TAMPA — Roger Kingdom glides across the practice fields and through the meeting rooms at the Bucs’ training facility as if he never ranked among the world’s greatest athletes — as if he’s not a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, as if he never high jumped 7 feet and considered becoming a decathlete.
He moves unassumingly through the locker room. With a clipboard in hand, he reviews data with players. With long legs and a slender frame, the assistant strength and conditioning coach still looks the part of great athlete.
MORE BUCS: How Bruce Arians became Bucco Bruce
No one expects Kingdom to preen around with gold medals dangling from around his neck, but his quiet nature reflects his career transition.
He’s still Roger Kingdom, the man who contended for Sports Illustrated sportsman of the year for three consecutive years.
But he’s now Roger Kingdom, coach, husband and father.
“A lot of coaches upstairs say, ‘Roger, you’re just too humble.’ But for me, that was one part of my life, and I’m very thankful of that part of my life. But this is another part of my life.
“You’re just trying to share help. More importantly, you want these young adults to be successful, and more than being successful in their field, you want them to learn the life skills, because learning the life skills will make them better players.”
Kingdom, who turned 57 last week, appears no less driven to succeed as a coach than he was as an athlete, and his drive marked his success in track and field. He edged favorite Greg Foster for gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and then dusted the field to repeat at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Only two people have successfully defended victories in the 110 hurdles: Kingdom and American Lee Calhoun (1956, 1960).
Kingdom’s drive, however, is reflected as much in his resiliency as in his victories. Between winning those gold medals, he overcame a severe hamstring injury. After breaking the world record in 1989, Kingdom had to fight back from two reconstructive knee surgeries to remain relevant.
“A lot of the doctors didn’t feel as though I would be able to run again,” Kingdom said. “They said, ‘Be happy if you are able to walk straight again.’ And the only doctor that felt I would be able to come back 100 percent was my surgeon, Dr. Freddie Fu.
“He told me never underestimate the power of an athlete. And that resonated in my head, and it still does today. An athlete will push themselves through hell and high water because they’re driven.”
Kingdom did push through, and in what he calls the back nine of his career, he beat the “young pups” and won bronze at the 1995 World Championships a few weeks before turning 34.
It’s his expertise in speed and his experience in overcoming injury that make Kingdom a valued asset on the Bucs’ staff. He’s part of a five-person strength and conditioning staff headed by Anthony Piroli, who worked with Kingdom and coach Bruce Arians with the Cardinals before serving as the head strength and conditioning coach at Mississippi State.
Piroli said the staff aims to make every Buc — each has an individual strength and conditioning plan — a great football player, not a great weightlifter, body builder or sprinter.
“Having Roger understand how we did it in Arizona, another assistant (Michael Stacchiotti) understand how I did it at Mississippi State, it’s nice to have people on the staff already that are familiar with those types of things,” Piroli said. “Aside from that, from a technical-running-efficiency standpoint, Roger’s strengths are obvious.”
The native of Vienna, Ga., also holds a connection to football. He enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh as a running back and free safety — coach Jackie Sherrill wanted him at running back — but during his redshirt season, he won the 1983 NCAA 110 hurdles title and then made the Olympic team the next year.
Still, Kingdom harbored thoughts about playing in the NFL. After winning the 110 hurdles at the 1988 U.S. championships at the University of Tampa’s Pepin-Rood Stadium, a reporter asked Kingdom if he would consider following the path of former world-class hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, who transitioned to 49ers receiver.
“Where are you from?” Kingdom asked the reporter. “Washington Post? Well, you tell (then-Washington coach) Joe Gibbs to give me a call.”
He was only half-joking. Later that year, a proposed tryout with the Steelers and quarterback Bubby Brister was discussed but never materialized. After winning his second gold medal, he decided to give up on the NFL dream.
But Kingdom still calls football his first love, and after working as a collegiate track coach, he’s in the league, looking to win the hearts of players instead of medals.
“You know, my mom said, ‘You’re going to be a preacher one day,’ and I just said, ‘No, I can’t see that.’
“She said, ‘Honey, there’s more ways to be a preacher than just being in the pulpit.’ And every day that I come to work and I have a chance to sit down with one of these players, share with them and encourage them, I think, ‘My mom said that I was going to do this.’ It gives me a great feeling to be able to do that.”
Contact Ernest Hooper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @hoop4you