When Rod Staggs coached high school track and field athletes, he tried to avoid calling them “kids” or even boys and girls.

“If they did my workload and put up with me, they were men and women,” Staggs said, and later added this: “If you could handle my workouts, you could be in the Marines.”

The Kirksville native and 1966 Truman State University graduate certainly deployed his football mentality in the sport, fueling success at St. Louis Berkeley High School, Lindenwood University as well as Loveland, Colo., and in USA Track and Field.

Call it an outstanding body of work, and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Staggs with the Class of 2017. For instance, Staggs has:

  • Led programs to 19 high school state championships. That includes 16 at Berkeley, which is now McCluer South Berkeley High School, and three in Colorado – one at Mountain View High School and two at Loveland High School.
  • Guided 58 high school state champion relay teams, 143 individual state champions and 28 All-Americans. Along the way, 101 Berkeley students earned college scholarships and several more in Colorado.
  • Coached a pair of NAIA national track and field championship teams in two seasons at Lindenwood University, where he also guided two other national runner-up teams, 64 All-Americans, 25 national champions and record-setters in the 4×100 men’s relay and the women’s 100 meter high hurdles.
  • Coached USTAF teams in the World Championships and Pan-American Games, with Olympian Justin Gatlin among the big names.

All of which came as a result of hard work from humble beginnings. Like most coaches, Staggs began at the bottom of the totem pole, but he modeled his career after successful Truman State coach Kenneth Gardner.

“He was fair, firm and consistent and treated the athletes like family,” Staggs said. “And when I told him I got the job at Berkeley, he said, ‘What do you know about track?’ I said, ‘I know I like it and I know I’ve got to learn.’”

Berkeley’s track and field program hadn’t won a track meet in seven years. In his first year, the program won several invitationals and the conference championship.

In time, the program earned a reputation as Relay U. In 1975, the men’s 4×400 meter relay owned the best Indoors time in the country. But at the state meet, one runner dropped the baton, likely costing the team a state title.

“It was devastating,” Staggs said. “It probably made me a better coach. Success too early may not have made me realize all that went into it.”

Staggs stepped away the next season but returned in 1977 and didn’t leave until 2003. Eleven of his Berkeley state titles played out between 1982 and 1996.

Berkeley likely would have won more state titles had Staggs gone soft on his team rules. A couple of years, disciplinary decisions left either the men’s or women’s teams short of competitors at the state meet. In fact in his first season, he cut two of the team’s best athletes.

Along the way, he developed a team concept in a sport built on individual events. Some years, he’d cut up basketballs to make it a point that it was track season. Stop watches and tape measures determined varsity slots. He also emphasized that athletes best understand they had only one chance in their event because there were no benches, halftimes, huddles or timeouts.

Call it tough love by Staggs, the 1996 National Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association, the 2003 National Coach of the Year by the National High School Federation and a 19-time Missouri High School Track Coach of the Year.

“I hated it when coaches would say, ‘I won this many titles,’” Staggs said. “I didn’t run a step. My athletes competed well and made me look good.”

Staggs was head men’s coach of the 2001 Pan-American Junior Championships, the 2001 UK Junior Tour and was an assistant men’s coach in the 1996 and 2008 World Junior Championships, 2010 World Indoor Championships, plus 2011 and 2015 Pan-American Games.

At the 2012 London Olympics, 35 U.S. athletes had been coached by Staggs at some point. That included Mike Rodgers, a five-time state champ at Berkeley and 11-time NAIA champion.

“I tried to teach life lessons, not just how to run fast,” said Staggs, father to Shayna and Shelby. “And I thank my wife, Rhonda, for raising our family while I was raising other men and women track athletes.”