Ed Temple, one of the country’s greatest coaches, who built a remarkable dynasty in women’s track and field at Tennessee State University, where he molded the careers of Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus and other Olympic champions, died Sept. 22 in Nashville. He was 89.
His death was announced by Tennessee State, where he coached for 44 years. The cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Temple began coaching at Tennessee State, a small, historically black college in Nashville, in 1950, when his team consisted of just two athletes. Within five years, his Tigerbelles had won the first of more than two dozen national championships, and Tennessee State runners and jumpers would dominate track and field for decades.
“We’re talking about the Jim Crow era, a period when the Tigerbelles . . . traveled through the deep South and endured harsh conditions to appear at meets,” journalist and author David Maraniss, who wrote about Mr. Temple in his book “Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World,” told the Nashville City Paper in 2008. “You look at what he accomplished and the obstacles he faced, and it’s simply one of the great triumphs in sports and history.”
Mr. Temple was head coach of the U.S. women’s Olympic track teams in 1960 and 1964, when two of his Tennessee State sprinters — Rudolph and Tyus — captured international attention by winning the 100-meter dash and becoming recognized as the world’s fastest women.
The 6-foot-tall Rudolph, who had worn a brace on her leg throughout childhood because of infantile paralysis, learned under Mr. Temple’s tutelage to run with a smooth, elegant stride that was the envy of the track world.
In addition to the 100-meter race, she also won gold for the 200-meter during the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. She then anchored the 4-by-100-meter relay team — all four runners were from Tennessee State — to yet another gold medal.
After Tyus won the 100-meter race in Tokyo in 1964, she claimed gold again four years later in Mexico City, becoming the first person, male or female, to repeat as the Olympic 100-meter champion.
Their high-profile victories — engineered by Mr. Temple — came during the height of the civil rights movement, giving them a lasting symbolic importance. A Tennessee State warm-up suit and a pair of track shoes are on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened this weekend in Washington.
During Mr. Temple’s tenure at Tennessee State, his Tigerbelles won 16 national indoor championships and 13 outdoor titles. No fewer than 40 of his athletes made the Olympic team, winning more than 25 medals. Tennessee State women won a medal in every Summer Olympics from 1948 through 1984, except for the 1980 Games in Moscow, which the United States boycotted.
“These girls wanted to win,” Mr. Temple said in 2012. “I was here with all the great ones, and I just said, ‘I want you to prove you can do it.’ ”
Edward Stanley Temple was born Sept. 20, 1927, in Harrisburg, Pa. Both of his parents held government jobs. In high school, Mr. Temple was a standout athlete in three sports and a state-champion sprinter.
He was recruited by Tennessee State — known as Tennessee A&I State University until 1968 — only to learn that the school didn’t have a track team. He stayed anyway and posted a personal best of 9.7 seconds in the 100-yard dash.
After graduating in 1950, Mr. Temple was asked to help coach track, including the few women on the team. He worked at the campus post office to make ends meet. He received a master’s degree in sociology from the university in 1953 and was a classroom professor for many years in addition to his work as a coach.
In 1952, Mr. Temple recruited his first major star for the Tigerbelles, Mae Faggs, who had been a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team at age 16. She won a gold medal in the 400-meter relay at the 1952 Games in Helsinki and helped Mr. Temple tailor his coaching methods for women.
“We practiced every morning at 5:30 and at high noon and in the evening,” Barbara Jones, a Tigerbelle who won gold medals as a member of the Olympic 400-meter relay teams in 1952 and 1960, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1995. “If it rained, so what? We ran through cow pastures and moved the cows out of the way. We ran up and down hills, all over the place.”
During those early years, if the Tigerbelles went to track meets outside Nashville, the entire team climbed into Mr. Temple’s DeSoto station wagon.
“With segregated restaurants and restrooms, we’d have to pack lunches and head for the fields when we traveled,” Mr. Temple wrote in a 1980 autobiography, “Only the Pure in Heart Survive.” “I had to be the chauffeur, coach, trainer, and manager.”
The school didn’t give athletic scholarships to women until 1967, but Tennessee State soon acquired a national reputation, allowing Mr. Temple to recruit top athletes from around the country. He took them to a dance studio to practice their running form in front of full-length mirrors and emphasized year-round fitness programs.
In the 1950s, he launched a summer training camp, teaching his techniques to high school runners. Many of them — including Rudolph, Tyus and Edith McGuire, the 200-meter Olympic gold medalist in 1964 — later enrolled at Tennessee State.
“It was the man himself, more than anything,” Rudolph said in 1993, one year before her death at 54. “He made all my dreams come true.”
Mr. Temple visited several presidents at the White House, often accompanied his athletes and was an early advocate of greater opportunities for women and minorities in sports and society.
“Equal means equal,” he told USA Today in 1993. “It means the same thing at the same time at the same place. Everyone should have the same opportunity.”
He coached U.S. teams in the Pan American Games several times and was scheduled to be an assistant at the 1980 Olympics before the United States boycotted the games. He retired from Tennessee State in 1994 and was succeeded by one of his star runners, Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, a three-time Olympic medalist.
Mr. Temple was named to at least nine halls of fame, including the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame — where eight of his former students are also enshrined.
He credited his wife, Charlie B. Law Temple, for helping guide the lives of his athletes when they were away from the track. She died in 2008 after 57 years of marriage.
Survivors include two children and a grandson.
Mr. Temple may not have had the best equipment or facilities to work with at Tennessee State, but early in his career, he adopted a philosophy that helped define generations of champions.
“What it takes to be a great sprinter, you’ve got to be relaxed but still moving fast,” he told Maraniss for “Rome 1960.”
“You have to have that confidence and even flow. And that’s easy to say but hard to do.”