Tuesday, April 22

The big news around Arkansas yesterday - at least for a day - was the retirement of John McDonnell, the University of Arkansas' head cross country and track and field coach. Over his 36 years at the UofA, Coach McDonnell became the winningest coach in the history of the NCAA - regardless of the sport. Here are some of the "numbers" from his career:

42 NCAA team championships in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track.

83 conferences championships in the Southwest Conference and Southeastern Conference.

140 national, regional, and conference Coach-of-the-Year honors.

105 individual NCAA champions.

His teams won 90% of the SEC championships since entering the conference. The SEC is the nation's best track and field conference.

His teams won 61% of the national championships competed since 1984.

34 consecutive conference cross country championships.

12 consecutive NCAA indoor championships (1984-1995)

23 Olympians coached, including gold, silver, and bronze medal winners.

5 NCAA "triple crowns" where his teams won all three of the championships in an academic year. In fact, over one three year period his teams won nine straight championships, meaning no other school won one.

I have been volunteering with the Razorback track program for almost 20 years, which has given me the privilege of getting to know Coach McDonnell pretty well. I have often dropped by the track office and sat down to talk about track, politics, the economy, motorcycle safety, his farm, his family, and a dozen other things. Though he has been the most successful coach in NCAA history, he is also a very humble, down-to-earth, and personable man.

He had the ability to take a sport that is often seen as an individual one and make it a team sport at Arkansas, where each athlete - regardless of their ability - saw themselves as a part of a greater whole. He had the ability to help each athlete develop to their fullest potential, even beyond what they thought they could do. He knew how to motivate and prepare his athletes to be at their best at the most critical times.

As a coach, I think his greatest asset has been his ability to help athletes maximize their abilities. He took those athletes without the greatest credentials and made them into champions.

I read these comments today by Curtis Frye, head coach at the University of South Carolina. Coach Frye has developed his own Olympic champions and is a "rival coach" in the same conference. But his words about Coach McDonnell ring so true.

No one will ever accomplish the things that Coach McDonnell has accomplished. The university and the sport will miss him. He will continue to coach the Razorbacks through this season and his professional athletes at least through the Olympics. But mostly he will spend time with his family, seeing the country, and raising cattle.

Now we will see what happens with the Razorback track program. Who will be the new coach? Will the athletic administration see it as a priority or begin to cut the funding? How will the new Athletic Director view it? Lots of questions to be answered...

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