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Clarence Robison dies at 83

Former BYU track star, coach left indelible mark

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Clarence Robison, shown here in 2006, helped elevate the BYU track and field teams during his 40 years as coach. Robison passed away Monday evening.

Clarence Robison, shown here in 2006, helped elevate the BYU track and field teams during his 40 years as coach. Robison passed away Monday evening.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — A team, a university and a community were all grieving the loss of Clarence F. Robison, a former BYU track coach remembered as a man who made his life like his coaching career — long and full of success.

Robison, a former BYU track athlete who went on to coach the team for 40 years, passed away in his sleep Monday night at the age of 83.

As a student-athlete at BYU in the 1940s, Robison competed in the 880 meters, and the one-mile and two-mile races, setting conference records in the last two. After the United States became involved in World War II, he enlisted in the Navy and became an officer. Upon his return, he went on to be a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.

After his own career, Robison took the reins of the BYU track and field program, becoming "Coach Robby" and spending the next 40 years building the previously anonymous program into a force to be reckoned with. Even now, his legacy is manifested on a daily basis in the current track coach, his son Mark Robison.

"Any excellence we're achieving on our team or have achieved in the past, you have to trace to Clarence Robison," said BYU men's cross country coach Ed Eyestone, who competed under Robison at BYU.

Eyestone said Robison was an example not just as an athlete, but as a human being.

"I consider him one of the greatest individuals of the Greatest Generation," Eyestone said. "He was just that kind of legendary figure. But even saying that, he had the kind of humility where he would be embarrassed to hear you talk about him like that, even though it is true."

As a BYU coach, Robison guided his teams to 19 WAC championships — not to mention the unknown number of titles in the long-forgotten Skyline Conference — and elevated the Cougars to contenders on the national scene with a co-national championship and nine other top-10 finishes in the NCAA Championships.

He also put BYU track on the world scene, organizing six trips to Europe for international competition.

"He saw it as a great opportunity for the athletes to get some foreign experience, but I think also, and more importantly, he saw it for an opportunity for the athletes to share the gospel," Eyestone said.

Robison was also the president of the U.S. Track Coaches Association and a member of the NCAA Rules Committee, where the work he did earned the respect of coaches and athletes throughout the country.

"(Robison) was a gentleman and he was well-respected by all the coaches around the nation," said BYU women's track and field coach Craig Poole. "You travel around today and everywhere you go, coaches are asking, 'How's Robby doing?'"

But more important than what Robison did for BYU track, Poole and others said, was what he did for individual athletes and for the community around him.

"I think if you talk to athletes and coaches alike, not only was he a coach, but he was a father figure; someone you could look to and his advice was always spot on," Poole said.

Expressions of sympathy for Robison's passing were extended throughout the BYU community.

"I'd like to express my condolences to the Robison family," BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall said during the opening remarks of his weekly media luncheon. "Certainly it is not possible to separate the coach, record and legend with this institution with what has been done and what is being carried on."

There will be a viewing Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Berg Mortuary, 185 E. Center Street in Provo. The funeral will be Monday at 11 a.m. at the Grandview South LDS Stake Center, 1122 Grand Avenue in Provo.

E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com