FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –- Legendary University of Arkansas cross country and track and field head coach John McDonnell has announced he is retiring following the 2008 outdoor track and field season following 36 years, 42 NCAA championships and 83 conference titles.
McDonnell’s 42 national titles are more than any coach in any single-gender program in the history of collegiate athletics. He has won five national triple crowns, 20 conference triple crowns, 34 consecutive cross country conference championships, including 17 straight in the Southeastern Conference, and has been named national, regional or conference coach of the year a total of 140 times.
From County Mayo, Ireland, McDonnell became head cross country coach of the Razorbacks in 1972, and head track and field coach in 1977-78. Since 1984, he has won 19 national championships in indoor track, 12 in outdoor track and 11 in cross country. Since 1984, a total of 69 national titles have been awarded in those three sports, and McDonnell’s teams have won all but 27 of them.
His five national triple crowns came in 1984-85, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1994-95 and 1998-99; his 83 league titles include 45 in the SEC and 38 in the Southwest Conference, and a streak of 25 straight in all three sports from 1987-95; his 42 national championships include a string of 12 straight indoor titles from 1984-95, the longest streak of NCAA titles by any Division I school in any sport in collegiate history; and his teams have won at least one national championship in 22 of the last 25 years.
“It is hard to imagine that any coach in intercollegiate athletics has had more influence on a program than John McDonnell has had on the men’s track and field program at the University of Arkansas,” Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long says. “John’s 36 years of dedication have defined the standard of excellence that is synonymous with Arkansas Track and Field. John McDonnell applied a team approach to an individual sport and in turn produced the most successful collegiate athletic program in history. His positive influence on the lives of thousands of student-athletes is the true essence of his rich legacy. It is impossible to quantify Coach McDonnell’s contributions as a coach, educator and mentor. The recognition and pride he has brought to the University of Arkansas and Razorbacks across the nation and around the world is truly legendary.”
McDonnell, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana-Lafayette in 1969, and coached at New Providence (N.J.) High School (1969-70) and Lafayette (La.) High School (1971) before coming to Arkansas, has won 16 more national titles than his next closest competitor (Pat Henry, LSU and Texas A&M), and only one other school, Texas-El Paso with three, has won a triple crown.
In addition to the championships, his list of honors includes membership in the halls of fame for National Track and Field, United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), USA Track and Field, Arkansas Sports and Louisiana-Lafayette as well as the University of Arkansas Hall of Honor. Arkansas’ 7,000-seat outdoor facility, John McDonnell Field, is also named in his honor.
A 30-time national coach of the year, 49-time conference coach of the year and 62-time region coach of the year, he has coached all but three of Arkansas’ 185 All-Americans. Those student-athletes combined to earn 652 All-America honors.
He has also coached 23 Olympians, including a gold, silver and bronze medalist, 105 NCAA individual event champions and 331 individual event conference champions.
Every school indoor and outdoor track and field record is held by one of his student-athletes.
Only four NCAA institutions have won more than 42 men’s national championships. Southern California (72), UCLA (69), Stanford (57) and Oklahoma State (46) are the only schools whose entire men’s athletic programs have won more than McDonnell’s track and field and cross country teams.
“It would be easy to define John McDonnell’s legacy at the University of Arkansas with a seemingly endless list of accomplishments, championships and awards won, but that would only begin to define his legacy,” Arkansas Chancellor Dr. John White says. “In 36 years as a coach at Arkansas, Coach McDonnell has embodied all that is right with intercollegiate athletics. His unwavering commitment to mentoring and developing thousands of young men in the classroom, in intercollegiate athletic competition and in life has been his most prized contribution. The success of Coach McDonnell and the Razorback Track and Field program has been and remains a source of pride for Razorback fans, the University and the entire state.”
The Razorbacks switched to the Southeastern Conference in time for the 1991 cross country meet, and McDonnell’s teams sent a signal to the league when the Hogs took the first five places for a perfect score in their first conference meet.
McDonnell has won 45 of a possible 50 SEC championships (90 percent), including this year’s indoor title.
