Brad Hackett started competing in track during his freshman year of high school. A self-proclaimed “halfway decent” high jumper, teenaged Hackett didn’t know then that his after-school sport would turn into a lifelong career.
But that’s exactly what happened for Muhlenberg College’s Director of Cross Country & Track and Field, and Head Track Coach — dedicating his life to the sport, moving from the track to the sidelines.
Even while still attending Colgate University, Hackett knew he wanted to become a coach, a passion and career path cemented in the bond his father and him had shared through sports. He worked as an assistant coach at Colgate and Bucknell University before moving to Syracuse University, calling upstate New York home for almost 10 years.
Then, he left Syracuse to go into track and field equipment sales, only to discover he didn’t like it.
“I was coaching a Canadian Olympian who happened to be in Barbados,” said Hackett. “I was down there coaching her on my vacation and was doing something as simple as digging out the long jump pit at the Barbados national track, and I realized I needed to get back into college coaching. The Muhlenberg opportunity came along and I took it.”
After years of coaching Division I and Olympic athletes — as well as being an integral part of USA Track and Field — Hackett came to the small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pa.
“Coaching is coaching — trying to help someone improve,” said Hackett. “But more importantly, I think coaching is an extension of the educational process and if I can help a college student mature even a little bit, then I have done my job.”
It’s his ability to make a difference in students’ lives, in addition to Muhlenberg’s combination of collegiate athletics and top-tier academics, that have kept Hackett coaching the Mules nearly twenty years. After six years as the national triple jump chairman and overall development chairman for seven years, he made the decision to focus his attention solely on Muhlenberg’s team.
“I love coaching at Muhlenberg,” said Hackett. “I love the students on our team and it is a great deal more fun than the 15 years I spent coaching at the Division I level. Our team has had over 40 people go on to medical school in the time that I have been here; you cannot say that at the DI level.”
Under Hackett, the Mules have broken or tied more than 80 school records and have boasted 25 All-Americans. Hackett’s commitment to the success of Muhlenberg’s track and field program — and his connection with his student-athletes — was thrown into the spotlight during this year’s Mule Madness, the annual athletic department fundraiser. In short, Mule Madness is a friendly competition between Muhlenberg’s 22 varsity athletic teams to see who can raise the most money for their program in a short amount of time.
This year, Hackett decided to make a friendly wager, taking to social media in an attempt to get alumni and current students to support the program.
“I posted on Facebook for the track alumni that I would run the 100 meters in our home meet if we had 50 alumni that donated at least $100 to the track program, and if all of the current members of our team donated as well,” said Hackett. “Although we did not quite reach the goal, we were close enough that I needed to hold up my end of the bargain. So I ran the 100 in our team meet.”
For the track and field team, Mule Madness was a success. Not only did the team raise over $10,000 for their program, they got to witness their long time coach and staple of the athletic department compete in his first Muhlenberg race — and most likely last, at least until next year’s Mule Madness.