Washington State Cougars honor coach Rick Sloan at retirement send-off
PULLMAN, Wash. – It takes a special coach for hundreds of alums to gather from all corners of the globe for one night. Rick Sloan is that kind of coach.
For 41 years, he served the Washington State track and field program as an assistant and head coach, guiding All-Americans, Olympians, and proud Cougars. They were all gathered in one room Saturday night at the retirement send-off to honor their favorite coach.
“I have loved the process from day 1 of working with the student-athletes and watching them develop and grow," Sloan said. "That is the joy of being a coach - doing that on a daily basis."
Sloan was appointed the assistant track and field coach at Washington State in 1973, then associate track and field coach in 1982. In 1995, he ascended to the position of head coach for both the men's and women's track and field teams. During his tenure, he guided his women to a staggering 84 school records, while 26 men's records fell as well.
He directed 42 athletes to NCAA Outdoor All-American status 76 times, and coached 33 athletes to NCAA Indoor All-American status 47 times.
Sloan guided athletes like middle-distance legend Bernard Lagat to eleven All-America honors and three NCAA titles while wearing the crimson and grey. And of course, Lagat was not going to miss this moment to honor Sloan.
“This night is about Sloan and let me tell you, I’m so happy that I get to be here because I had to see him, give him that hug and say ‘thank you’ from the bottom of my heart,” Lagat said.
Lagat grew up in Kenya and came to Washington State after just missing a place on the Kenyan Olympic team in 1996. After making WSU track history, Lagat made his first Olympic team in 2000 and earned a bronze medal in the 1500 meters. It was just the beginning, as Lagat continued on to win silver in the 2004 Olympics, three World Indoor gold medals, two World Outdoor silver medals, and gold medals in the 1500 and 5,000 meters at the 2007 World Outdoor Championships. He is the American record-holder in the indoor 1500, mile, two-mile, and 5,000 meters. He also holds the American outdoor records in the 1500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters.
After graduating from Washington State in 2000, Lagat still holds a special place in his heart for the WSU program and the opportunities Sloan gave him.
“Without him, I wouldn’t have had this experience of coming to America, getting full scholarship to come here to study and get my degree so I owe him so much, he’s the greatest man,” Lagat said.
Sloan was also integral to the success of Olympic gold medalist Dan O’Brien.
“He was a man who touched me in so many different ways,” O’Brien said, “as a person and as an athlete, especially as a friend.”
O’Brien dominated the decathlon in the 90s as the world record-holder in the event from 1992-1999 with 8,891 points. He was also the world record-holder in the indoor heptathlon from 1992-2010. O’Brien is a five-time U.S. Champion, three-time World Champion, and 1996 Olympic gold-medalist. He worked alongside Sloan as a volunteer assistant coach at Washington State from 1992-1998 and has been serving as a volunteer coach for the Arizona State track program for the past eight years.
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“He and I were best friends when I was competing here; we spent the better part of 12 years together,” O’Brein said. “We’ve spent the highest of the highs (Olympic gold medal) and the lowest of the lows (not making the Olympic team in 1992), his cancer and other family tragedies and things but I just feel so blessed to have such a quality friend in my life.”
WSU high jump phenom Whitney Evans also came to honor Sloan, who guided her to four NCAA Outdoor All-America honors and an NCAA outdoor title her senior year at Washington State. In the process, she became one of the most decorated female athletes in school history.
“Coach Sloan has impacted my life not only as an athlete, but as human and as a coach myself,” Evans said. “I think a lot of us in this room have taken the lessons that we learned from him and passed them on to future generations, which is a testament to his impact.”
The Washington State coaching staff will be left in good hands under the guidance of associate head coach Debra Farwell, who enters her 20th year with the program under Coach Sloan.
“The last 19 years with him I have learned so much about being able to teach and coach and what it is to really make sure your athletes really understand the message you’re trying to get through to people.” Farwell said. “I think he’s a wonderful technician and a wonderful track coach.”
Farwell graduated from WSU in 1986 as a pioneer in the women’s throws, competing unofficially in the hammer throw before the NCAA added the women’s hammer as an official event in 1994. Farwell has used her experience to guide numerous WSU throwers to rewrite the school record books.
Saturday night brought hundreds of WSU track alums back home to Pullman, but it also gave them a chance to say ‘thank you’ to the coach that gave them the opportunity of a lifetime as Washington State Cougars.
“The athletes that we’ve had in our program in my 41 years, I love all of them - from ’73 all the way to the current team that we have now.” Sloan said, “It’s been a great career at Washington State and it’s been my joy to work with so many athletes.”