Remembering Coach Dean A. Hayes - A Coach with "A Servant's Heart"

Jan 20, 2022 at 07:29 pm by WGNS

An early photo of Coach Hayes in black and white. Story by Sam Doughton.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — When Ed Arning first started working in the MT athletic department as a student assistant in the Sports Information department, it didn't take him long to meet Dean A. Hayes, the head men's track and field coach at Middle Tennessee State.

It helped that Arning's boss, Jim Freeman, alongside co-worker Jim Simpson, was great friends with Hayes, with the trio regularly having lunch with each other every single day they were all in town. Lunches that Arning would soon get the chance to join himself. And once Arning got over his initial intimidation at the track coach's credentials, he soon learned why Dean Hayes was critical to everything going on with the Blue Raiders, not just his track program.

"What really struck me was the deep friendship that these people had," Arning recalled. "And in that era, the athletic department was pretty much like a big family. Potluck lunches, the camaraderie up and down the hallway, it was a wonderful family culture in the 70s, and Dean was very much a part of that."

When trying to summarize the late coach's legacy, the accolades Dean Hayes earned during his 57-year career at the university almost speak for themselves. Fifty-two student athletes who earned All-American honors a combined 125 times. Fifty-nine conference titles across the OVC, Sun Belt and C-USA. He was a 35-time coach of the year at the conference level and served on multiple coaching staffs at the international level. He also had more than 600 individual conference champions.

Even beyond the on-track success, the stories told about Hayes paint an even more complete picture of a man that was synonymous with Middle Tennessee State. He recruited some of the first African-American students, let alone athletes, onto Middle Tennessee's campus when it was first beginning to be integrated. He helped scores of international athletes come overseas to compete for his teams, and even other teams on his campus and beyond if the need arose.

But what most of the people mention first when you talk to those that knew Dean Hayes is his friendship, his commitment to others, his ability to get the best out of people and care about you long after you first met him.

"Dean was a servant, he had a servant's heart," Simpson said. "He was always concerned with the personal side of people, not just what they could do for him as athletes, people across campus, or anyone for that matter."

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Continued - The MTSU Track Coach

Tommy Haynes can remember the meet in Florida clear as day. One of Coach Hayes' early stars, who went on to become a 1974 national champion in the triple jump and represent the United States at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, was just finishing warming up for his triple jump event. When his coach came up to him.

"Tommy, you've got one jump," Hayes said.

Haynes was perplexed. Triple jumpers usually got three jumps, either to improve their distances, or in case of fouls. He told his coach he hadn't jumped yet.

"Nah, I scratched all your other jumps," Hayes replied. "You've got to learn to jump under pressure. You've got one jump."

Haynes had to readjust his process, not being able to afford a foul or just a poor technique leading to a poor jump. He focused up, ran within himself and, long story short, won the meet on one jump.

Years later, at the Olympic Trials, Haynes found himself once again in a do-or-die jump in his event after a foul on his first and a broken jump on his second. Filled with confidence, he looked toward the stands and just pointed at his collegiate head coach, who was watching with a keen eye.

"He was a thinker," Haynes said. "How many coaches would do that? He knew I had the athletic qualities, but you had to have your mind right too, because if you go to the Olympic Trials, everyone's in top condition, so sometimes you've got to be mentally prepared. I saw a lot of people who should've made the team that didn't, and vice versa."

Dean A. Hayes' thinking was one of the things he was best known for as a coach, alongside his expertise in all things jumping, particularly the triple jump. A blunt, straight shooter with his athletes, Hayes didn't mince words in his critique if you screwed up. But his athletes respected him for his honesty, in large part because they knew that Hayes knew what he was talking about.

Roland McGhee was a nine-time All-American under Hayes' guidance as a Blue Raider, and said that throughout his long track career, he never had a coach that was technical and had as many resources as Hayes did to help you understand how to jump as far.

"His techniques worked," McGhee said. "When you come in (to his office) and see on his wall All-American record holders and collegiate record holders, NCAA champions. He wasn't just talking, the proof was in the pudding. Something he was doing, something he was saying, was working." 

One thing most might not have known about Coach Hayes was the fact that there was a time where Middle Tennessee dropped its track program, not offering a men's team from 1987-1990. Hayes stayed on the physical education faculty at the school and took over both the men's and women's teams when the men's team was reinstated.

McGhee was one the first athletes Hayes recruited when the men's program was restarted in the early 1990s. And that long-running expertise helped him instantly rebuild the program, MT won the OVC indoor title in McGhee's freshman year of 1991, the first conference meet they were eligible to compete in. 

