IU dedicates bronze bust of former track coach Sam Bell: “This is perfect”

Sam Bell used to love his spot in the bleachers, aligned with the start/finish line, maybe 10 rows up and square in the middle.

Bell’s memory will now endure in that area of Indiana’s Robert C. Haugh Track and Field complex for years to come.

IU unveiled and dedicated a bronze bust of its legendary former track and field coach during a special ceremony following Day 2 of the Big Ten Championships on Saturday evening. It’s a permanent tribute to one of the most influential and impactful coaches of his era, a man who pulled the best from his Hoosier athletes while returning the Indiana program to national prominence during his 29 years at the helm.

The bust, created by sculptor Marc Mellon, is installed on the main concourse of the facility, facing the start/finish line — a point form which Bell will watch over the next generation of IU athletes.

“After you’d compete, you’d know where coach was going to sit,” said Terry Brahm, a former NCAA champion in the 5,000 meters and member of the 1988 Olympic team. “He loved hats — he had some really cool hats — and you’d find the hat, go to him and you’d be like, ‘OK, I think I know what he’s going to say.’ It’s great that it’s right there.”

Bell, who died in 2016 at the age of 88, built nationally-recognized teams in Bloomington, guiding the Hoosiers to 26 Big Ten team championships.

To Sam and his wife, Fran, each of those athletes, whether they were internationally acclaimed or not, were like members of their extended family.

So it was touching, Fran Bell said, to see so many of those former athletes return for Saturday’s dedication.

“I think when (Bell’s athletes) see it, they’ll all recognize what it is they remember about him,” Fran Bell said. “He was a disciplinarian and they did a lot of things together, but they were like all of our kids.”

Bell’s professional reach extended far beyond Bloomington and college athletics. He was an accomplished meet director and his wealth of experience earned him a place at the international level, as well.

Bell also helped revolutionize USA Track and Field’s approach to staffing when he was appointed as the United States’ men’s distance coach at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

“(USA Track and Field would) take coaches they thought would do well and put them into whatever areas they needed,” Bell’s son, Scott, said. “They didn’t necessarily have to know a lot about sprints to coach sprints. That didn’t need to be their specialty. Dad proposed a new way to do it.

“He said, ‘Let’s vote by areas of expertise. Let’s do vertical jumps, let’s do horizontal jumps, let’s do middle distance, let’s do sprints. Let’s break it down where it really makes sense.’ They did that that year. The only person voted (to coach) in every single category was dad. Dad’s real passion had always been distance, so they gave him distance and decathlon.”

And on Saturday, IU gave Bell a lasting tribute, one that will keep his memory fixed to the place he loved.

“This is perfect,” Fran Bell said.