Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera track coach Russ Stanford watches his team go through a workout on the hurdles during practice. After 15 years at Madera, this is his final year as the head coach.
Growing up in the 1970s as a track athlete, Madera High School track coach Russ Stanford can’t help but tease his current athletes about their era — and their shoes.
“I always tease the kids about ‘back in my day,’” Stanford said jokingly. “We had two shoes to choose from: Osaka Tigers or Adidas Cross Country. That was it. Those were the only choices as a runner. Now, it’s a fashion statement.”
With plaques, trophies and team photos decorating his classroom, the 57-year-old Stanford paints the picture of a man who has done it all. However, this is his last season as head coach of the track team. He will step down and become an assistant, yet Stanford still looks for ways to enhance his coaching ability.
“Last year, I was over at Athletics Performance Facility in Clovis getting my back worked on,” Stanford said. “I watched some of the kids in there training. I picked up a couple things and wrote them on a little business card. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try these drills.’ My eyes are open to everything.
“The one thing about coaching is it’s a continuous learning process. I’m always looking at stuff trying to improve. Thirty-eight years and I’m still trying to learn. There is no one person who can say they know it all. Things are constantly changing.”
Madera High School Athletic Director John Fernandez said Stanford is strong in the classroom as well as when he is coaching track and field.
“He plays a substantial role as a veteran coach and teacher,” Fernandez said. “For one person to be able to take all of those responsibilities just shows his dedication and organization.
“He’s a man of character. He’ll always fight the good fight and voice his opinions. Overall he’s a considerate individual that is well respected by both staff and students. He’s especially a great example for our younger coaches.”
While growing up in Salinas, Stanford was involved in sports from an early age.
By the age of 16, Stanford coached an elementary girls’ basketball team while competing in high school track. His initial pay was around $400 a season but it was later increased as his experience grew. Stanford ran the 400, 800 and the 400-meter relay while in high school and was a part-time coach of basketball, football, soccer and other sports at different schools before he graduated.
After he graduated from high school, Stanford attended Salinas Junior College before transferring to Chico State. He stopped running in school competition and focused on personal running, including marathons. Stanford continued to coach in public schools throughout college.
After graduating from Chico State, he took over as the girls junior varsity basketball coach at Notre Dame High School in Salinas and was then hired to assist John Devine with the school’s track team. Devine, now 55, spends his days as a writer for the Monterrey Herald.
“He was the junior varsity coach for girls’ basketball at the time,” Devine said of Stanford. “I knew he was an athlete back in high school so I figured we give him a shot since we needed help with the track team.
“He worked really well with kids and he knew when to stroke an athlete’s personality. It didn’t matter what event they participated in, Russ could get the best out of them.“
Stanford later went on to coach at multiple high schools in the Salinas area, most notably North Salinas High School where Stanford coached alongside of Ed Barber for 10 years. Barber is currently the assistant track and field coach at Hartnell College.
Between 1993 and 1999, Stanford coached five different athletes who went on to the state meet. One of the athletes was former NFL player and Salinas native Kaseem Osgood, who played for the 49ers and Chargers. Stanford also coached Alvin and Calvin Harrison who ran in the Olympics three times.
Stanford was hired in 2004 to revive the Madera track team, which had been strong in the 1980s but had fallen upon hard times. The last successful women’s track team was in 1984 until Stanford guided his women’s team in 2015 to a league title.
Stanford was tasked with putting the Coyotes track and field team back on the map. Stanford’s first day at practice was not the start he was looking for after only four girls and 55 boys showed up. Stanford said one of the main reasons why he came to Madera was because the school had the third largest high school enrollment in California.
“The school had over 4,000 kids at the time,” Stanford said. “The program was in disarray, but it’s amazing what it looks like now.”
The current Madera High track team has over 120 boys and girls combined and last year had 160 athletes in the program. Stanford works alongside five other coaches, including his wife Maricela, who helps coach the 100, 200 and 400 meter sprints.
Although Stanford plans on taking a step back from the head coaching position, he will still be involved with the athletes as an assistant coach.
“There is just so much going on in track specifically,” Stanford said. “From finding meets for the team and practices, there is a lot more that goes into it but I just need to step out of that head role.
“I’ll still be helping out and interacting with the kids. I just need some time to focus on myself and my family.”