Just as he raced to the forefront as a world class sprinter, University of Houston head track and field coach Leroy Burrell is quickly establishing himself as one of the top track and field coaches in the United States.
During his career as a sprinter and long jumper, Burrell was a nine-time All-American, a two-time Olympian, held the world record in the 100 meters twice, and was ranked as the top 100-meter runner in the world in 1990 and 1991.
Despite being able to compete at a world-class level, Burrell announced his retirement as a sprinter when he succeeded Hall of Fame coach Tom Tellez as Houston's head track and field coach on June 17, 1998. "Sure, I might have put together a couple of more successful seasons as a competitor," said Burrell. "But, I felt that I could have a greater impact on the sport as a coach."
The impact was immediate. In the last three years, Burrell has led the Lady Cougars to back-to-back Top 10 finishes at the NCAA Championships and a Conference USA outdoor championship in 2000. Burrell guided UH to a seventh-place finish at the 2001 NCAA Indoor Championships and an eighth-place finish at the 2000 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The seventh place finish was Houston's best placing since the 1993 indoor championships and the eighth-place finish equaled Houston's best NCAA outdoor finish in school history. Houston also was 20th at the 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Burrell also produced Houston's first two-time NCAA women's champion since 1989 when Jenny Adams closed out her collegiate career winning the indoor long jump with a career-best leap of 21 feet, 11 inches. A year earlier, Adams was the NCAA outdoor long jump champion with a mark of 25 feet, 5.50 inches. She also finished second in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2001 NCAA indoor meet and was second in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2000 outdoor championships.
Last year, Burrell also guided Houston's women's team to a second-place finish at the 2001 Conference USA Outdoor Championships.
He was named the 2000 Conference USA Outdoor Coach of the Year after leading the Lady Cougars to the C-USA outdoor title.
UH also finished second at the 1999 Conference USA women's indoor meet and third at the C-USA Outdoor Championships. The Lady Cougars were second at the 2000 C-USA Indoor Championships and third at the 2001 indoor meet.
In addition to his success with the UH women's squad, Burrell was named the 1999 and 2000 Conference USA indoor and outdoor men's track and field Coach of the Year after leading the Cougars to four C-USA team titles. Last year, Houston finished second at the C-USA indoor meet and was third at the C-USA Outdoor Championships.
In addition, one of his pupils, Anthony Authorlee, was named the 1999 C-USA Outdoor Athlete-of-the-Year after winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Authorlee's victory marked the first time that the Cougars had a conference 100-meter champion since 1993, when Sam Jefferson won the Southwest Conference title. He also coached the 1999 C-USA indoor Athlete-of-the-Year, Dennis Darling, who won the 200 meters and 400 meters. Darling also ran the anchor leg on Houston's victorious 4x400-meter relay. In 2000, Burrell coached the C-USA Freshman-of-the-Year Robert Foster, who won the 200-meter dash at the C-USA Indoor and Outdoor Championships.
Last year, Foster became the first UH sprinter to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships since Jefferson was the 1993 NCAA 100-meters champion.
Before Burrell began his coaching career, he enjoyed a distinguished running career. He won two national championships in the 100 meters in 1989 and 1991. He won a Silver Medal at the World Championships and was a member of the winning 4x100-meter relay team in 1991.
Burrell also won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1992 as a member of the USA's 4x100-meter relay team, and placed fifth in the Olympic 100 meters that year. He added another Gold Medal at the 1993 World Championships while running the anchor leg on the USA's 4x100-meter relay. He retired in 1998 as the American record holder in the 100 meters with a time of 9.85 seconds.
Burrell's illustrious track career began at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa.. He earned high school All-American honors and was named the Eastern Track Athlete of the Year after single-handedly winning the 1985 Class 3A state championship. Burrell scored all of Penn Wood's 40 points when he won the 100, 200, long jump and triple jump.
As a freshman at Houston in 1986, Burrell broke UH's freshman long jumping record held by Carl Lewis when he leaped 26-9 at a UCLA dual meet. Later that season, he faced one of the most challenging moments of his track career.
After jumping 26-7.25 in the preliminaries of the 1986 Southwest Conference Outdoor Championships, Burrell jumped almost 27 feet before landing awkwardly on his third jump. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He finished second at the meet, but many people feared the injury would be career ending. After reconstructive surgery, it took him almost two years to return to his previous form.
Burrell spent the entire 1987 season rehabilitating the knee in Houston's weight room and swimming pool. The following season, he returned to the SWC Championships. He finished second in the 100 meters with a wind-aided time of 10.17 seconds, and cleared 25-5.25 to finish third in the long jump. At the NCAA Championships, Burrell finished fifth in the 100 meters in 10.31 seconds, and leaped 26-5.50 to finish seventh in the long jump.
In 1989, Burrell won the NCAA Indoor long jump title with a leap of 26-5.50. At the NCAA Outdoor meet, he set the NCAA outdoor meet record with his lifetime best jump of 27-5.50. But, Ohio State's Joe Greene recorded a wind-aided mark of 27-7.25 to win the event, and left Burrell with a record-setting second-place finish.
Two weeks later, Burrell rebounded at the TAC USA/Mobil Outdoor championships at Robertson Stadium. He won the 100 meters in 9.94 seconds, which is the fastest time ever recorded by a collegian. He also teamed with Lewis, Danny Everett and Floyd Heard to set a world 4x200-meter relay record with a time of 1:19.38. As a senior in 1990, Burrell won the NCAA indoor long jump title for the second straight year with a leap of 27-0, in Indianapolis, Ind.. At the SWC Outdoor Championships, Burrell ran one of the best sprint doubles ever recorded. He ran the fastest 200 meters ever run under any conditions with a wind-aided time of 19.61 and ran a wind-aided 9.94 time in the 100 meters to easily win both races.
He also won the 100 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Durham, N.C., when he posted a wind-aided time of 9.94 seconds. He set the NCAA meet record in the semifinals in 10.03 seconds. As a result of his outstanding season, Burrell received the "Jumbo Elliott Award" as the nation's top collegiate track and field athlete.
After completing his collegiate eligibility, Burrell beat Carl Lewis for the first time on July 23, 1990, when he won the 100 meters in 10.05 seconds at the Goodwill Games in Seattle. He was ranked as the world's top sprinter in 1990 and 1991 after winning 19 of his 22 races in the 100 meters.
Burrell set his first individual 100-meter world record on June 14, 1991, at the U.S. National Championships in New York. With a time of 9.90 seconds in the 100 meters, he edged Lewis, who finished second with a time of 9.92. Later that year at the World Championships in Tokyo, Burrell bettered his time to 9.88; however, he was forced to settle for the Silver Medal as Lewis won the race in a record time of 9.86.
Burrell and Lewis joined forces in the 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, when the USA's 4x100-meter relay team set a world record of 37.40 seconds and won the Olympic Gold Medal.
In 1993, Burrell ran the anchor leg for the USA's 4x100-meter relay team at the World Championships. The team won another Gold Medal and tied the world record. In 1994, Burrell was a member of the Santa Monica track team that set the world record in the 4x200-meter relay in 1:18.68. On July 6, 1994, Burrell reclaimed the title as the "World's Fastest Human" when he reset his world record time in the 100 meters with a time of 9.85 seconds.
A 1991 graduate with a degree in radio and television communications, Burrell was inducted into UH's Hall of Honor in 2000. He is married to the former Michelle Finn, an Olympic sprinter, and they had two sons: Cameron and Josh. His younger sister, Dawn, was a long jumper at UH, the 1999 USA long jump champion and a Olympic qualifier.