Jan. 5, 2012
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Dennis Nobles' resume speaks volumes, and it's a good thing, because Florida State's most veteran assistant track & field coach is a man of few words.
Since joining the Seminoles' staff in 1987, Nobles has had a prominent hand in the development of jumpers, vaulters and multi-athletes who have claimed 91 All-American honors, including 14 NCAA and 72 ACC champions. He's coached six Olympians - including a gold medalist - one world champion and three collegiate record holders.
On Friday, the humble and accomplished teacher will be recognized with his induction into the State of Florida Track & Field Hall of Fame at the Florida Athletic Coaches Association's Clinic luncheon. Nobles will join a long line of Seminoles who have been enshrined, including his 2012 induction classmate - and former pupil - FSU long and triple jumper Billy Close.
Nobles, who earned both his undergraduate and master's degrees from Florida State, is honored to be joining such an elite group of coaches and athletes from one of the nation's finest states at turning out track & field greats. Still, he's quick to deflect the attention to those he's worked with and for throughout his career.
"It is very much a team effort at Florida State," Nobles said. "Most of the people that I've had to work with over the last few years have almost been handed to me on a platter. I get a lot of credit for other people's hard work. We try to help each other out and we pull for each other. We work together on the track and in recruiting."
He mentions the collective contributions of the FSU staff in landing and developing two of the state's finest collegiate athletes - recent Bowerman Award winner Ngoni Makusha and multi-time NCAA champion Kim Williams - without noting that he was instrumental in the duo claiming eight NCAA titles in either the long or triple jump.
Florida State head coach Bob Braman, himself a member of the Hall of Fame, said Nobles stands in a class by himself when it comes to teaching and developing.
"If you look at who he's developed and what they have done, he may be the best Florida collegiate field events coach ever," Braman said of Nobles. "I don't know that there's ever been anyone better."
Braman notes that Nobles' successes cover both men and women, in every event from the javelin to the pole vault, decathlon and heptathlon, and the long and triple jumps.
"There are just a lot of unbelievable coaching accomplishments," Braman added. "He's had a phenomenal career and he's done it for the better part of three decades."
Former FSU head coach Terry Long, who is also in the state's Hall of Fame, was responsible for bringing Nobles on board at the school where he had competed in the pole vault and multi events. Nobles had spent two seasons with the program as a volunteer assistant while pursuing his master's degree in exercise physiology. Prior to returning to Tallahassee, he was an assistant coach at NAIA powerhouse Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas, where he was mentored by coach John Creer
"Dennis had been an athlete at FSU so he had a history here," Long said. "When he was out at Wayland Baptist, I had followed him a little bit. I had talked to John about him. Dennis had come back [to FSU] and was going to do some advance degree work.
"Sometimes you just have a real good gut feeling about guys. He was a hard worker with great character. A lot of things came together at the right time and it's worked out very, very well for everyone concerned."
Nobles admits he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do for a time after returning to Florida State for grad school, but it didn't take long for him to figure it out.
"Without a doubt one of the reasons I got into this career was I just felt like I had something to offer people and could help them achieve their goals," Nobles said, sharing his philosophy. "We just want to be a little better today than yesterday. If that's an Olympic gold medal, that's fine; a conference championship, that's fine; third place on your team, that's fine."
Distinguishing himself as a developer of elite talent only tells part of his story.
"Any time you have a chance to work with great athletes as a coach, it's remarkably rewarding," he said. "They're capable of executing the things you're trying to get them to do. To see someone achieve, get better and compete at a national and world level, there's no better feeling."
Contributing to whole growth and development of student-athletes - whether it's a walk-on seeking a new PR or an international athlete navigating a new culture - is equally rewarding. Beyond the technical nuances involved in each of the events he coaches, Nobles places a premium on teaching his pupils to succeed and fail with grace, learn to overcome adversity and flourish in a team environment.
"Not only is he teaching champions, he's willing to take on so many athletes who aren't those natural champions, who want to participate," Long said. "He works with them like his upper elite athletes. Many of them have gone on to win conference championships and excel at their highest level."
Beyond the scope of his coaching, Nobles also relishes his time as an associate professor. He has taught classes since joining the FSU staff in '87.
"I'm in a college environment where I get to see post-adolescent young people turn themselves into young adults," Nobles said. "We're a multicultural team and sometimes cultures clash. Watching their horizons expand and their world grow, that's as rewarding to me as Olympic medals."
It takes a special person to pull all of those aspects together.
Braman, who has guided the Seminoles to a pair of NCAA outdoor team titles and turned the program into a perennial national contender, credits Nobles as one of the guiding lights behind the scenes.
"He's truly a teacher and the calm in the storm that just doesn't get rattled," Braman said. "He just has that demeanor. That's been a good influence on myself, Ken Harnden and Karen Harvey. It's really important when you have technique events that you keep it under control. When he's coaching he is a man of few words."
Yet it has been Nobles' ability to find the right words at the right moments, which have allowed his athletes to soar to great heights and distances, which have earned him a place at the table with the best to have ever graced the state.
Nobles' Roll Call of Accomplishments
FSU Hall of Fame Inductees