Longtime Duke track and field head and cross country coach Al Buehler died Jan. 5 at 92 years old at The Forest at Duke Retirement Community, his family announced Tuesday. A member of the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame and a larger-than-life figure in Blue Devil history, Buehler spent 45 years at the school from 1955-2000.
After graduating from the University of Maryland, where he enjoyed a successful career as a track runner, Buehler began as head coach of Duke's cross country team in 1955 and became its track and field head coach in 1964. Duke hosted the NCAA Track and Field Championships at Wallace Wade Stadium in 2000, and Buehler retired shortly after, bringing to an end an illustrious career. He was inducted into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001 and continued teaching as Duke's faculty chair of the department of physical education until 2015.
Buehler's legacy extends beyond Duke. His career on the international stage featured three appearances as a member of the U.S. Olympic track and field coaching staff in 1972, 1984 and 1988. He is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
In addition to serving as chairman of the NCAA Track & Field Committee, Buehler was the meet director at the U.S.A.-Pan Africa-Federal Republic of Germany Meet in 1975, the USA vs. USSR meet in 1974 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Games in 1973.
Among the many ways in which Buehler's legacy is honored at Duke today is the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, a three-mile loop circling the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. He is also the subject of a book and documentary by Amy Unell, both titled "Starting at the Finish Line."
At Commencement in May 2022, President Vincent Price spoke of Buehler, his philosophies and his lasting impact on the Duke community. Standing in Wallace Wade, where Buehler coached before the removal of the track in 2015, Price likened life to a footrace, imploring the school's newest graduates to approach that race with Buehler's teachings in mind.
"You may recognize his name from the cross-country trail on the other side of the road," Price said, "but it was right here that Coach Buehler brought out the best in All-Americans, ACC Champions, and Olympians—a hall-of-fame career that led none other than Mike Krzyzewski to say that Al 'defines the word Coach, and sets an example for all of us.'"
"Throughout his career, Coach Buehler has been a bold and courageous voice for what is right—a champion of integrating college sports during the height of segregation and a vocal advocate for equal scholarships for women. But what the runners he’s coached over the years most appreciate is his quiet wisdom, and a guiding philosophy built around three core principles," Price continued.
Those principles, Price explained, are to set up your own race, stay conscious and teamwork.
Buehler is survived by his wife, Delaina, their children and their grandchildren. A memorial service for Buehler will be held Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church. The online service can be viewed here.
Memorial donations in honor of Buehler may be made to the Al Buehler Athletic Endowment Fund at Duke Athletics, The Salvation Army of Durham or a charity to be decided by the donor.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.