After 60 Years, a Final Lap for Al Buehler

Longtime Duke teacher and track and field coach to retire

Al Buehler, a longtime teacher and coach at Duke, points to one of the many items hanging on his offices walls in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After 60 years at Duke, Buehler is set to retire at the end of the academic year. Photo by Bryan Roth.
Al Buehler, a longtime teacher and coach at Duke, points to one of the many items hanging on his offices walls in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After 60 years at Duke, Buehler is set to retire at the end of the academic year. Photo by Bryan Roth.

Taking a look around his office in Cameron Indoor Stadium, it seems clear. If you ask Al Buehler one question, you’ll get two stories as an answer.

Dozens of plaques, awards and photos are mounted across every wall of his office, not just an accumulation of objects to mark Buehler’s presence at Duke as one of the university’s longest-tenured employees, but physical representations of his lasting impression on others. They’re more than conversation starters; each is the start to its own history.

“I like telling tales about what’s happened here,” said Buehler, 84, who leads his final class this week after 60 years of teaching and coaching at Duke. “The kids will giggle and laugh at some things, but it’s all to have fun.” 

Like his memories of finding the right spot in his office for a couch previously used by Duke football coach Wallace Wade, or hosting a track meet against Russian athletes during the Cold War, or his friendship with Olympian John Carlos, who called him “Coach Cool Cat.”

“He gives us a first-person narrative of a lot of Duke’s history,” said first-year student Griffin Mario, a student in Buehler’s last History and Issues of American Sport class. “He’s passing on legacies that we’d have no ability to hear about in the same way.”

Added classmate Michelle Haubold, “As a freshman, I know a lot more history about Duke than a lot of people who are graduating.”

After coming to Duke in 1955 to coach cross country and later track and field, Buehler has compiled a list of achievements unlike any other faculty or staff during his six decades on campus. He was appointed to the coaching staff of three U.S. Olympic Track and Field Teams (head manager in 1988 Olympics) taught thousands of students, established Duke’s women’s track team and partnered with African American students and coaches from North Carolina Central University during the height of segregation in the South.

Al Buehler high-fives students in History and Issues of American Sport class during one of their final meetings. Buehler is set to retire at the end of this academic year. Photo by Bryan Roth.
Al Buehler high-fives students in History and Issues of American Sport class during one of their final meetings. Buehler is set to retire at the end of this academic year. Photo by Bryan Roth.

Buehler was inducted into the Duke Hall of Fame in 2001 and the United States Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2003. A running trail around the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club has bared his name since May 2000.

“When I was growing up I heard stories about him, but hearing stories directly from him, I’ve been able to really appreciate everything he’s done for the world of sports,” said first-year student Jackson Few.

After his final class concludes on Friday, Buehler will take the summer to gather the myriad of possessions he displays around his office - from Sports Illustrated covers from the 1950s to an autographed photo from former President George H.W. Bush – before enjoying retirement with his wife, Delaina, children and grandchildren.

“Over 60 years at Duke, it was easy to hold onto all these things,” said Buehler, gesturing to his walls. “But I don’t have nostalgia and all that. It’s like a track race – you’re going to finish up at some time.”