The man who gave me my shot at running Division I track and field at Howard University has announced his retirement from coaching.
I still vividly remember the first time I held a conversation with Coach Merritt. It was the week before the state regional championships and he called my house. I was pretty excited because I had sent Howard no less than four letters and never got a single response back. I figured they must have been good and really didn't need me.
Unbeknown to me, they didn't have a coach in place and they weren't good at all! At the conference meet spring of 2000, they only scored one point! so the first thing Merritt did when he was hired and read the letters was call me up. He flew out to the regional championship where I won the 110 hurdles in 14.14 as well as the 300 hurdles in 38.52 and anchored the 4x4 to a second place finish.
That 4x4 was pretty embarrassing because it was my first time running the event and my team was winning until I got walked down with 150 meters to go by the guy I beat in the 300 hurdles. I split about 51, that was the first time I had ever run around the track completely.
Me getting walked down at regionals
I was still named MVP of the region, it was also the day of my senior prom and Coach Merritt offered me a full scholarship right then and there. At that point, it was the happiest moment in my life.
I am still shocked that Howard was the only school to offer me a full scholarship. I ran 13.25 and 38.84 at the state meet a week later, then University of Colorado and Colorado State upped their offers from 50% to full, but it was too late. These college coaches better do some homework! Considering I was in Denver where we had probably two meets where it wasn't snowing or cold, I think the other 14.1s and 38 mids I was running were pretty good times.
Going out to Washington D.C. was a great experience. Coach Merritt was a cool, reserved kind of guy, but he also didn't play. I learned that the hard way my sophomore year when I called myself knowing the ropes or whatever. I decided I was going to attend practice when I wanted to, more often than not, I was hanging out on the Yard chilling. So he kicked me and my good friend Lance off the team altogether. He called our parents as well. I was shocked and completely embarrassed because I'm 19 years old and my coach is calling my mom. It was the first time I had any disciplinary problems
The only reason I ended up back on the team was Coach Merritt had a phone conversation with the coach from the University of Maryland and he convinced my coach to give us another chance. That ended up being the best thing that happened to me in my collegiate career. I ended up being suspended for some meets to start my sophomore season and I had to start training with his group which consisted of the long sprinters and mid-distance guys. That helped me in getting stronger with my hurdle race and my relay splits started getting faster as well. It was a great boost in helping me attain the four outdoor conference titles I won. I guess you can say that I have always been able to finish a hurdle race strong.
MEAC Champs my freshman year
He always had my best interest in mind as well. When it came time for me to leave school and prepare for the professional side of track and field, he explicitly told me "If you want to make it happen, you have to leave here. You've exhausted everything I can offer you as a coach." He was a very self aware individual and didn't have the vision of living in the potential reflective glory I could have provided if I became successful. You see it often with these other coaches.
The runners that came to Howard from 2001 to present also have to champion Coach Merritt's efforts. I remember as a freshman, I qualified to attend the USA Junior Championships that were being hosted in Richmond, VA in 2001, it was like a two hour drive from D.C. The school wouldn't allow me to go because it wasn't an NCAA sanction event so we had to fight with compliance and eventually they started allowing us to attend meets like USA indoor and outdoor championships, Olympic Trials, USA Juniors etc. I guess they never had people qualify for those type of events so they had no experience with the process, so I couldn't fully fault the compliance department.
What really upset me about the whole thing was during my freshman year, I was running down in the 14.1-14.2 range consistently all season long and ran windy 13.9 twice. 14.38 and 14.50 ended up making the Junior Pan Am team. Not to say that I would have made the team because in the hurdles, you never know, but I do feel that I had a legitimate shot to make it on the team that represented the U.S. down in Argentina that year.
They say things happen for a reason, at least in future years, it was never a problem. Several athletes after me have been able to attend such big meets and display their talents. We all have Coach Merritt to thank for that. It was important for me because we didn't have the biggest budget in the world, so I rarely had great competition to race against, so outside of the NCAA championships and USA championships, I was generally winning races by half a second on average. That's a main reason I am a proponent of the NCAA regional system (not the one they have now, but the old system).
Howard spring sports MVP banquet '04
The ten years that Michael Merritt spent at Howard University had a lot of ups and downs, but the ups far exceeded the downs, we went from a program that was scoring one point at conference to always finishing in the top half at the Championships during my time there. I don't keep up too much with what's going on up there any more, but I'm sure they aren't scoring just one point anymore!
The University just lost a good man today. I am forever grateful for Coach Merritt, you'll be missed!
I was going through my old photo albums getting pictures for this post and came across this from the Track and Field News, April 2004 edition, whoever Dwight A. Love is, he definitely had a hell of a foresight!
4 weeks ago