New Texas track and field coach Edrick Floréal has done such impressive work at Stanford and Kentucky, he’s got his own hashtag and meme — #FloKnows. It’s darn near universal.
As in, #FloKnows history. At Arkansas, Floréal was one of the nation’s top triple-jumpers. The five-time national champion and two-time Olympian always competed against Texas athletes in the late 1980s and knew about the program’s championship aspirations.
“This place is sexy,” Floréal said of Texas on Thursday at his introductory press conference. “Let’s not fool ourselves. It’s a sexy place.”
#FloKnows challenges. At Stanford, Floréal led the Cardinal to seven top-10 finishes at the NCAA outdoor championships. He took the Kentucky job sight unseen. The Wildcats were blissfully mediocre at the time. His wife LaVonna told him, “We’re going to see what you’re made of, buddy.”
Six years later, Big Blue Nation had become a blazing blur. The women’s track program finished third at the NCAA indoors this year while the men’s team morphed into a national power, too. Four Wildcats just won national titles.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said he flew to Florida, Oregon and California but “we were chasing one guy.” Floréal, 51, stopped long enough Thursday to say how much he appreciates this new challenge. #FloKnows it’s time to get to work.
“A lot of people talk about the moment, but few are prepared for the moment,” Floréal said. “I’m prepared for this moment. I’ve been preparing all my life to get to this moment.
“I’ve coached marginal athletes to greatness,” he said. “I’ve coached great athletes to be even greater. I’ve been at a place that nobody thought would ever be any good. I’m not afraid.”
Del Conte said Floréal will receive a five-year guaranteed contract. All financial terms must be approved by the UT System Board of Regents.
“To take Kentucky track and field to a place of prominence on the national landscape,” Del Conte said, “can you just imagine what he can do at the University of Texas wearing that burnt orange and white?”
The Texas track and field program doesn’t need an overhaul. But it does need stability. Former coach Mario Sategna was named head track coach in 2013. In September 2016, he took a personal leave of absence and said he needed to “take a step back for my own self-improvement.” Sategna returned and won Big 12 coach of the year honors in 2017 after the Longhorns won their third-straight league title.
But in February, the school abruptly announced it had “separated” from Sategna. Assistant coach Tonja Buford-Bailey was named interim head coach. The program still had a strong outdoor season. The men’s team finished 25th at the NCAA championships while the women were tied for 34th.
After news broke Wednesday that Floréal would be getting the job, Buford-Bailey told the American-Statesman she would be leaving UT. Del Conte said Floréal can select his five assistants, as allowed by NCAA rules.
On Buford-Bailey’s watch, there were some strong individual performances. Freshman Sam Worley finished fifth in the 1,500 meters at the NCAAs. It was the first time UT had scored in that event since 2008. John Burt, a track and football standout, was eighth in the 110-meter hurdles. Senior Pedrya Seymour was fourth in the women’s 100-meter hurdles and sophomore Rushelle Burton finished eighth.
Texas will host the NCAA outdoor championships in 2019 and 2020 while renovations are made to Oregon’s track in Eugene.
By next spring, Floréal wants to have a program that shines brighter than others. If that means getting athletes to 6 a.m. weight-lifting sessions, so be it. “Did you say 6 a.m.?,” one female track athlete asked him after the press conference.
If that means changing his recruiting methods to attract better athletes, so be it. He’s intimately familiar with today’s 18-to-22-year-olds. For example, he joked about having a text exchange with one of his two sons who was downstairs over what’s for dinner.
“If they’re into the fluff, we’re going to fluff them,” Floréal said. “If they’re into making this a Taj Mahal, well, let’s make it the Taj Mahal. But you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to perform at the highest level.”
Del Conte plans on renovating the current workout facilities, upgrading the locker rooms and bringing them up to today’s standards. Floréal will have a say in the finished product, he said.
Immediately after his press conference, Floréal made a beeline to a group of eight Texas athletes standing off to the side. It turned into an impromptu team meeting.
“I’m going to find out what we’re afraid of,” he said. “I’m going to find out what we’re good at. I’m going to make it better.”
At least #FloKnows the expectations at Texas.
“Being in the back of the pack is not what you guys want,” he said. “That’s not what you hired me for.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.