Jerry Clayton, left, and Ralph Spry became close friends (Phillip Marshall photo)
July 15, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Jerry Clayton had no plans to leave Auburn. He had not even thought about leaving Auburn. And then the call came with a question.
Would he be interested in becoming the head coach at Michigan?
Telephone conversations led to a visit by Clayton, Auburn's assistant head coach for the past 15 years, and his wife, Becky. They liked what they saw. Monday, Clayton was named Michigan head coach.
"I'm really impressed with what they have and what they see as their future," Clayton said. "They've had a lot of success in track and field over the years. Things have not been going in the direction they wanted. They felt I was the person to move them in that direction."
Clayton, a former head coach at Southwest Texas State and assistant at Illinois, had been an assistant at Florida for three seasons when Auburn head coach Ralph Spry reached out to him in 1998.
"He's somebody I've always trusted," Spry said. "He's been great for Auburn for the last 15 years. Nobody thought I could hire him from Florida, but I worked it out and he's been here ever since."
Along the way, Clayton has established himself as one of the nation's top field events coaches and top recruiters.
He helped Auburn to 18 top 10 finishes, indoor and outdoor, 10 top five finishes a women's national championship and second-place finish nationally for the men. Clayton personally coached 10 NCAA national champions, 51 All-Americans and 34 SEC individual champions.
"Auburn has offered my family and me a great experience," Clayton said. "It starts with the successes and, obviously, Coach Spry bringing me in here. He and I have really developed a friendship. We've fished together, done a lot of things together. He gave me the freedom to coach and do what we do. I really appreciated that. That's why I've been here. People have come after me numerous times and I haven't had any interest.
"My wife and I thought we were going to be here. We didn't plan on any of this."
The Clayton's oldest son, Zach, was a starting defensive tackle on the 2010 national championship football team and plays for the Tennessee Titans. Youngest son Nick is a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy and will soon start pilot training.
"Definitely, it has been fun from Day 1," Clayton said. "You look at the successes we've had as a program. Coach Spry has given us the freedom to recruit and coach. All of us do the best we can to coach the athletes up and get them to perform in the critical competitions."
It took a special job, Clayton said, for him to leave Auburn.
"Because of how well Auburn has treated us here, there aren't that many programs we are going to look at," Clayton said. "It takes a Michigan or maybe a Texas, those kinds of programs. It took an institution like that to pull me away from Auburn."
The Big Ten is nothing new for Clayton and his wife. Both are Illinois graduates. Clayton was a two-time All-American in the shot put. His wife was a three-time All-American in the long jump. Clayton spent nine years at Illinois as an assistant, helping build the Illini into the dominant program in the Big Ten.
Michigan, Spry said, made the right choice.
"As sorry as I am to lose him, I'm very happy for him," Spry said. "He'll get there and get the right people in place. Michigan is going to get it going. They hired a good man."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: