Tiger Track Coach Brady Ends Great Run; Will Miss Sharing His Passion With Athletes
By Bill Alden
For Mike Brady, the decathlon was the ideal athletic pursuit.
It would take an event that includes sprinting, hurdling, long jumping, high jumping, pole vaulting, throwing a discus and a shot, and a grueling 1,500-meter run to sate Brady's thirst for track.
Brady, a New Jersey state amateur decathlon champion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thrived on the discipline involved in mastering each of the 10 events of the decathlon.
The all-encompassing love for the sport made Brady a natural for coaching. He started as a track coach at Hamilton High in 1976 before heading to his alma mater, Rider University, in 1980. In his dozen years guiding the Broncs, he transformed the fledging program into a force as it won numerous East Coast Conference titles in indoor and outdoor track as well as in cross country.
In 1992, Brady came to Princeton University following the retirement of legendary Olympic track coach Larry Ellis. Teaming with head coach Fred Samara, a former Olympian decathlete himself, Brady made some history of his own as the Tigers won nine indoor Heptagonal titles, four outdoor crowns, and eight in cross country over the last dozen years.
Over the last month, Brady has been going through the last laps of his great run, having announced his retirement due to his wife Anita's move to a new job in Massachusetts where the couple is relocating.
While Brady, 50, will soon be in New England, his heart will remain with the Princeton track program. "It has been everything I've ever dreamed of, beyond belief and then some," said Brady reflecting on his tenure at Princeton.
"The opportunity to coach some of the most unique kids in the country whose motivations are so dynamic. They are very focused kids. They are dedicated to the task, dedicated to the details that enable one to be so successful."
For Brady, his background in the decathlon and the attention to detail that event required has proved invaluable in his coaching career. "At its core, a decathlete is learning all of the events every single day," explained the mustached Brady in his distinctive deep bass voice.
"That's basically what coaching is all about. You're teaching kids something new everyday. Fred [Samara] and I always refer to ourselves as track coaches. I'm not a jumps coach, a sprints coach, a distance coach, I'm a track coach. When I'm out on the track, if I see someone doing something wrong in the high jump, I'm more than happy to help."
With his love for the sport and his athletes, Brady didn't look at his job as work. "If anybody asked me what's your job I would say I don't have a job," declared Brady. "It was a passion, it was an incredible experience."
Maybe the best aspect of Brady's Princeton career is the fact that he has coached so many athletes who share his approach. "I try to remind myself that this [track] is my job, this is my life, this is my vocation," added Brady.
"To find somebody that has that level of interest and it's their hobby, their sidelight, to find that combination is phenomenal. I've found it in hundreds and hundreds of kids here."
It is that day-to-day contact with those kids that will leave the biggest void for Brady. "I'll probably miss that one hour before practice everyday when we sit around and shoot the breeze," said Brady, who had tears streaming down his face when he contemplated the emotions he has felt this spring going on his "last bus ride" through the team's season-ending meets.
"You enable them to make the transition from being in physics class to coming out here and running 10 miles on a 20 degree day with the snow falling. Your kids know you're putting in the day-to-day grinding as a coach and they're more than willing to put it in for you as well."
As Brady puts that grinding behind him, he is proud of the product of that diligence. "I think we've helped maintain the tradition that is Princeton track," asserted Brady, who has no set plans upon arriving in Massachusetts and is excited about that prospect.
"As I move along, I've always felt like I've been a keeper of the flame. I was somebody carrying the baton for a period of time and the time that I've had has been wonderful."
Few have kept that flame with as much fire as Brady.