As a kid from Barbados, Elvis Forde took a risk.
He was a long-sprint specialist representing his country on the track at the Junior Olympic level, and collegiate track types based northward began to take notice.
Programs like Kentucky State, Seton Hall University and the University of Mississippi inquired about the future four-time All-American’s services, but he ultimately settled on Murray State, located near Kentucky’s southern border.
A St. Andrew native accustomed to Barbados’ tropical climate, Temple’s new track & field coach had his first eye-opening experience in the states by his first morning.
“It was summer and obviously the night was nice and warm the evening I arrived [at Murray State],” Forde said. “But then by morning the temperature had dropped to probably the mid-50s and I still put on shorts and flip flops because the sun was shining bright. But when I opened the door, it was a whole different temperature and that was something I had to get used to quite quickly. That was a huge cultural shock for me.”
Forde’s chance translated into a lengthy career on both the collegiate and professional level, along with a Division I coaching experience that spans four decades.
He transferred to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1982 and helped set indoor and outdoor NCAA records in the 4×400-meter relay in his senior year. Forde made Olympic appearances for Barbados in 1984 and 1988 as a professional before kicking off his head-coaching career at Austin Peay State in 1989.
“I was one that was never afraid to be a risk taker, and I knew that when I left [Barbados], I was just taking a big risk in terms of going over [to the U.S.] to compete,” Forde said.
Forde was hired as Temple’s new track & field coach this past August, three months after Illinois State opted not to renew his contract after a 12-year coaching stint. He said the move didn’t feel like another risk.
His arrival, though, has followed a period of relative turmoil for his new program.
The men’s indoor and outdoor track teams were two of five varsity teams cut from Temple’s athletic program on July 1, an action from the university announced by Athletic Director Kevin Clark on Dec. 6, 2013.
Former coach Eric Mobley formally resigned in June after a federal judge in May denied Temple’s motion to dismiss claims of harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in a civil-action lawsuit brought against him, the university and Senior Associate Athletic Director and former track & field administrator Kristen Foley by former thrower Ebony Moore.
In The Temple News’ seven-month investigative report published on Aug. 26, which uncovered years of mistreatment and neglect in the men’s and women’s track & field programs, Moore described her time competing for Temple from 2009-11 as “inappropriate.”
Moore and other track & field athletes approached Foley with their concerns regarding Mobley and the program throughout recent years, but Mobley was allowed to continue running the teams through last June.
“I was aware of many things,” Forde said of his knowledge of issues surrounding the program at the time of his hire. “When I did my interview, I felt good with what the heads of the university and the heads of the athletic department were doing. So, [the past issues] had no bearing on me because I’m looking to move forward in a very positive manner.”
“I can’t quote or speak of anything, but my personality is such that I don’t foresee those things, or anything that happened in the past happen under my watch,” Forde added. “This is about what I want to do and I don’t think [the athletic department] would’ve brought me in here if they didn’t feel confident enough that I could run a good program to reflect what Temple is all about.”
In the months elapsed since Forde’s hiring, the dust has settled some. The team competed for the first time under Forde’s watch in the Jack Pyrah Invitational on Dec. 6, and is now gearing up for a four-week stretch in which the team will take part in five competitions.
“Everything’s been really calm,” senior multi-eventer Kiersten LaRoache said. “His main thing is just having fun. He still wants us to work hard and he expects things from us. … But in terms of making everything really relaxed, he shows that he really cares for us.”
Senior sprinter Michelle Davis-Timothy noted the team’s need of a coach who can provide a helping hand, both with sport and life, when needed.
“We definitely needed a coach that had confidence in us and our abilities,” Davis-Timothy said. “I believe it was sort of an issue last year. There wasn’t that much confidence in what we could do, or where we could get to. It was kind of like, we were beat down and expected to build ourselves back up, instead of with a helping hand.”
“When we may seem a little down, [Forde] will pull us aside and cheer us up,” she added. “He’ll give us advice or tell us different ways to look at it. It makes us always see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Taking charge of a women’s program that Forde said has a fully-funded scholarship budget, he stressed his desire to bring a string of all-around success to a team that hasn’t seen much of it as of late.
“Any time you get a program, you want to bring success,” he said. “I think that’s something this program hasn’t had a lot of over the years. I think when you start having success, you’re able to bring more quality athletes in. And in the end, I think that’s what everybody wants.”
While Forde said he wants to foster both individual and team-wide success as coach, particularly after a Spring 2015 season that he is calling an “evaluation period,” the university’s current lack of an accommodating facility for throwers will limit his ability to recruit in that area for the time being. For now, Forde said, throwing events will be conducted earlier than normal practice time to avoid safety issues involved with the lack of a protective cage. The team will field one thrower this season in senior Margo Britton.
Forde said he is taking a cautious approach toward recruiting throwers, as the prospect of using objects like a discus or javelin raises a safety concern to which the program is no stranger.
Former runner Victoria Gocht, a one-time Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year, was struck in the back by a flying discus in Spring 2012, ending her career shortly thereafter. The throwers were not practicing with a throwing cage, as is recommended by the NCAA, when the incident occurred.
In an interview with The Temple News in October, senior athletic administrators, including Clark, said the department had purchased a protective cage, but felt wary of using it and leaving it standing at the publically-accessible complex.
Alongside the women’s program, Forde will supervise the men’s and women’s cross country teams, but will leave those management duties to distance coaches James Snyder and Steve Fuelling.
Snyder said Forde has the program headed in the right direction.
“He’s someone who took a chance as a 17-year-old boy to come halfway across the world to be at a place he’s never been before because he wanted an opportunity,” Snyder said. “He’s not somebody who’s afraid to push the envelope, and he’s somebody who’s not afraid to work really hard to be as good as we can be.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23