Kraft finds home at ASU, expects future track success

Finding a college coach that is dedicated to a university long-term is a rarity.

At ASU, the athletic programs have the exact opposite of a problem. Coaches love it here.

For track and field coach Greg Kraft, ASU wasn’t his first stop, but it may be his last.

Junior Shaylah Simpson sprints forward to get ready for her pole vault at the Castillo Invitational on Mar. 17, 2012. Field athletes like Simpson will have to step up against the competition at the Texas A&M Invitational. (Photo by Samuel Rosenbaum)

Junior Shaylah Simpson sprints forward to get ready for her pole vault at the Castillo Invitational on Mar. 17, 2012. Field athletes like Simpson will have to step up against the competition at the Texas A&M Invitational. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

“I grew up on the West Coast, so I saw a lot of the Pac-10 conference,” Kraft said. “I experienced a lot of influential moments watching the Pac-10 back then, and my family and I love being closer to the rest of our family in the west.”

Kraft grew up in California, where he said the only sports on television at that time were football, basketball and baseball. Track wasn’t necessarily on his radar, but it became the only sport for which he received a scholarship. So he ran with it — literally.

Cal Poly was where Kraft received his scholarship for track and field, and it would also be the place he’d meet his wife, Maggie.

Following graduation, Kraft was offered the graduate assistant position at Cal Poly by his coach. This is where the start of his coaching career would begin.

After a year at Cal Poly, Kraft was offered a field events coaching position at Indiana State, but he only remained there a year before moving to an assistant at Kansas State.

During his four years as a Wildcat, Kraft coached 16 NCAA All-Americans and 14 Big Eight champions, including 1996 Olympic triple jump champion Kenny Harrison.

Kansas State got the first taste of the positive impact coach Kraft can have on a program.

In 1985, the University of Virginia offered Kraft a coaching position overseeing all field events. Later, they would add sprints and hurdles.

As a Cavalier, Kraft continued to coach up high-caliber athletes into champions, as they won 20 individual ACC championships and seven All-America honors. Kraft and his student-athletes also racked up three ACC team titles.

But Kraft’s big moment came in 1989, when South Carolina offered him the head coaching position, where he would initially make a name for himself. The Gamecocks had 38 student-athletes as Academic All-SEC selections and 11 All-Americans.

This is where Kraft began influencing the student side of student-athlete.

“Track and field didn’t and still doesn’t receive many scholarships in comparison to the amount of athletes we have; therefore, our athletes need to be able to get it done in the classroom as well,” Kraft said. “They end up earning more of an appreciation for themselves and from their teammates who are on scholarship. They know how hard everyone is working to make it happen on the track and in the classroom.”

Kraft carried that same philosophy to ASU in 1996, just after earning SEC Coach of the Year at South Carolina.

“We’re West coast generated,” Kraft said. “Getting to coach here was exciting on so many different levels.”

ASU has been Kraft and his family’s home since 1996, making his the second-longest tenure in track and field history, just behind Senon “Baldy” Castillo, a Sun Devil legend.

After 17 years with ASU and 32 years of coaching overall, Kraft says he’s never taken his eyes off his own team to make sure it becomes successful.

“Focusing on what you can do, and not focusing on the competition has been my philosophy,” Kraft said. “All I can do is prepare myself and the team.

“I’ve appreciated the moments I have had. It’s 70 degrees and sunny. Who has it better?”

No coach may have it better than Kraft.

In his 17 seasons as head coach for the Sun Devils, four of those years he has been named National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. He was also named Pac-12 Coach of the Year three times.

Throw in four NCAA titles — 2007 and 2008 — and you have a highly decorated coach that brings in top-tier talent year-in and year-out.

But Kraft doesn’t desire to be remembered on the track specifically later on down the road.

“The relationship with my sons is how I want to be remembered,” Kraft said. “Then, of course, my relationship with my athletes.”

Kraft’s two sons are both ASU graduates, one of which is finishing up his master’s degree this year. He emphasized the influence of this university, not only on himself, but his family as well. This is what made ASU his new home.

“My wife and family love the community,” Kraft said. “Our sons are now products of the University as well.”

During Kraft’s 17 years at ASU, the Sun Devils have brought home four national team titles, 27 individual titles, 224 All-America honors (181 in track and field, 27 in relays and 16 in cross country), three Pac-12 titles and 135 total conference crowns.

Through all of that success at just one university, one would think Kraft has accomplished all he could dream of, but Kraft says otherwise.

“I want to share the feeling and honor of winning a national championship with each of my teams,” Kraft said. “The experience is so special that you want to have even more.”

The journey to a national championship doesn’t seem far out of reach for this year’s track and field season. Kraft hopes to spread the wealth.

But Kraft put his 32-year career in a nutshell and used one word to summarize his ride to the top.

“Fortunate,” Kraft said. “I feel fortunate.”

 

Reach the reporter at msterrel@asu.edu