by: JOSHUA RAMIREZ/Sports Editor
After 21 years of coaching, South Plains College head track and field coach Chris Beene remains unrelenting in his pursuit to be the best.
Beene was born in Lubbock, Texas, and attended Lubbock Cooper High School.
As a young man, he competed in a wide range of events in track and field and was good enough to eventually compete on a collegiate level at Angelo State University, even garnering All-American honors as a decathlete in 1991.
“I competed in about everything,” recalls Beene. “I did hurdles, jumps, threw the discus, and ran relays. I did a lot of different stuff.”
Beene began his college education as a computer science major, and enrolled in the ROTC program at ASU, intent on becoming an Air Force pilot. Unfortunately, an unforeseen circumstance would arise that changed the course of Beene’s life.
“I just kinda realized that wasn’t going to work out for me,” Beene explained. “They cut down the pilot slots dramatically that year. So getting into the Air Force and becoming a pilot was going to be really difficult.”
With the realization that his original plan was not going to work out, Beene began preparing for what would eventually be an extremely successful career coaching track and field.
“I started thinking about what I wanted to do,” said Beene. “I kinda enjoyed being out there on the track and helping other athletes on the team. I realized that I wanted to coach.”
Although Beene had been blind-sided by an unpredictable event that put his life on a different course than he intended, he says his decision to coach was affected by a passion that had always been a part of him.
“I just wanted to do something I was passionate about,” said Beene. “I love track and field. If there were athletes that the coaches couldn’t coach in practice, because they were too spread out, I would go over and help them. So I started coaching naturally in practice, because I think that’s just what was inside me.”
After graduating from ASU with a master’s degree in kinesiology, Beene moved on to his first job at Texas A&M-Kingsville as a graduate assistant.
“I went down there with a guy named AJ Moore,” said Beene. “AJ got the head coaching job down there and took me with him.”
Beene had originally intended to stay at A&M-Kingsville for an extended period of time, but another life event would eventually steer him in a different direction once again.
During his time at Kingsville, Beene got married to college girlfriend and fellow ASU athlete, Dr. Corye Beene, who is now a history professor at SPC, and eventually had two children, a daughter named Faith and a son named Sage. Shortly after their marriage, Corye Beene received an opportunity with the HEB grocery chain, which forced Chris to once again change his plans.
After just one semester at Kingsville, Beene had to leave when his wife was transferred to Abilene for her job. For the next four years, Beene spent his time volunteering as a coach at Abilene Christian while trying to get his career started.
After four years at ACU, Beene was able to lock up a job as an assistant coach at Texas Tech University, where he and his fellow coaches had their work cut out for them rebuilding a struggling track and field program.
“It started out pretty rough,” recalls Beene. “They were terrible. It took about four years to move into the top half of the conference.”
While coaching at TTU, Beene heard about the head coaching opportunity at Wayland Baptist University. After a few phone calls, he got an interview.
“The athletic director over at Wayland actually came over to the airport in Lubbock,” explained Beene. “He actually sat down with me and interviewed me there.”
After a trip to the Big 12 Championship with TTU, Beene took the job as head coach at Wayland.
In two years as the head track and field coach at WBU, Beene was able to win the first conference title for the university in more than a decade, and set the track and field program up for future success.
“We won the conference title with the men, and there had not been a conference title won there in over 10 years,” said Beene. “I wasn’t there long enough to build it to where it was a national powerhouse, but we got it moving in the right direction.”
Beene was right about setting the WBU program on the right course, as just a few years after his departure, Brian Whitlock, whom Beene had hired as an assistant coach, led the program to a national championship.
During Beene’s second year at WBU, he had interviewed with SPC for a head coaching position, but says in the beginning he was only using the opportunity at SPC to strengthen his program at WBU.
“At first, I was using my interview here hoping that Wayland would begin to give me more scholarships,“ said Beene. I was using it as leverage.”
But once he visited SPC, Beene knew it was a better place for him, and decided to take the job.
“I realized when I came to South Plains College that everything was better,” explained Beene. “I had a better chance to recruit here, and get kids that were more talented, and I had a better scholarship situation. It’s like the vision opened up.”
After accepting the head coaching job at SPC, Beene made good use of his improved situation and began building a track program that is considered a powerhouse in the National Junior College Athletic Association today.
As a former NCAA Division I coach, Beene took a different approach to recruiting, using his relationships with other NCAA coaches as a tactic to find quality athletes. This helped Beene be successful at SPC.
“I just spent two years developing relationships with NCAA Division I schools,” explained Beene. “When they run across kids who have to come to junior college first, they have to send them somewhere. I approached it different than other junior college coaches, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
Beene’s recruiting strategy has paid off 10-fold for the SPC track program.
SPC has a combined total of 40 national championships, including 38 in track and field or cross country competition.
Since his arrival in Levelland Beene’s teams have won 30 NJCAA titles, including the men’s NJCAA Outdoor National Championship for eight consecutive seasons. They also captured the men’s Indoor championships in 2007, 2009, and 2013, and women’s NJCAA Outdoor National Championship 2009-2012, and 2014.
During the 2014-2015 season, Beene coached the men’s and women’s track teams to the NJCAA Indoor National titles, and swept both the men’s and women’s Outdoor National championships, racking up seven individual and relay championships. Also 24 athletes earned All-American honors.
As the perfect exclamation point to a successful season, Beene was honored with the Men’s and Women’s Indoor and Outdoor National Coach of the Year awards for 2015.
After 11 years with SPC, Beene has done just about everything when it comes to winning titles and setting records. But even after his success, Beene’s unrelenting passion for winning remains as strong as ever. However, it’s a different feeling that pushes Beene to be the best he can.
“What drives me is my absolute hatred of losing,” said Beene. “I always tell people it’s not enough to want to win, because everybody wants to win. The people that are actually successful in what they do are the people who absolutely despise losing.”
After what Beene has been able to accomplish at the junior college level, it only seems logical that he would return to NCAA Division I competition as a head coach at some point. But Beene says that the right opportunity has not come yet, and believes that he is still meant to be at SPC.
“I don’t think the Lord has opened a door there yet,” said Beene. “I’m going to go where God puts me, and I feel like the Lord is not done with me yet here.”
With 21 years under his belt as an assistant and head coach, and with no end in sight, there is no telling what Beene will accomplish in coaching track and field. But what Beene says he is most excited about is his opportunity to help young kids and change their lives and futures for the better.
“We get kids that come from really rough backgrounds sometimes,” says Beene. “I’ve had kids come through here against all odds and get their degree. To see kids that society has said aren’t going to make it out, we’ve had kids come here and prove that wrong. I think that’s the most fulfilling thing, coaching wise, especially here at South Plains College.”