FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Legendary University of Arkansas cross country and track and field head coach John McDonnell has announced his retirement following the 2008 outdoor track and field season following 36 years, 42 NCAA championships and 83 conference titles. Below is a transcript from the press conference.
Jeff Long, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics
“Welcome everyone to this historic day in the long and prestigious history of the University of Arkansas, the Razorback athletic program and the world of track and field. We’re honored and privileged today to have Coach (John) McDonnell’s family with us. I’d like to introduce his wife, Ellen, his son, Sean and his daughter, Heather. As you would expect, behind every great coach—our great coach—is a loving and supporting family, so it’s really special to have you all with us today.
“We’d like also recognize a very special group of young men, our current men’s cross country and track and field teams. These student-athletes represent not only themselves, but all the student-athletes who came before them and who have been enriched by working with Coach John McDonnell. They also represent the hundreds of student-athletes who have come before, received their degrees from the University of Arkansas and have gone on to be very successful in their communities and that, at the core, is what John McDonnell has done for this university. Thank you gentlemen; it’s a pleasure to have you with us.
“I also want to quickly recognize Chancellor John White. John has been extremely supportive of our student-athletes and our athletic program. Thank you, John. I also want to recognize the University Systems President, Alan Sugg. Alan could not be here because of a conflict in his schedule, but I think all of you know Alan was a very successful former Arkansas track student-athlete and one who has been very supportive of our program, and particularly, very supportive of Coach McDonnell. He sends his regrets and his best wishes to John and his family.
“At this time, it is my honor to bring to the podium, the man who has led the University of Arkansas to 42 national championships and 83 conference championships. He is, without question, the most successful coach in NCAA history, Head Coach John McDonnell.”
Frank Broyles, former Director of Athletics
“John wasn’t a gamble at all. If he could out run them then he sure could coach them. I have been very proud of john and appreciative of everything that you have done. I’m proud to have been your friend. I’m proud you were part of our program all these years. He has coached with dignity and integrity and he always kept his humility. That’s exactly what you want in a coach. Plus the fact that his students excel in the classroom. I’ve been so proud to see that our track team has led the nation in grades while winning national championships. Through John’s leadership, we did that.
“John took a sport that most people thought was an individual sport and made it into a team sport which inspired the athletes. They weren’t just running for themselves, they were running for the team. We saw this year after year and we continued to win. People always say the toughest thing in coaching is to repeat. Not for John McDonnell.”
John McDonnell, University of Arkansas cross country and track and field head coach
“I want to thank Frank Broyles, the man that hired me 36 years ago. He took a chance on a guy that never really proved himself but I guess he saw something in me that I didn’t think I had in myself. It worked out really well.
“I’d also like to thank Dr. Alan Sugg. He has been a great supporter of track and field and every one of our current track athletes knows who Alan Sugg is. Chancellor John White has done such a great job; first with the academics, then with athletics and hiring coaches. He got our program on the right track.
“And, of course, Jeff Long. I’ve enjoyed having many discussions with him. Believe me, this program is not going to go backwards. It’s going to go forwards.”
“I don’t know if this is good or bad but I’m not leaving Fayetteville. I’ll be around to make sure Jeff long keeps the program going.
“The people I want to thank that made this all possible are my assistant coaches. The first has been with me 25 years, Dick Booth. He is without a doubt the greatest field event coach, not in America, but in the world. He has had more high, long and triple jumpers ranked in the world than any other coach.
“Kyle White has been our sprint coach for the last two years. He was a high jumper here. He is now coaching the No. 3 sprinter in the world (J-Mee Samuels) under his wings here at the University of Arkansas. He also coaches and works with for Razorback and world champion Wallace Spearmon, Jr.
“The faculty and staff at the university, for 36 years, I don’t how you guys put up with me. They are absolutely super. They have never turned down any request I made. So many things go into success. It’s not just the head coach. It’s the whole administration. That’s what I had behind me. When I asked for help, I got it. When I asked for assistants, I got them. The faculty and staff were absolutely superb.
“Track and field would not be where it is today without the Tyson Family. They gave us the money to build our indoor track which put track on the map for us, the country and the world.
“The fans and the people of Arkansas, they are number one. It was always a pleasure, no matter what part of the state I was in, they always knew who I was and appreciated what I did and what the team did for the state, the country and for the world.
“Last but not least, I must thank my family, my wife, Ellen, and my children, Heather and Sean. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.
On making the decision now…
“There is never a good time. I want to spend some time with my family. I never saw my kids graduate for high school or college. While they are still around and I’m still around, I want to spend more time with them.
“It was a very tough decision to make especially leaving a bunch of great athletes. I know they will be in good hands otherwise I wouldn’t have left.
“I would have stepped down two years ago if it wasn’t for the NCAA penalties and issues that came about. I wanted to see that through.
“I’ll coach the professional athletes I’ve been working with through the Olympics if they want. I’m not getting out of it entirely. I’ll coach on a part-time basis. If I was ten years younger I’d still be coaching (full-time).
“I’m going to live in Fayetteville. I’m not going anywhere. If I can give any advice or give any help, I’d be glad to. Coach Broyles always said this, “once a Razorback, always a Razorback” and that’s what I am. And that’s what my athletes are. I see some of them sitting here and they were NCAA Champions and Olympic Champions but they are still Razorbacks. That’s our motto.
“To be a good coach, you have to be a little hard-nosed and tough on kids. But I call it tough love and I always make sure to give an athlete a pat on the back before he leaves.”