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U. of Pittsburgh
Roger Kingdom comes back to Pitt with big plans

Sunday, June 24, 2001

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published June 26, 2001) Mike Bosnic's name was misspelled in a caption accompanying a photograph of him and Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom in Sunday's editions. Bosnic is a tackle on the Pitt football team.

It was timing day for Pitt football players Thursday at their South Side indoor practice facility. Orange cones marked a 40-yard swath on the track that surrounds the field.

Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom demonstrates a speed technique for Pitt senior tackle Mike Bosnic. Kingdom is working as a speed coach for the Panthers' football team. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

When receiver Darcey Levy earned the title of fastest on the squad by covering the distance in a streaking 4.26 seconds, his teammates gasped and shook their heads.

Levy, though, was cornered by the newest member of the Panthers' football staff. Roger Kingdom matter-of-factly told Levy that he would have run faster if he had not tensed his muscles several yards before the finish.

Kingdom doesn't coddle, cajole or keep quiet. Not when it comes to sports.

He didn't win two Olympic gold medals in the 110-meter hurdles without being exceptionally driven and confident, and that hasn't changed just because he has turned a corner in his life.

Kingdom, 38, has returned to Pitt this summer, 20 years after he arrived on a football scholarship and 17 years after he dropped out of school to pursue track.

He is taking summer classes with the hope of completing a degree in December. He is working part time as a football conditioning coach, putting players through exhausting speed drills as part of their summer workouts.

Kingdom isn't dabbling. He has grand aspirations now that his competitive international track career is finished, even if that means his still-fleet feet step on some toes.

After he earns a degree -- he switched from marketing, his former field of interest, to social sciences to make it easier to graduate -- Kingdom would like to launch a new career, and he would like to do it at Pitt.

He has targeted the school's track teams.

"I would like to take over that program and work with the skill football players, too," he said.

Kingdom believes he can coach track successfully and, with his name and his marketing skills, solicit corporate funding to build a 5,000-seat track stadium for the Panthers, a facility that could draw events such as the junior national championships and help track become a revenue sport at Pitt.

He also wants to form a marriage between the track and football programs, with some athletes competing in both sports.

That was all news to Steve Lewis, who just completed his 17th season as women's track coach and also has been the men's coach the past seven seasons. He has coached three NCAA champions, 57 All-Americans and more than 100 Big East titlists at Pitt.

"If he wants my job, I would take that as a compliment because anybody who has aspirations to coach should want my job," said Lewis, who was unaware that Kingdom was back at Pitt. "I would commend him to be as bold as to say that's what he wants to do.

"But my answer to him would be philosophical: Sometimes you'd better be careful what you wish for."

Still, Lewis, 58, said he is growing disillusioned with the "plastic" aspects of sports and the increased emphasis on money and winning and that "leaving could be in the near future." He did not elaborate.

Lewis was an assistant men's and women's track coach at Pitt in 1983, when Kingdom became the NCAA champion at 110 hurdles. That fall, Kingdom sat out of football to concentrate on training for the Olympics.

Kingdom won the gold medal at the 1984 and '88 Games. In '89, he set a world record of 12.92, which still gives him a share of the American 110 hurdles record.

Between the time he won the NCAA title and his first Olympic title, Kingdom and Lewis had a falling out over Kingdom's training choices.

That's not why Kingdom has targeted Lewis' job. He believes that would be best for him and for the Panthers.

Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson steered clear of any controversy.

"I'm sure everybody has goals and dreams, but we're just worried about Roger getting his degree," he said. "We have a track coach."

It was Pederson who helped set Kingdom up in his new role. Through a program called Panther Game Plan, athletes who did not graduate can receive free tuition and books upon their return in exchange for working within the athletic department.

"I want to show the players the importance of that degree," Kingdom said.

Kingdom is working with Panthers strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris, who was at Pitt when Kingdom arrived as a running back and safety and who is noted for his grueling workouts that include carrying cinder blocks and lifting logs.

Kingdom's workouts aren't easy, either.

"Trust me, when it comes down to me or Buddy, they prefer to tote those logs," said Kingdom, who leads the players in sprint after sprint.

"They might be a little worse than Buddy's workouts," speedster Levy said of Kingdom's drills.

"They're different workouts, but they're both horrible," said linebacker Brandon Williams.

Williams ran a 4.57 40 and admitted the combination of Morris' emphasis on strength and Kingdom's emphasis on speed are helpful.

"Some of what [Kingdom] is coaching us to do will translate to the field," he said.

Kingdom said he got a mixed reception when he first joined the staff.

"A lot of the guys are in awe that I'm willing to work with them," he said. "Those who didn't know me and kind of wondered about me, I had to show them up a little."

He did that by demonstrating his speed and form.

"His running style is beautiful," said Levy, whose 4.26 time eclipsed the best Kingdom ran, a 4.28.

One player Kingdom had to win over is the Panthers' All-American receiver, Antonio Bryant.

"I bumped heads with Antonio Bryant," Kingdom said. "I had to go one-on-one with him [in a sprint]. It took everything I had to stay with that kid. He's the real deal."

Bryant proved that again Thursday. Kingdom didn't want Bryant to run the 40 because he had been having some leg pain, but when Bryant arrived and saw some of the good times his teammates had, Kingdom relented.

Bryant blazed to a 4.30.

Kingdom said in general the players' times were swift, giving him proof that he has made a difference and making him feel good about his long-term prospects as a coach.

"I've only worked with them a few weeks, and you already see this kind of progress," he said.

"It adds to what I was saying about one day taking over the track program."

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