After nearly a decade as an assistant at Michigan State coaching some of the finest sprinters in the world, Jim Bibbs was chosen to take over the men’s track & field program in 1977, becoming the first black head coach in the school’s history and one of the Big Ten’s first in any sport.
Bibbs continued to helm the men’s program for the better part of the following two decades, retiring in 1995 to conclude a coaching career that spanned 36 years between the Detroit Public School system and Michigan State.
His sprinters were the class of the Big Ten during his Spartan years. In total, Bibbs – a former standout sprinter in his own right – mentored his athletes to 52 conference titles, 26 All-America honors, three NCAA titles and multiple world records.
Two pupils stood tallest among his accomplished list of star sprinters: Marshall Dill and Herb Washington. Both men were Spartan teammates in the early 1970s and combined for three NCAA titles, six All-America honors and 18 Big Ten titles.
Under Bibbs’ guidance, Dill and Washington once set a pair of indoor world records at the same meet – the 1972 Michigan State Relays – and came within .1 of combining for a third. Dill broke the all-time 300-yard dash standard, while Washington took the 60-yard dash record – a record once held by Bibbs, himself. The two joined up as part of the sprint medley relay team that just missed the world record.
Prior to his coaching days, Bibbs was not only a world-class sprinter, but also a fine baseball player. The New York Yankees offered him a Class A contract upon graduation from Ecorse High School, but he instead chose to attend Eastern Michigan to earn his degree.
He joined the track team (freshman baseball was unavailable at EMU) and soon after broke the world record in the 60-yard dash at 6.1. He went on to win three consecutive Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles at 100 and 220 yards.
Bibbs also found success at other levels of the sport. In five seasons as the head coach at his alma mater Ecorse High School, he coached the boys’ team to a fourth-place state finish in 1964, third-place in 1965, runner-up in 1966 and finally the state title in 1967.
He also founded and coached the women’s Detroit Track Club. During those same years from 1964 through 1967, he coached the club to national relay titles.
He served as the coach of the women’s track & field team at the 1967 Pan Am Games, guiding Team USA to eight wins in the 11 events.