Skip to main content
Original Issue

Steve Scott, American Miler JULY 7, 1980

Steve Scott got his job as the men's and women's track and
cross-country coach at NAIA member Cal State-San Marcos the way
he has gotten most everything else: on the run. A no-show at the
August 1998 groundbreaking ceremony for a new track at the
school, Scott, the San Diego area's leading track luminary, tried
to make amends by going on a jog with Bob Mangrum, a running
patron who had donated money for the facility. Mangrum asked if
he knew of anyone who might want to coach the Cougars' start-up
program the next year. "He thought I was making all this money in
the business world," says Scott, "when in reality I was
scratching to get by."

Scott was not unlike San Marcos, a state university founded in
1989, which has an enrollment of 5,300 undergraduates. The school
had no full athletic scholarships when Scott started and still
has no on-campus housing or field house. (The kids change in the
school bathrooms or in their cars.) During a variegated six-year
business career in San Diego, Scott abhorred having to talk up
bad products. He changed his tack when he became a coach. "I'm
very up-front with kids," he says. "I tell them, 'This is what we
don't have, but this is what we do have.'"

What they have is a coach who, from 1977 to '93, broke the
four-minute barrier in the mile a record 136 times, and whose
3:47.69 in '82 remains the U.S. mark. Scott was living well off
appearance fees and sponsorships into the early '90s, but as he
slowed, so did the flow of loot. "You walk into a business with a
resume of being a miler and they may be impressed," he says, "but
they're not going to hire you."

As financial woes, a failing marriage and an uncertain future
weighed on his mind and aging body, in April 1994 Scott, then 38,
learned he had testicular cancer. He recovered after surgery, and
though he says he now has a more relaxed attitude, stresses
remain. He lives in Carlsbad, 10 minutes from campus, with his
new wife, JoAnn, but lingering family friction prevents his
seeing two of his three children, who live with his first wife in
nearby Encinitas. He missed that groundbreaking because his
youngest child, Shawn, now eight, wasn't ready when Scott arrived
to pick him up.

If he hadn't missed the ceremony, though, he might not be
coaching. In Cal State-San Marcos's first year, the men's
track team finished third at the NAIA Nationals. Within two
years the Cougars will have a field house and limited campus
housing. "I've learned to look at all areas of my life
differently," Scott says of his postoperative years. "The
stresses never go away. It's how you react to them."

--Jamal Greene



"I'm up-front with kids," he says of his recruits. "I tell them,
'This is what we don't have, but this is what we do have.'"