Bob Larsen, four-time National Coach of the Year, retired in 2000 from his post as the UCLA men’s track & field and cross country head coach. He directed the Bruin men’s track & field program for 15 seasons and the cross country team for 21, leading the Bruins to two NCAA outdoor championships, one runner-up finish, and nine Pacific 10 titles in a 13-year span.
As an athlete at San Diego State, Larsen was prone to injury, and these trials led to his passion for coaching. After graduating in 1961, Larsen hitchhiked through Europe, working with several top-notch coaches to learn their secrets. He returned to the U.S. and began coaching at the high school level, where his Monte Vista High School (CA) team won four straight conference titles and went undefeated in his last three years.
Larsen then moved to Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, CA. In twelve years, Grossmont’s athletes set 11 National Community College records and nine consecutive conference titles. His cross country teams won the state title an unprecedented seven consecutive times to close out his tenure there. Larsen also formed an amateur cross country team known as the Jamul Toads, which won the 1976 AAU Cross Country Championship.
In 1979, Larsen took over a UCLA cross country program that had never won a Pac-10 cross country title and quickly turned things around. The NCAA and two-time Pac-10 Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year led the Bruins to two conference crowns and six NCAA appearances, highlighted by national fifth-place finishes in 1980 and 1981.
In 1984, Larsen took over as head track & field coach upon the retirement of fellow USTFCCCA Hall of Famer Jim Bush. Under Larsen, the Bruins had a remarkable dual meet record of 118-3-1, including 12 unbeaten seasons. During his 15 years as head coach, Larsen never lost to archrival USC in dual competition. He was also named the Pac-10 Track & Field Coach of the Year on nine occasions.
In his long career, Larsen developed, among others, Kirk Pfeffer, junior world marathon record holder at 2:17.44 who went on to run a 2:10 marathon, and Ed Mendoza, a 1976 U.S. Olympian at 10,000m and also a 2:10 marathoner. Larsen’s star pupil at UCLA was Olympic Silver Medalist Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi. In 1997 alone, Keflezighi won four NCAA titles – cross country, indoor 5000m, and outdoor 5000m/10,000m (the eighth athlete in NCAA history to win this double) – and became the third athlete in NCAA history to win the outdoor double and the cross country title in the same season.
In 1997, Larsen was inducted into the Mt. SAC Relays Coaches Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the California Community College Cross Country Hall of Fame, and he served as an assistant coach on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team staff.