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Sam Adams: 1931-2010

Gaucho Coach


Sam Adams, a track and field coach who was a mainstay of UCSB athletics for 34 years, died Monday night, January 11, at his Santa Barbara home. Adams, 78, waged a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have lost a classic and an original,” said Donn Bernstein, UCSB’s sports publicist in the 1960s when Adams coached the Gauchos to a pair of runner-up finishes in the NCAA College Division Championships. “He was a throwback to an era of when amateurism was exactly that. He combined integrity with intensity; quality with competitiveness; and principle with passion. He was the ultimate teacher, counselor, advisor and coach, not to mention a loving husband and dad. And to those of us who were friends and colleagues – who admired his aura of virtue and loyalty – he was a figure of respect, honor and sincerity.”

Adams came to UCSB in 1959 as an assistant coach, and he became head track coach and cross country coach in 1963. He retired from the university in 1992. In addition to coaching Gaucho athletes, he was director of the UCSB Outreach program that trained postgraduate athletes for international competition.

“As one who was coached by Sam for four years, I always held him up as a role model in a world lacking men of his character,” said Paul Vallerga, a former Gaucho high jumper.

“As one who was coached by Sam for four years, I always held him up as a role model in a world lacking men of his character,” said Paul Vallerga, a former Gaucho high jumper. “It was my privilege to have been part of the UCSB track team under his leadership.”

Adams himself was coached at UC Berkeley by Brutus Hamilton, who made him captain of the Cal track team. He competed in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1952 and 1956, when he narrowly missed making the team. As a coach, he had the rare ability and patience to train men in the decathlon, a sequence of 10 events spread over two days of competition. He also coached the heptathlon, the seven-event competition for women.

The governing body of U.S. track and field recognized Adams’ expertise by awarding the National Decathlon Championships twice to UCSB (1975 and 1981) and naming him head coach of three U.S. decathlon teams that competed in the Soviet Union. In 1982, Adams was director of a historic U.S.-Soviet Multi-Event Meet at UCSB’s Pauley Track.

Adams did not stay away from the track after his retirement. He volunteered to help out at Westmont College. “Sam lived a life that affected us all and made us want to do our best,” said Westmont coach Russell Smelley. “His presence has been sorely missed as the Alzheimer’s stole his memory, but his presence of dignity and strength remained to the last.”

Sue Adams, his wife of 50 years, was with him when he died. There will be a private internment at Oak Hill Cemetery in the Santa Ynez Valley, where Sam Adams grew up. He was an all-around athlete at Santa Ynez High School.

A memorial service is slated Saturday, Jan. 23, at 11 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1500 State Street in Santa Barbara.

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