The Facebook tributes posted Friday had a shared theme. Legend. Legacy. A pillar of our sport. End of an era. RIP Coach.
Nobody had to explain who the coach was. If you’d been a runner hereabouts in the 1970s, you knew about Bill Squires and his Greater Boston Track Club, whose members were the poster boys for the running boom. Bill Rodgers. Randy Thomas. Bob Hodge. Alberto Salazar. Jack Fultz. Dickie Mahoney. Greg Meyer. Vinnie Fleming et al.
You’d see them every week pounding up and down the Newton hills, with Squires popping up here and there and urging them on.
“Everything in my program is adapting you to race,” he told his charges. “Everything.”
Squires, who died Thursday at 89, was born to coach. That’s the title of Paul Clerici’s excellent book that chronicles his years as competitor, mentor, and tutor.
“I’ll clue ya,” Squires would say from his perch (”Coach’s Corner”) at the Eliot Lounge, the watering spot at Mass and Comm that drew the blistered crowd.
That’s where Squires scribbled workout programs on a cocktail napkin and where he dispensed wisdom gathered from his years as an All-America runner at Arlington High and Notre Dame and a coach at Wakefield High, Boston State, and UMass Boston.
While he was known primarily for what his runners accomplished on the roads, Squires was a track coach at heart.
“We have too many people who think road racing is the mecca, but it isn’t,” he observed. “Track always will be.”
Distance running on the track was the key to the marathon, Squires thought.
“If you can run the 10,000 on a track, then you can tackle the big boys’ game,” he said.
Squires believed in training his runners at race pace, and his practices were competitive. That’s why his track and cross-country teams at Boston State, a commuter school next to the Arborway trolley line without a facility, punched well above their weight.
So did the Greater Boston Track Club, which started with half a dozen members in the summer of 1973. They were local guys, but Squires had national ambitions for them.
“We had guys that’d run races and won against the nerdlings in these little dandelion races,” he told Clerici. “I told them, ‘When we go run, we go to the big ones.’ ”
That meant marquee meets such as the Millrose Games in New York and the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. But what put the club on the map was Rodgers’s breakthrough victory in the Boston Marathon in 1975 when he broke the American record wearing a singlet with a stenciled “BOSTON GBTC.”
That moment supercharged the hardtop explosion, placed the city at its center, and made the GBTC the place to be.
“Bill Squires turned a bunch of wacky, individualistic Boston runners into marathon elites in part because he shared the same traits — he’s wacky and individualistic,” observed Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston champion and Rodgers’s college roommate and teammate.
If Squires was that way — and he certainly was — it was purposeful.
“You need a little flavor,” he said. “You’ve got to be fun. You can’t have a frown on your face.”
The training on the Newton hills, up and down and up again, was no joke, and the group workouts were exhausting. There always was a guy in front of you who could be overtaken and a guy behind who was closing on you. And Squires made sure you knew it.
It was no coincidence that in 1979 four GBTC runners — Rodgers, Hodge, Thomas, and Mahoney — finished in the top 10 in Boston, with Rodgers setting an American record.
Rodgers, who dropped Japanese rival Toshihiko Seko on Heartbreak Hill, was the greatest hill runner of his generation. And Squires knew the undulating Hopkinton-to-Boston course so well that he might as well have laid it out himself.
What he knew was that nothing that happens before Wellesley means a damn.
“The course is a lullaby for about 9 miles,” he reckoned.
The real racing begins at Newton Lower Falls on the short straightaway that Squires dubbed “Hell’s Alley” and leads to the Route 128 overpass.
So he worked his runners frequently on the stretch between the hospital and the firehouse, which is where the lead pack frequently comes apart. The key to winning Boston, Squires said, is to not over-run the hills, to keep enough in the tank so that you can come off Heartbreak and not be consigned to what he called the “Cemetery of Lost Hope” for the legless just past the bottom.
Squires knew the best spots to throw in “baby surges” for a minute or two. That’s why Joseph Chebet, who’d lost the 1998 title to countryman Moses Tanui on Boylston Street, sought out Squires on the Saturday before the 1999 race.
“I want the American coach to take me out on the course,” he said.
Provided with an insider’s topographical guide, Chebet held back as Silvio Guerra, a Boston newbie, broke away, and then he reeled in the Ecuadorian at Cleveland Circle and won going away.
Squires always was available for a bit of advice. He prepped Dick Beardsley before his epic “Duel in the Sun” with Salazar in 1982. He worked with Patti Catalano Dillon and conferred with Jackie Gareau. When his days at GBTC and then New Balance were done, he coached the Boston Sisu men’s team and the Liberty AC women’s club.
Squires was to distance running in Massachusetts what Bill Bowerman, a Nike co-founder, was in Oregon. If anything, he was ahead of his time in his theories and methods, and he took his role and his responsibility personally.
“I hate it when a coach blames an athlete,” Squires said. “It’s you, the coach. If they don’t improve, it’s you.”
If there is a Coach’s Corner in the afterlife, a quiet nook of refreshment and reflection, he already has commandeered a chair and a napkin. “I’ll clue ya,” Bill Squires is saying.