John McDonnell is entering the bell lap of his remarkable career as Head Coach of the Arkansas Razorback Track and Field team. McDonnell was Frank Broyles first hire we he became Athletic Director at Arkansas. Broyles told me a month ago how he hired John McDonnell as Head Track and Field Coach at Arkansas. In the mid 1970’s while still coaching the football team, Broyles saw a young coach leading the cross country team on a run. An hour later, McDonnell was still leading the team and right then Broyles decided to hire him to coach the track team. And as they say, the rest is history.
All he has accomplished in 36 years in Fayetteville is win 42 National Championships which includes 11 NCAA cross country titles, 19 NCAA Indoor Track and Field and 12 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. By far more McDonnell has won more national championships than any other coach in the history of college athletics. He also lead the Hogs to 5 national triple crowns which is winning NCAA titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track in the same academic year.
I remember a story former Arkansas head basketball coach Nolan Richardson shared 10 years ago talking about McDonnell. You see Richardson and McDonnell were neighbors in Bud Walton Arena; there offices were next to each other. Richardson told the story of how he returned from Charlotte, N.C. after winning the NCAA Championship feeling pretty good about what he accomplished until he walked by McDonnell’s office and saw all the national championship trophies he had collected and at that time in was in the 30’s. Suddenly, he didn’t feel so good because Richardson knew he could never catch up.
You want some more mind boggling numbers. John McDonnell has won 84 conference championships but here’s an accomplishment that to me is off the charts. The last time Arkansas did not win a conference championship in cross country was 1972. McDonnell won 17 Southwest Conference and 17 Southeastern Conference championships in cross country. That’s 34 in a row during his long tenure coaching the Hogs.
While McDonnell’s teams have routinely outrun their opponents, McDonnell knows he can’t outrun father time. He will turn 70 in July and knew it was time to move on. He made his decision this past winter and made it official in April. McDonnell still has work to do. Arkansas should compete for a NCAA in outdoor track & field this June in Eugene, Oregon. Should the Hogs stand on top of the podium it will be McDonnell’s 43rd National Championship. After that McDonnell will hang up the whistle and trade his track shoes for a pair of boots. McDonnell’s days will be spent on his 2,500 cattle ranch in Eastern Oklahoma.
John Wooden and Paul “Bear” Bryant dominated their high profile sports of men’s basketball and football. There are others who are above their peers; Pat Summitt and Anson Dorrance come to mind. Who’s the greatest coach ever in college athletics? I believe John McDonnell’s body of work at Arkansas gives him that distention. Enjoy your retirement Coach Mc. There will never be another one like you.
That's it, I'm spent.