Don Hood guided Abilene Christian University to eight NCAA Division II titles and one NAIA championship during his 11 seasons as head coach. His 1984 Abilene Christian men’s team is considered the greatest in Division II history.
Actually, Hood is best known for two things – producing great teams and great vaulters at Abilene Christian University. Hood coached a succession of great pole vaulters, including Billy Olson, Brad Pursley, and Tim Bright. In all, Hood coached 13 vaulters over the 18-foot barrier, starting with Olson, who set 11 world indoor records in the 1980s.
Hood attended Tulare Union High School in California’s Central Valley. One of his teammates was Bob Mathias. Tulare’s coach, Virgil Jackson, wanted Mathias to try the decathlon in the spring of 1948, but Jackson knew nothing about the pole vault.
“Our coach brought [fellow USTFCCCA Hall of Famer] Dutch Warmerdam down from Fresno to give Bob a quick lesson,” Hood said. “I got to learn from the world record holder.”
Mathias went on to win the Olympic decathlon gold that summer at age 17. After graduating from Tulare Union two years later, Hood headed south to attend Abilene Christian on a football scholarship.
Hood coached track at four Texas high schools in the 1950s and 60s before taking an assistant job at Wichita State in 1968. After another stop at North Texas State, Hood landed a head-coaching position at Howard Payne University in 1972. He moved to Abilene Christian in 1976, and the rest is history.
Hood’s 1984 team scored 246 points at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & field Championships, finishing 117 points in front of the runner-up. Wildcats won the 200, 400, 800, 1,500, pole vault, triple jump and both relays. Abilene Christian’s relay teams set meet records (39.20 and 3:03.28) that still stand 22 years later.
Hood stepped down in 1988 but still serves as a volunteer assistant at Abilene Christian. The head coach is his son, Don D. Hood. The younger Hood led the Wildcats to the 2006 NCAA Division II outdoor title in his first season at ACU.
As a volunteer, Hood has continued his winning ways. He coached six vaulters to all-America honors, and Jane McNeill was the first female in NCAA Division II history to win a national championship in the pole vault as she won the 1999 indoor championship. McNeill went on to win the 2001 outdoor national title. Hood has coached two additional women to national championships in the pole vault and two more to All American honors.