Beverly Kearney is perhaps the most decorated collegiate track and field coach ever, with a career that has spanned over four decades. Yet she’s been largely overlooked.
Known as “Coach Bev,” Kearney’s Texas teams won three NCAA women’s outdoor track championships (1998, 1999, 2005) and four women’s indoor track titles (1992, 1998, 1999, 2006), with at least half of these crowns won before she reached age 30.
“I went through the whole system of coaching really quickly,” Kearney recently told the MSR. “By the time I was 23, I was an associate head coach at a Division I school [Toledo], one of the youngest if not the youngest in the country. By the time I was 25, I was a top assistant at the University of Tennessee [1984-86].
“By the time I was 28 years old, I was interviewing for jobs. I became the youngest head coach and the second Black coach in the history of the University of Florida [1987-92],” she continued. “In 1992, I became the first Black head coach in the history of the University of Texas [1993-2013]. There were so many firsts along the way.”
Kearney led Texas to six NCAA championships, posted 14 top-3 team finishes at the NCAAs, a two-time Indoor Coach of the Year (1999, 2006) and three-time Outdoor Coach of the Year (1997, 1998, 2005). Her teams went undefeated in four years of competition in the Southwestern Conference (1993-96).
One can only wonder why Kearney’s success story has been largely hidden from sports lore. She believes it was a seven-year legal battle with the University of Texas after she stepped down as coach in 2013: “a very public error that I made a poor decision that I made as a coach,” admitted Coach Bev.
Her lawsuit went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court before a decision in her favor.
“It wasn’t about the money… I wasn’t hoping to get my job back,” recalled Kearney. “I was fighting so that no other Black person or the person that looked like me would ever have to go through where I went.”
Kearney’s story is more than track wins—it’s also about survival and revival. Her mother died when she was 17. She was homeless and worked multiple jobs to support herself. She went on to be an All-American track star, first in junior college, then at Auburn, where she was named the school’s athlete of the year and team MVP as a senior.
Kearney earned a social work degree from Auburn in 1981, then later a master’s in physical education from Indiana State, where she began her illustrious coaching career as a graduate assistant.
The day after Christmas 2002, Kearney was a passenger in an SUV that flipped over several times while traveling, and she was thrown about 50 feet away from the car. The accident left Kearney paralyzed from the waist down, but two friends also in the car died at the scene.
Despite doctors’ warnings, Kearney vowed to walk again. After multiple major surgeries and months of rehabilitation and physical therapy, she moved from a wheelchair to using a walker within a year of the accident. A year later Kearney was able to use two canes and eventually switched to using one cane to keep her balance while walking.
Coaching is in her blood—not just on the track—but in life itself, she stressed. “I found that I could help kids, people in my community that look like me, providing them with an education through coaching,” said Kearney, who in 2006 founded the Pursuit of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization, and later her own consulting business called In Pursuit of Dreams, Inc.
Her late grandmother was a huge inspiration, among others. “I watched my grandmother cleaning houses. My grandmother [who died while Kearney was in college] was a hero to me because she took such pride in her work. Those things inspired me to coach, but it also inspired me to create mentoring programs.
“Even now, out of coaching, I coach people to be successful in life. I have a responsibility to open doors for the next generation.”