While Rod Staggs was inducted into the Truman State University Athletic Hall of Fame more than 16 years ago, his athletic achievements did not end there. Since his induction, Staggs’ coaching career went global as he mentored young track and field stars in world competitions.
Staggs, a Kirksville native, graduated from the University in 1966. During his time as a student, he played on the football team and was a member of Sigma Tau Gamma. After graduation, he began his 46 years of coaching in Iowa where he taught and coached for four years, until returning to earn a master’s degree in health-physical education and recreation in 1971.
From there, he took a job coaching track and field at Berkeley High School in St. Louis, where he would spend the next 32 years. Staggs, who had only coached at middle school, learned how to coach the sport through trial and error. And learn he did. When he came to Berkeley, the school had not won a single meet in seven years. When he left, they had 16 state championships.
After leaving Berkeley in 2003, Staggs coached at Lindenwood University for two years and won two NAIA national championships. He then moved to Loveland, Colo., for six years where his teams won three more state titles. After that, he went on to serve as a coach for the USA National Team, which competed in World and Pan-American championships in Australia, Argentina, Poland, the United Kingdom, Qatar and Mexico.
Throughout his career Staggs was twice selected as National Coach of the Year for Track and Field and has won the Missouri High School Track Coach of the Year 19 times. His name also resides in the Missouri Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame and in the Truman State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
While Staggs said he is proud of the awards and championships his athletes have won, he believes he deserves none of the recognition.
“I didn’t run a single step. I didn’t win anything, my athletes won these titles,” he said.
Some of Staggs’ famous athletes include Olympic gold medalists Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin and Carmelita Jeter, as well as other Olympians including Mike Rodgers, Kerron Clement, Ryan Bailey, Trell Kimmons, David Oliver and Bershawn “Batman” Jackson. In fact, at the 2012 London Olympics he had coached 35 of the track and field athletes at some point in their careers.
The hardest part of coaching, Staggs said, was keeping the athletes focused and on task.
His goal always was for his mentees to become not just athletes, but also well-rounded students and citizens as well. Coming from a small town himself, Staggs enjoyed working with athletes from across the country and around the globe.
“Kids are kids no matter where. As long as they come to practice and give their best, they deserve my best in return,” he said.
Staggs credits his success in coaching by his ability to motivate his athletes because of the relationships he has built with them.
“My strongest suit has always been relationships and rapport with my athletes, I care about them as a whole person, not just an athlete,” he said. “Kids can tell if you really care about them or are just using them.”
Today, Staggs has retired from active coaching with hopes of coaching future USA national track teams. He shares a home in Overland Park, Kan., and Cody, Wyo., with his wife and Truman alumna, Rhonda (Weiler) Staggs (’75). They have two daughters, Shayna and Shelby, and five grandchildren, Channing, Addison, Bennett, Dempsey and Deacon.
Despite all of the honors he has received, it is still the relationships he has built that are the most important to him. Even after everything Staggs has managed to keep up with hundreds of his former athletes.
“They become your extended family,” Staggs said. “And now I am proud to say I have family all over state, country and even the world.”