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Ex-USC Track Coach Wolfe Dies

Trojans: He led school to seven NCAA titles and six of his athletes won Olympic gold medals.

October 26, 2000|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vern Wolfe, whose USC track and field teams won seven NCAA championships in his 22 years as coach, died Wednesday in Fallbrook, Calif. He was 78.

Wolfe, who had Parkinson's Disease, died of complications from a broken hip suffered in a recent fall, the school said.

"He certainly made a tremendous contribution to the University of Southern California and to the sport of track and field," said Ron Allice, coach of the USC men's and women's track teams for the last six years. "He's part of one of the richest traditions in collegiate sport and was one of the most successful coaches in track history.

"But probably more important than that, he was adored and admired not only by the coaching fraternity but also by those athletes who had the privilege to be under his tutelage."

One admirer was perhaps Wolfe's fiercest rival, former UCLA coach Jim Bush.

"He was an outstanding coach and just a tremendous human being," Bush said of Wolfe, who coached the Trojans from 1963 to 1984. "Anybody that knew him couldn't help but like him."

Wolfe's teams won outdoor NCAA titles in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1976. The Trojans won indoor titles in 1967 and 1972.

Inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1998, Wolfe coached his USC athletes to 33 NCAA outdoor individual and relay titles. His athletes set 30 world records and broke or tied every USC individual record.

Six athletes who trained under Wolfe won Olympic gold medals--intermediate hurdler Rex Cawley, shotputter Dallas Long and 400-meter runner Mike Larrabee in 1964, pole vaulter Bob Seagren in 1968, long jumper Randy Williams in 1972 and 200-meter runner Don Quarrie in 1976.

Other prominent athletes he coached included sprinters Lennox Miller, Clancy Edwards, James Sanford and O.J. Simpson, the latter part of a sprint relay team that set a world record in 1967.

Wolfe, inducted last year into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame, started his coaching career at Torrance High in 1952. After three years at Torrance, he spent the next six at North Phoenix High in Arizona, where he produced national record-holders in the pole vault, shotput and discus.

He then coached one season at San Jose State and one at Foothill College in Los Altos, Calif., before taking over as USC coach in 1963.

A pole vaulter during his student days at USC in the 1940s before and after serving in World War II, Wolfe remained active in the event throughout his life, regular competing in senior events. He won his age division at the 1979 Senior Olympics and was second at the 1981 Veterans Games.

Wolfe is survived by his wife, Marilyn, sons Corey and Dean, and granddaughter Amanda.

A memorial service for Wolfe, whose body will be cremated, will be held on the USC campus at some point during the next couple of weeks, Allice said.

The men's locker room at USC's track stadium, under construction, will be named for Wolfe.

Donations in Wolfe's name can be made by calling Don Winston, USC associate athletic director, at (213) 740-4155.

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