Perhaps the best example of Hayes' attention to detail for his athletes was in his comment cards, always waiting for you in your locker each Monday after a meet weekend. Each card featured specific feedback on your times and distances, with often exceptionally detailed insights into what you did especially well, and what you did especially poorly.

"We don't know how he did it, but he had everyone's name and everyone's event and your performance on this comment sheet," McGhee said. "It didn't matter whether you were considered a top tier athlete or someone who was walking on. He watched everyone and commented on everyone. He didn't pull punches, but he wasn't disrespectful."

Still, Hayes would never take credit for his athletes' success. A firm believer in letting others take advantage of opportunities given to them, Hayes would show them the work they needed to meet their goals, and then left it up to them whether they put in the work to get there. Miss class? Miss practice? Hayes wasn't likely to get on you like some coaches would, but he wouldn't hesitate to let you go if you weren't doing what you were supposed to.

That freedom created a culture of respect his athletes reciprocated and understood. And made it so that when they succeed, Hayes turned the success back on them.

"He would never take credit, he shied away from taking credit, which is odd for someone in seven halls of fame," Simpson said, recalling a luncheon he had with former athletes a few years ago. "He would say 'It's not about me and it's not about what I did, it's the fact that you got an opportunity and you took advantage of it. It was up to you. It's your success, not mine.'"

Click here to see the Woodfin Memorial Chapel obituary for Coach Dean Hayes. The family welcomes receipt of any stories, photos, messages, or reflections at CREMATION ARRANGEMENTS WITH SERVICES TO BE HELD AT A LATER DATE.

The Pioneer

Terry Scott was only the third African-American to play basketball at Middle Tennessee State, recruited by Ken Trickey. Scott signed with the Blue Raiders in 1966, just one year after Hayes was hired as the track coach at MT.

Hayes quickly brought the Cleveland, Tenn., native into his fold with the track team, helping Scott navigate the campus while supporting his other interests, including the Thespian Club and MIK, a precursor to the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity that's still on campus today. Scott helped found MIK, and when the historically African-American fraternity needed a faculty advisor, Hayes stepped into the role.

It was one of the many things, Scott said, that Hayes and Trickey did to support not just African-America athletes, but all African-American students on campus.

"Those two men, of other color, held our race up to the highest standard," Scott said. "If it had not been for those two guys, I wouldn't be the person I am today."

It wasn't easy being a coach of some of the first African-American on a campus that just integrated in the South, senior women's administrator and long-time friend Diane Turnham said. Not only did you have your usual coaching responsibilities, even something as simple as a road trip to a track meet could quickly turn perilous with the wrong turn at wrong the time.

"He was very careful to make sure they went to certain places," Turnham said. "He was aware there were places where they would not be welcome, or in danger. He just took that all on himself. He never wanted help."

Ed Arning admired his friend for a lot of things, his calm demeanor in search of the best of the best right up at the top. But part of that pursuit was his ability to be a pioneer, and it's something he hopes folks will never forget about Hayes.

"A lot of us can talk about being colorblind, but he lived it," Arning said. "And there's a big difference between those of us who just talk the talk and those who lived it, and he lived it."

For his part, Hayes didn't necessarily always see himself in that light, telling MTSU News in 2020 upon the athletic department's recognition of eight African-American trailblazers: "I think, for the most part, we weren't making a statement. I just wanted someone who could run, jump and throw, and Ken Trickey wanted someone who could score a lot of points or get a lot of rebounds." 

"To us, we were just trying to find athletes."

The Mentor

Beyond the track and field world, and even beyond his work in integrating the school, Hayes was well known for the fact he mentored countless coaches at all levels, in all sorts of sports, on his techniques, his philosophy, and even on just life in general.

"He took everyone in, new coaches, new administrators, it didn't matter who you were," Turnham said of his impact in the MT coaching offices. "He just took everybody in and tried to show you the ropes, not to tell you how to do it, but to offer advice."

It was not unusual to see his golf cart parked at another team's facility, or to find him in another coach's office in the Murphy Center, where Hayes was generous with his insight and time. Turnham said his knowledge of jumping mechanics helped her coaching both volleyball and basketball early in her career, for example.

He also had several of his athletes go onto coaching careers of their own, like Mardy Scales, who currently leads the Cumberland University program after earning All-American honors seven times as a Blue Raider.