“It has been a distinct privilege and honor to have John McDonnell at the University of Arkansas for the past 36 years,” Arkansas President Dr. Alan Sugg says. “The unprecedented success of his cross country and track and field programs has resulted in tremendous recognition for the state, the University and the Razorbacks. His remarkable collection of conference, regional and national championships only start to tell the story of his impact on the University of Arkansas, the Razorbacks and intercollegiate athletics. While his standing as the most successful collegiate coach in history is readily apparent, his influence and mentorship of thousands of student-athletes will continue to yield dividends long after he steps away from his coaching career. Jean and I would like to wish John and Ellen the best as they embark on this new chapter in their lives and his legendary career.”
McDonnell, who coached former Razorback Daniel Lincoln to the American record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in July 2006, has been national coach of the year 12 times in indoor track, 11 times in outdoor track and seven times in cross country for a total of 30 awards. He has also been named the NCAA Mideast Regional Coach of the Year three of the five years it has been presented (2003-05).
His tenure at Arkansas began in 1972 coaching cross country and assisting Ed Renfrow with the track program. When Renfrow left coaching, former Athletic Director Frank Broyles promoted McDonnell in time for the 1977-78 academic year.
McDonnell is involved with several non-profit organizations, including the American Heart Association, the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute, the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation and he works with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to promote prostate cancer awareness.
Married to the former Ellen Elias of Bayonne, N.J., they are the parents of Heather and Sean.
John McDonnell By The Numbers
1973 – The last year Arkansas did not win a conference cross country championship
652 – All-America selections
331 – Individual conference champions (20 cross country, 160 indoor, 151 outdoor)
223 – points scored by his 1994 outdoor team at the SEC meet, a league record
185 – All-Americans (coached all but three of Arkansas’ all-time All-Americans)
140 – National, Regional and Conference Coach of the Year honors
105 – Individual NCAA championships won (three cross country, 51 indoor, 51 outdoor)
94 – Points scored by his 1994 indoor team at the NCAA meet, the most in NCAA history
90 – Percentage of SEC titles won since joining the league (45 of 50)
83 – Conference championships (34 cross country, 27 indoor track, 22 outdoor track)
62 – Region Coach of the Year honors
61 – Percentage of NCAA titles won since 1984 (42 of 69)
49 – Conference Coach of the Year honors
45 – Southeastern Conference championships (17 cross country, 15 indoor track, 13 outdoor track)
42 – NCAA championships (more than any other coach in any single-gender program in the history of collegiate athletics)
38 – Southwest Conference championships (17 cross country, 12 indoor track, 9 outdoor track)
36 – Years as Arkansas’ head coach
34 – Consecutive conference cross country titles won (current streak, record for any sport)
30 – National Coach of the Year honors
25 – Consecutive conference cross country, indoor and outdoor track titles won (1987-95)
23 – Olympians coached (including gold, silver and bronze medalists)
20 – Conference triple crowns (eight straight from 1987-95)
19 – NCAA indoor track titles
12 – NCAA outdoor track titles
12 – Consecutive NCAA indoor titles won (1984-95)
11 – NCAA cross country titles (NCAA record)
5 – NCAA triple crowns (1984-85, 1991-92, 1992-93, 1993-94, 1998-99)
John McDonnell Quick Facts
Birthdate: July 2, 1938
Birthplace: County Mayo, Ireland
Wife: former Ellen Elias
Children: Heather, Sean
B.A. in Education
Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette), 1969
Six-time All-American in track and cross country at USL
1966-67 AAU 3,000-meter champion
Won mile at the 1966 British Selection Games
New Providence (N.J.) High School, 1969-70
Lafayette (La.) High School, 1971
NCAA National Championships (42)
Cross Country: 11 (1984, 1986-87, 1990-93, 1995, 1998-2000)
Indoor Track: 19 (1984-95, 1997-2000, 2003, 2005-06)
Outdoor Track: 12 (1985, 1992-99, 2003-05)
Conference Championships (83)
Cross Country: 34 (1974-2007)
Indoor Track: 26 (1979, 1981-95, 1997-2003, 2005-08)
Outdoor Track: 22 (1982-85, 1988-2000, 2003-05)
National Track and Field Hall of Fame
United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches (USTFCCCA) Hall of Fame
USA Track and Field Hall of Fame
Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame
UA Hall of Honor
ULL Sports Hall of Fame
Selected as Team USA’s middle distance coach for the 2003 IAAF World Championships
National Coach of the Year 30 times
Conference Coach of the Year 49 times
Region Coach of the Year 62 times