Mel Rosen

Mel Rosen and Harvey Glance Mel Rosen (1928-2018) came to Auburn University in the fall of 1955 as an assistant track coach. By the time he retired in 1991, he had served as head track coach for 28 years and coached numerous individual and team champions; he stepped down to serve as head coach of men’s track and field for the U.S. Olympic team in 1992.

Rosen was born on March 24, 1928, in the Bronx, New York. Rosen’s grandparents were among the approximately 200,000 Jews who fled Eastern Europe to escape a wave of pogroms that swept across Russia and the Ukraine from 1903 to 1906. Rosen’s father, Leo, came to the United States in the early twentieth century as a teenager. Rosen’s mother, Mollie Kaminsky, came with her family from a Polish shtetl, a small Jewish town or hamlet. Both found work in the garment district in New York City.

Rosen’s family moved to Brighton Beach, a predominately Jewish section of Brooklyn, early in his childhood, and Rosen soon exhibited an interest and ability in track. As a young boy, he joined several youth organizations that allowed him to compete against runners from all parts of New York City. Rosen entered Abraham Lincoln High School in 1941 and made the track team as a freshman, coached by Hy “Doc” Schecter. Lincoln High School won the New York City Championship in 1944. Rosen captained the 1,200-yard relay team.

After his graduation from high school in 1946, Mel entered the University of Iowa, where he ran both cross country and track, competing in the 400-yard dash and the mile relay. He graduated with a degree in physical education in 1950 and earned his master’s degree in the same field in 1951. Rosen spent two years as a graduate assistant with the track team at the University of Iowa under Coach Francis X. Cretzmeyer. He then served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955. While stationed in Georgia at Fort Benning (now Fort Moore), Rosen was appointed head coach of the regimental track and field team.

In 1955, Rosen took a position at Auburn University as the assistant to track coach Wilbur Hutsell. In January 1957, he married Joan Kinstler, of Manhattan, New York, with whom he had two daughters. When Hutsell retired in 1963, Rosen was named head coach of men’s track and field. During his tenure, Auburn won four consecutive Southeastern Conference (SEC) indoor championships between 1977 and 1980. Auburn won the outdoor conference championship in 1979, a first for Auburn’s track and field team. That same year, Rosen’s team placed fourth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) outdoor meet. For those achievements, in 1979 Rosen was honored as the SEC and NCAA Coach of the Year in both the indoor and outdoor competitions. Rosen repeated as NCAA Indoor Coach of the Year in 1980 and was selected as SEC Indoor Coach of the Year in 1985. During his career at Auburn, Rosen coached 7 Olympians (including Harvey Glance and Willie James Smith III), 143 All-Americans, 63 SEC champions, and 8 NCAA Champions.

Rosen also enjoyed considerable success in international coaching. He was named the head coach of the U.S. team at the Baron de Coubertin Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1976; head coach of the U.S. track team at the Eight Nation Meet in Tokyo, Japan, in 1980; assistant track coach of the U.S. track and field team for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; and head coach of the men’s U.S. team at the World Track and Field Championships in Rome, Italy, in 1987. Rosen travelled to Israel four times as head coach for the U.S. team competing at the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem.

The pinnacle of Rosen’s career was being named men’s head track and field coach for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Rosen guided the team to its best Olympic performance in many years: the team won 20 medals, including eight gold. He coached such stars as Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, and Kevin Young. His selection makes Rosen the only Auburn coach ever to be named head Olympic coach in any sport.

As a result of his successful coaching career, Rosen was recognized by many track and field organizations. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, the University of Iowa Track and Field Hall of Fame and the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995, the U.S. Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2001,and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2006, Auburn University honored Rosen by renaming its new track facility the Hutsell-Rosen Track. Rosen died on March 25, 2018.

Further Reading

  • Slater, Robert. Great Jews in Sports. Middle Village, New York: J. David Publishers, 1992.

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Willie Smith III at Auburn

Photo courtesy of Auburn University Athletics
Willie Smith III at Auburn