Scales said the biggest lesson he learned while at Middle Tennessee was "work smarter, not harder." Scales, by his own admission, was someone who believed that the more you worked, the better you would get. Coach Hayes, he said, showed him the value of the rest in a workout plan.

"I was the type of athlete who pushed myself until I almost killed myself," Scales said. "There were many times Coach Hayes would come to the track just to tell me 'Mardy, that's enough.'"

Now that he leads a program of his own, the most impactful lesson he imparts is the same one Hayes had for generations of Blue Raiders: you'll get out of this what you put into it.

"Dean believed in (the method) that 'you could lead them to water, but you can't make them drink'," Scales said. "I use that same method today. The athletes that I recruit, I don't try to force them to do anything, but it's up to them to do it. If they do it themselves, they'll get a better outcome."

Part of the reason Hayes had success with that philosophy is that it started from his relationship with his athletes, something that Tommy Haynes took with him when he coached the track program at West Point, compiling a 55-3-1 record during his time there.

"I knew that we had to establish a relationship with the athletes beyond athletics," Haynes said. "How are you doing academically? If they're married and have kids, how are you being the best father you can be? It's a relationship thing, because Coach Hayes was always there for me if I needed advice, correction, or direction."

The Friend

Joe O'Loughlin was one of many international athletes Coach Hayes recruited to Middle Tennessee. Hailing from Ireland, O'Loughlin thought he had his life's path set in front of him with a pensioned job with the Irish Power Company at the age of 18. But when his cross country times at some local meets caught the attention of Hayes, he found himself agreeing to join the Blue Raiders for what he thought would be a "four years vacation in America, honestly."

What he could not have known is that, while he established himself as one of Hayes' top distance runners when he arrived in Murfreesboro in 1978, he would meet his wife, get a degree in business management, have a long career in sales, and still be in the country in 2022.

"One of the things most people don't realize with Coach is that I think he took as much pride in how his athletes' lives progressed after Middle Tennessee as he did in their athletic endeavors at Middle Tennessee," O'Loughlin said. "He was always interested in how my career is going, how my family is going, and all of those things.

"He didn't give us scholarships to come and run track, he gave us scholarships to come there and become something."

That friendship that lasted long after his athletic career is what O'Loughlin, and many others, came to value most about Coach Hayes. How they could call him at any time, any day, and he would pick up the phone and chat, or help if he could, or just listen. And how often, he would be the one to reach out when he was in the area, meeting for breakfast or dinner and just keeping in touch, genuinely interested in how his friends were getting on.

"As a result of Coach Hayes, I've got a good job and I've been married to the same girl that I met at Middle Tennessee State for 36 years," O'Loughlin said. "We've got four wonderful children, two grandchildren, and they're all part of his legacy. If it wasn't for him, none of that would've happened. I'm just one of many of whom that has been the case."

That friendship extended far beyond just his athletes. Hayes' heart led him to look out for even those he didn't know. Jim Simpson recalls traveling back with him in the middle of the night, and the coach pulling over on the highway to remove a hubcap he dodged, so no one else would risk getting into a wreck because of it. Simpson added Hayes would regularly stop by Rutherford County's PAWS (Pet Adoption and Welfare Service) with a 50-pound bag of food he bought from Sam's Club, just because he cared about the animals.

Talk to enough people who knew Coach Hayes, and those small acts of kindness they share with you could fill the entire Murphy Center. Like how he would help international students in the athletic department with their income taxes so they could get the tax refund they were entitled to, or how he'd assist any coach in the department with getting an international recruit of their own into the school. Or the time where he and his wife, a long-time professor of education at the university, were dorm parents on campus, and how they helped their residents out, and occasionally made them rock their two daughters back to sleep if they were the ones to wake them.

Chat with them a little more, and you get more of the details they loved in him. His love of food, his distinct laugh, his dry sense of humor. His loyalty to Middle too, for Hayes certainly had opportunities to go elsewhere with his success. But his love of his family, and perhaps his ability to do things his way at Middle, helped MT keep him around.

Most of what you hear in those stories, and in all those stories shared about his coaching, his mentorship, his ability to be a pioneer for others, is gratitude. For the opportunities, for the lessons, for the assistance, for just being there for each other. It's a gratitude that was evident from the very moment you met the man, it seemed. And, given what he said to MT Athletics writer Anthony Fiorella in 2018, one I know he felt.

"At my age of 80, the idea of helping these athletes get an education and see them leave here and be successful in life and maybe pass some things on," Hayes said at the time. "That's what I'd want to be remembered for more than anything else."


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