On the Right Track
Ed Nuttycombe’s unwavering focus made him the Big Ten’s winningest coach.
On a sunny, late spring day in Madison, Ed Nuttycombe, head coach for UW men’s track and field, is at work in his office in Kellner Hall, overlooking Camp Randall.
It has been a few days since he announced that the 2013 season — his thirtieth leading the program — would be his last. He’s talking to a writer, one of many interviews he’s done since announcing his plans to retire, when he gets a text message.
“Coach, will you be retiring your Fireball stash as well?” asks Reggie Torian x’97, a former UW hurdler, asking about Nuttycombe’s stockpile of cinnamon-flavored candy. “It was an honor to know you and to have been coached by you. Good luck, and what a great career!”
Nuttycombe gets misty-eyed as he reads the text out loud. He calls Torian, who still holds the collegiate indoor 60-meter hurdle record, the greatest athlete he ever coached.
“It’s been great to hear from all these guys. I can’t even begin to tell you how many I’ve heard from,” he says.
Along with the memorable relationships with student athletes, Nuttycombe has garnered so many achievements and accolades that he is the winningest coach in Big Ten history — and that’s in any sport.
A Hall of Fame coach’s son, Nuttycombe was a pole-vaulter, hurdler, and decathlete on the Virginia Tech track team. After a stint as a graduate assistant at Northern Illinois, then-UW track coach Dan McClimon offered him an assistant coach position in 1981. When McClimon died in a plane crash in 1983, Nuttycombe served as interim, and then was named head coach in 1984.
His teams won twenty-six Big Ten titles, more than any in conference history, including 2012 outdoor and 2013 indoor championships. In 2007, his Badger men claimed the NCAA Indoor Championship, the only Big Ten program ever to win the national title. The cross country team — which he did not directly coach, but did oversee — has won twenty-six conference titles, including the last fourteen in a row.
Nuttycombe earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors a record twenty-two times. He was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in 2007, and won the association’s regional coach of the year eleven times.
Naturally, the athletes Nuttycombe has coached have been highly decorated as well: 183 track and field All-Americans, 12 NCAA individual champions, 163 Big Ten individual champions, and 279 Academic All-Big Ten winners.
“Ed’s career is unparalleled,” says Barry Alvarez, the UW’s director of athletics, who knows something about building a program. “To be able to adapt to all the changes in society and in student athletes over the last thirty years, while maintaining such a high level of success, is amazing.” Despite his remarkable record, Nuttycombe is humble, chalking up his success to “a little bit of luck, a little bit of intuition, and knowledge I was able to get from Dan McClimon and my father — and surrounding [myself] with good coaches and athletes.”
Though he’ll no longer be heading the program, Nuttycombe isn’t completely walking away; he plans to be a volunteer assistant for the track team.
“I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he says.
Published in the Fall 2013 issue