Ernie Bullard ’59, a former USC pole vaulter who was the head coach of the Trojan men’s track and field program for six years in the late 1980s following a long career at San Jose State University, died on Aug. 21 from complications following a series of strokes and heart attacks during the past year. He was 77.
Bullard coached at USC from 1985 through 1990, finishing ninth at the NCAA meet in 1986 and 11th in 1989. Among the Trojan athletes he coached were Quincy Watts, who went on to win a pair of gold medals at the 1992 Olympics, and 1989 NCAA 110-meter high hurdles champion Robert Reading.
‘A great coach and recruiter’
“Ernie was not only a great coach and recruiter who produced world-class student-athletes, he was a pioneer and an innovator for the sport of track and field,” said Caryl Smith Gilbert, USC director of track and field. “He also helped create our donor support group, the Trojan Force, which was among the first of its kind in the sport. Coach Bullard will always remain as one of the greatest Trojans, and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Bullard family.”
Said Watts: “Coach Bullard was a great man and a loving person. I am forever thankful to him for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Trojan Family. It is a sad day for me. He will truly be missed by me and by so many others.”
Ron Allice, who became USC’s head coach five years after Bullard left Troy, added: “Ernie Bullard was a real credit to our profession. He was an exceptional coach and outstanding competitor, but at the same time he was a truly good guy. He remained extremely interested in the Trojan track and field program after he left, and he was very supportive of me when I was the USC head coach.”
He molded champions
Bullard came to USC after spending 14 seasons (1971-84) as San Jose State’s head coach, where he won nearly 80 percent of his dual meets, with six of his teams finishing in the Top 10 in the national dual meet rankings and seven squads winning conference titles.
He coached four NCAA individual champions at San Jose State — triple jumper Ron Livers, high hurdler Dedy Cooper, javelin thrower Curt Ransford and pole vaulter Felix Bohni — and two world-record holders (discus thrower John Powell and pole vaulter Dan Ripley).
Prior to that, Bullard was an assistant at San Jose State for two years (1969-70), including the Spartans’ 1969 NCAA championship squad.
He also was a successful junior college head coach at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College (1967-68) and Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. (1964-66). His 1968 Mesa team won the national JC meet after placing second in 1967.
He also coached in the high school ranks in the Phoenix (Ariz.) area in the early 1960s.
Bullard was a standout pole vaulter, winning the Arizona state title in 1954 at North Phoenix High and the national JC title in 1956 at Phoenix College before competing in the event for USC, where he received his bachelor’s degree.
Services for Bullard are pending. He is survived by his son, Denton, and daughter, Kari, along with several grandchildren.