Caryl Smith Gilbert hired to lead UGA men’s track team
The opportunity arose in early spring for Josh Brooks to pick a new chef for a program in Georgia close to his heart. He had big aspirations for his first outside coach hire in month six as athletic director, and he wanted to take a big hit, go get the deep ball, or shoot for the moon – choose whatever shot you desire.
Georgia’s track and field program needed a change.
Former coach Petros Kyprianou’s contract, who won two national championship trophies with the Bulldogs, expires on Wednesday, June 30. Talks to extend his tenure over the past six seasons have been halted after concerns about the program’s facilities. Brooks looked from afar for Kyprianou’s successor and played an aggressive game.
There is always a risk in embarking on a daring quest. Maybe Brooks dispelled the saying, because the rookie athletic director never planned on missing his swing. He took all measures to ensure that this did not happen.
“It was important to me that we all went,” said Brooks. “I went to find the best coach in the country. There would be no excuses.
He went thousands of miles to Los Angeles to hire. Brooks wanted another coach with a legacy of national titles, and Caryl Smith Gilbert became his target to move away from the University of Southern California.
Without ever meeting in person and carrying out the entire process via virtual media, the Bulldogs have found their match. Smith Gilbert had a steadily intensifying desire to return to the SEC after stints as an assistant coach in Alabama and Tennessee, and saw a window for more titles in Georgia.
Smith Gilbert’s initiation into Georgia is more than a new beginning. This is history. It’s a moment that enhances diversity within the sports program. Smith Gilbert is the first woman in the school’s history to lead a men’s program. She is also only the second active black coach in Georgia, joining women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor, who took over the role from longtime coach Andy Landers in 2015.
Prior to Kyprianou, Wayne Norton coached Georgia track and field. He was the only black head coach active in college before Taylor was hired.
“It’s a very historic moment. I congratulate President (Jere) Morehead and Josh for including me in this innovative opportunity, ”said Smith Gilbert. “I’m excited because it’s an opportunity to open more doors for athletic directors, staff and universities to see the success we can have.
“I don’t want to be called the best female coach or the best black coach. I want to be the greatest coach of all time. If I don’t have the chance, it will never happen.
When Georgia transitioned from Greg McGarity to Brooks in December, the Bulldogs only had three blacks in leadership positions across the athletic department – Taylor, Melvin Robinson (assistant athletic director for facilities operations) and Darrice Griffin (Assistant Director of Sports Administration at the Time).
Brooks improved Georgia’s culture of inclusion from the moment he took the reins. He didn’t do it to check off a box. He did not hire on the basis of a diversity quota. It came from a desire to hire from the highest echelons of candidates.
Brooks promoted Griffin to Senior Assistant Athletic Director in tandem with his promotion to Athletic Director. Courtney Gay assumed the role of Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion after eight years at the Rankin Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center. One of Brooks’ first outside hires came in March when Georgia added Darlene Camacho to the role of senior athletic director for strategic communications after holding a similar position in Texas.
The biggest move, the hiring of Smith Gilbert, went down in program history and gave Brooks immense pride. She created the next legacy step in the track and field program, as did her mentor Gwen Torrence, who was the first African American woman to win an NCAA title in Georgia. Torrence won the 55-meter sprint at the 1986 outdoor championships.
“If you don’t think in a small category, you see that there are a lot of talented women and women of color,” Brooks said. “It’s a byproduct of finding the best people, but I’m proud that we’re paving the way. I am proud of the women we have brought here and the example they set. My mission is to bring in the best and that’s how it happened.
Georgia won’t stop at various hires to work on making a difference in the fields that need it. Brooks wants to continue his quest for prosperity by helping “build the pool”. He wishes to work with Smith Gilbert to train the next generation of pioneers and build the confidence of young men and women among minorities.
Smith Gilbert wanted not only to show women the many possibilities for success in sports, but also to set an example for men. She hopes others, like Brooks, will feel comfortable adding black women to positions of power.
“It’s a complete change in the culture of the UGA track,” said starting pole vaulter Kayla Smith. “He’s going to change (the program) to be stronger than he’s ever been. It shows that black women have the opportunities they deserve to lead and make a mark in the world. So many people have tried to crush it.
The hiring of Smith Gilbert is another testament to increased representation within the SEC. Black women in Division I Track and Field are proud to support others who have faced the same challenges in their ascent to head coaching positions. Taylor has long been Georgia’s most shining example of supporting her minority peers, as six of the conference’s 14 girls’ basketball coaches are black women. Now there is another coach giving examples down the street from the basketball offices.
“I am absolutely delighted to welcome Caryl Smith Gilbert to the Bulldog family,” Taylor told The Telegraph. “She is a proven champion, a trailblazer and an exceptional role model for so many young women and men. There is no doubt that she will continue to build an elite program here in Athens.
Brooks had to make a statement with his first hire, and he validated it by adding one of the country’s most prestigious coaches. The first chapter of Smith Gilbert’s Legacy in Georgia begins Thursday, July 1.
Brooks wants championships. He joked that he would chase one in badminton if the Bulldogs had a 22nd program, but he thought so too. He also has a special attachment to athletics as he was used exclusively for the program and has children who do track and field in Clarke County.
He wants more trophies, so Georgia had no choice. No excuses. This approach has led to history.
“I can’t think of a better person in the country that I want to lead our program,” Brooks said. “We know we can win several (titles) under his leadership.”