,74s)
Baylor University (10,58s; 20,48s; 44,72s)