"What a day! What a day! What a beautiful day! You should have to pay to practice on a day like today!" Thad Talley heard this before every practice when he was running at Furman University for Coach Chuck Rohe and he said it himself before every track practice during his coaching career.
Following a stellar high school football and running career, Thad went to the University of Mississippi on a football scholarship. He stayed at Ole Miss for one school year (1957-1958), played football, and ran on the freshman track team. After that one year, he transferred to Hinds Junior College in order to be eligible for a four-year school and scholarship. He attended Hinds for one school year (1958-1959) where he lettered in football and track and served as a team captain for both sports. He also sang bass in the school choir, was a member of the Baptist Student Union, and was elected "Most Versatile" and "Campus Favorite in the Who's Who." Thad was undefeated at Hinds in the high jump, pole vault, 880-yard run, mile relay and the 440-yard dash, including the state meet. At an end-of-season AAU meet in Atlanta, Thad pole vaulted 12'-5", ran 440 yards in 49.5 seconds, and ran 880 yards in 1:54.4. He was inducted into the Hinds' Athletic Hall of Fame in September 2001.
After his time at Hinds, Talley transferred to Furman University in South Carolina where he ran for Coach Rohe for two school years (1959-1961). Among many other accomplishments at Furman, Thad was twice an All-Southern Conference performer; captain of the cross country and track teams his junior and senior years; Top Senior Athlete at Furman; and ranked number six in the world in the 880-yard run at one point.
Thad married Harriette Whitworth in June 1961. She had graduated from Furman University with honors and was a high school (and later college) math teacher. Harriette followed Thad wherever his coaching career took him and not only taught but excelled at many different schools. At Brevard College, an annual scholarship fund was set up by some former students and athletes in honor of Harriette and Thad. At Arkansas State, a $150,000 endowment scholarship was set up in honor of Harriette & Thad Talley.
Thad's coaching career began in 1962 after his college eligibility was over while he was practice teaching at Greenville (SC) High School. He was asked to coach the track team, which went undefeated during the regular season and won the State Championship.
Upon earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education in 1962, Thad rejoined Coach Rohe at the University of Tennessee for the 1962-1963 season as a graduate assistant coach.
"I was one of Coach Rohe's graduate assistants during his first year at Tennessee. He wanted to do something to promote track and field in Tennessee and came up with the idea of running a relay from Memphis to Knoxville using high school runners from local schools. The Mayor of Memphis put a letter in a baton and passed it to a high school runner and the relay began! It was escorted by the Tennessee Highway Patrol all the way to Knoxville. High school runners passed the baton until they reached Cookeville. In that area atop the Highland Rim there were no schools with track teams and no runners! In order to keep the baton moving, Coach Rohe sent Coppley Vickers, Rocky Soderberg, and me in his station wagon - one driver, one sleeper on a mattress in the back of the car, and one runner. We were told to run the 180 mile stretch and relay the baton to Hal Canfield in Oak ridge by 8:00 a.m. He would then take it to Knoxville and arrive to begin an all-comers meet at the city track. We arrived at the hand-off spot in Oak Ridge at 5:00 a.m. We pulled the car over and waited - sleeping - for Hal. The baton stopped for three hours. I don't think Coach Rohe knows we stopped the baton."
While Thad was attending graduate school and coaching at the University of Tennessee, he also ran for the Knoxville Track Club. He placed third in the Southeastern United States Decathlon Event, missed breaking the indoor world record by 0.6 seconds in the 880 yard-run, was listed in the All Time Great Half Milers record book, was elected a member of Sigma Delta Psi (a national athletic fraternity), and received a Master of Science Degree in Physical Education.
Thad spent the next two years coaching and teaching at middle and high schools. He was the Athletic Director at Tyson Junior High School in Knoxville (TN) where he was also Head Football, Basketball, and Track Coach, and taught history and math. Then he moved to Wren High School in Anderson (SC) where he was Assistant Football Coach, Head Basketball Coach, and Head Track Coach. He also built an all-weather track to replace an old cinder track.
Moving up steadily, Talley, went next to Brevard Junior College in North Carolina to become Head Track and Field and Cross Country Coach from 1965-1968. During his four years there he helped the cross country and track programs rank among the top junior college programs in the country. His track team finished second by one point in the National Junior College Championships and was ranked second in the nation by the National Association of Junior College Athletics. Five of his track and cross country runners were selected to the National Junior College All American Team. Talley was inducted into the Brevard Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.
At Thad's Hall of Fame induction, an athlete he coached, Tommy Hodge, had this to say: "After graduating from Brevard I attended Ole Miss on a full track scholarship. The coaches, professors, and administrators [at Brevard] all actively supported me in my pursuit of an education. People really cared! One of these people was my track coach, Thad Talley. Coach Talley was instrumental in establishing Brevard College as a national power in track and cross country among junior colleges. He did this through superior leadership and dedication to the program and the young men he coached. He instilled in his athletes a strong work ethic, and the belief that if you can dream it, you can achieve it. He has remained an important part of our lives for over forty years, as he has modeled Christian values, and an unfailing faith which have inspired and encouraged our families."
Talley's next move was back to the University of Tennessee for the 1968-1969 school year. He filled an Assistant Track Coach position and coached UT's distance and middle-distance runners. Tennessee hosted the NCAA Track and Field Championships in 1969 (first ever to be held in the South), and Thad was the Assistant Meet Director.
Talley next spent four years at Arkansas State University as head track coach and a teacher of health and physical education. All existing school records for track and field were broken during his tenure, except for the discus and javelin. He also coached a world record holder and Olympic bronze medalist and several All-Americans.
Talley then moved to the University of Kansas to assist legendary coach Bob Timmons. During his four years there he was the head recruiter and coached sprinters, hurdlers, pole vaulters, and high jumpers. He had four Olympians in his areas of coaching, as well as many conference champions and All-Americans.
In about 1976, doctors advised Thad to downsize his responsibilities due to stress concerns associated with his diabetes. Moving back to South Carolina, he caught on with The Citadel and served there for the next four years as head coach and teacher of physical education. He built a new all-weather running track for the school and rebuilt the track program to a contender in the Southern Conference. Many records were broken or established under his leadership.
As Thad's health continued to deteriorate, he ended his coaching career in 1981 as the women's athletic director and assistant track coach at Baptist College in North Charleston (SC). This was followed by three years at Summerville (SC) High School and then teaching at Knightsville Elementary School for 13 years teaching physical education. In 1996, Thad's doctors ordered him to retire for good due to his diabetes.
"I coached some of the most talented athletes in the world," Talley says, and have had the opportunity to coach at universities with long traditions of having the very best track and cross country programs."
Thad's wife, Harriette, died in 2013. They were parents of two boys - Robert Clyde Talley and Clayton Thad Talley - and grandparents of five grandchildren. Thad married Miriam Strickland in 2014.