Legendary Track Coach Payton Jordan to be Honored at SCIAC Track Championships April 23
Payton Jordan, the legendary coach who turned Occidental College into a national track and field power before spending two decades at Stanford, will be honored on the opening day of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference track and field championships at Occidental April 23.
Returning to Oxy’s Bill Henry Track, the site of so many early triumphs, the 84-year-old Jordan will be honored by Occidental Athletic Director Dixon Farmer in a ceremony scheduled for 4:15 p.m., before the first day’s competition gets underway. (The SCIAC championships will be officially hosted by Cal Lutheran.)
“Payton Jordan represents the pinnacle of athletic excellence at Occidental, a coach revered not only for his outstanding record but for his remarkable ability to inspire athletes to do their best,” Farmer said, “Payton Jordan is Oxy’s John Wooden.”
During his 10 years at Occidental (1947-1956), Jordan produced one of track and field’s greatest dynasties, competing against the country’s top teams to win 10 consecutive league championships, an NAIA national title (1956), and two top-five finishes in the NCAA championships (1951-52). His athletes set a world record in the distance medley relay, won four individual NCAA championships (John Barnes in the 880-yard run, 1951, and in the 800 meters, 1952; Bob McMillen in the 1500 meters, 1952; and Bob Gutowski, pole vault, 1956) and competed in the 1952 Olympics (McMillen won a silver in the 1500).
Each fall, Jordan also coached Oxy’s freshman football team, winning five conference titles outright and tying for a sixth. Among the players he introduced to college ball were former pro quarterback Jack Kemp ’57 and tight end Jim Mora ’57, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
A native of Whittier, Jordan grew up in Pasadena. He graduated from Pasadena High School as a championship sprinter, inspired by Olympic gold medalist Charlie Paddock, then a Pasadena Star-News reporter who told him he had the stuff of champions, if he was willing to work at it. A student of the brilliant Coach Dean Cromwell at USC, himself a 1902 graduate of Occidental, Jordan was a member of the 1938 world record-holding Trojan 440 relay team. As a senior, he served as captain of USC’s national championship 1939 team.
During his 22 years at Stanford, Jordan took the Cardinal to a second-place NCAA finish in 1963, produced seven Olympic athletes and numerous NCAA champions, and served as head track coach of 1968 U.S. Olympic team, which won more medals and set more records than any other U.S. team. He retired in 1979.
As a senior athlete, Jordan has set world records in the 100-meter dash for every age group from 55 to 80. A member of the USC, Occidental, Stanford, NAIA and USA Track and Field halls of fame, among others, he was awarded the Dwight D. Eisenhower Fitness Award by the U.S. Sports Academy in 1999.