Rohe Track Era All About Us!


Denis Flood:

Denis Flood was a Southeast Conference (SEC) track champion and decorated former Marine, who served in Vietnam from 1967-68, was severely wounded, and ran for the Marine varsity cross country and track teams. In the decades since, he served as a Naval Intelligence Officer and a contractor in the Middle East.

He was discharged from the USMC in 1969 and went directly to the University of Tennessee where he walked onto the track team. "It was a total and complete shock to my fragile psyche," he says, "I went from carrying bodies in combat to carrying a baton around a track."

UT had great runners during Flood’s time there in all the events and had won the Southeastern Conference Championship continually for years. He recalls, "They were thick with middle distance runners, which was my specialty. Coach Rohe told me that if I performed well in practice and in the meets I could compete in, he would consider me for some type of scholarship. That sounded like a fair deal to me." Flood went on to earn that scholarship.

At some point following his graduation from the University of Tennessee in 1973, Denis did some coaching. He tells about it in his own words:

  • For six years I was a Volunteer Assistant track coach at Moorpark College, (JC), in Ventura County, CA. Moorpark has always been a track powerhouse in the Western JC Athletic Conference in all sports. We competed in meets from Santa Barbara to San Diego -- from January to June. I helped coach middle distance runners, and that included 400 to 1500 meters. It was a blast for me to work with these young kids, both men and women's teams. I’m in the photo above with some of them. MC had excellent facilities and after winter rains the hills around the school greened up like Ireland. I'd remind the kids how lucky they were to be running at this facility, in 70 degree weather with coaches who cared and wearing the most beautiful uniforms one could imagine.
  • At the time of my coaching I was a counterintelligence contractor working in the Middle East for six months a year at times when I was not coaching. I'd contrast the college kids’ lives with those of other 19 year-old kids I had known, US forces, who lugged 60 pounds of equipment up and down dusty roads in 115 degree heat, getting shot at and blown up by psychotic zealots every day. Those talks always seemed to have an impact.
  • Our JC kids worked hard and would do whatever we asked. They were not on scholarships, so they could walk away at any moment, but few of them ever did. I learned a lot from them as well. They would work themselves to the bone and seldom complained, but they didn't like to be hard-assed or nitpicked. They loved their music, their friends, their families; they loved weekends after the meets. Those with ability would go on to run at major colleges. We had sprinters/football players who made it to the NFL, and throwers who made the US Olympic team.
  • Coach Rohe taught us Volunteers that you had to work hard in track to be successful. He was right. It takes God-given ability and hard work to be successful in our sport. There are no shortcuts. We had one workout at Moorpark College that I called "The Tennessee." It came from Doug Brown or George Watts. Some of our better middle distance runners could come close to doing it. It looked like the following: 800 meters in 2:00 on the track, followed by a 2 mile run on the road at under 10:00, then another 800 meters in 2:00 on the track, and concluded with an upper body strength workout on the football team's body building equipment located on a grass field near the track to address the runners' spaghetti arms. I'd tell the kids, "even if you don't win, at least you'll look good at the beach."

"Coach Rohe was a hardass," Denis concludes, "but he connected so well with his athletes that he made it work for him. He was the Bear Bryant of track and field in the SEC, no doubt about it. Looking back with a clear eye that age provides I feel strongly that Coach Rohe took 'slightly above average runners' and made them top runners and conference champions----probably the hardest thing to do in track and field. Anyone can work with a super-gifted athlete. But take six runners whose high school best might be 1:55-1:56 in the 880 and two years later they are all running sub 1:50---that is nothing short of coaching excellence. Coach Rohe positively impacted all our lives."