The Most Successful Coach in NCAA History
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Arkansas Press
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My first encounter with John McDonnell occurred in my first few weeks as a collegiatecoach at a cross-country meet on a hot September day in Joplin, Missouri, in 2005. Itwas still early in the season, but Arkansas had put ten runners in the top fifteen at thefirst mile of the race at a pace that simply seemed unsustainable, yet they didnât seem tobe slowing down. Over in the shade underneath the trees at the second mile, I observed...
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One of the great joys that I had as president of the University of Arkansas System wasthe opportunity to become friends with arguably the most outstanding coach in the his-tory of collegiate athletics. The winning record of John McDonnell as the track coach ofthe University of Arkansas is phenomenal. Johnâs track and cross-country teams wonforty NCAA championships and eighty-four conference titles in the Southeastern and the...
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John McDonnell epitomises the Irish abroad at their very best. Having emigrated to theUnited States in the 1960s, he achieved extraordinary success both on and off the run-ning track, winning numerous national honours, firstly as an athlete and later as acoach. The seeds of John McDonnellâs passion for athletics were planted in his belovedCo Mayo. He was an accomplished athlete in his youth, winning six Irish National...
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...âIf heâd had the right horse and the right opportunity he would have ended uptraining horses. He always had that instinct of how to train.â âMichael McDonnellIt is one of lifeâs ironies that the greatest of men often originate from the humblest ofbeginnings. Their later triumphs are rooted in their early struggles, their prodigious suc-...
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...âThey brought these things with tentacles and eyes staring at me and startedbreaking them up. I just sat there and they asked me âAre you going to eat?â I âJohn McDonnell on eating his first crawfishAmerica had emerged from World War II as the preeminent economic and militarysuperpower of the world. Twice it had saved Europe from itself and assisted its western...
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... âTexas miler Reed FisherArkansas was swept into the 1970s by the winds of change and progress making their wayacross the country. Civil disobedience and antiwar protests had erupted in cities as theyoung began challenging the assumptions of the established order. Winthrop Rockefeller,who had only recently been elected as the stateâs first Republican governor since Recon -...
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...âAnyone can get things done the right way, but the winners get the right things âFrank BroylesThe latter part of the 1970s was a heady time for the University of Arkansas and for thestate in general. Somber though the national mood may have been in the aftermath ofthe Vietnam War and the Iranian hostage crisis, the prospects for the state were looking...
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Paddy and John working in the hay, 1969. Photo courtesy of John McDonnell.John with his teammates on the University of Southwestern Louisiana 1967 Gulf StatesCross Country Conference Championshipâ(from left) John, Ronald Landry, TomHopkins, Robert Gilbert, Richard Henderson, James Romero, and head coach Bob Cole.John beat mile world-record holder Jim Ryun in the two-mile at Southwestern Relays in...
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... âSuleiman Nyambui of UTEPWhen Doug Williamson was dispatched to watch a high-school track meet in Chicagoduring the spring of 1981, he could hardly have expected what he was about to find.The Razorbacks were already heavily recruiting one of the hottest high-school sprintersin the country, Wallace Spearmon, who was competing that day. It was not until the...
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...âItâs important to not just physically prepare athletes, but have them in the right âJohn McDonnellMy philosophy has always been that strength is speed. If you do not develop the bodyphysically, it will never develop mentally. I learned that from the early stages of my ownrunning career. A lot of things I did as a coach were things I did myself. I always thought...
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... âJohn McDonnellIt is a peculiarity known only to collegiate track and field that the rest and relaxationfollowing most seasons lasts less than the time one takes to exhale. Cross country begetsindoors, indoors begets outdoors; and only those who choose to forego a summer seasonof competition can truly call any part of the year an off season. John McDonnell under-...
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...âI always hated to go there. We knew we were in for a tough show whenever âTexas head coach Stan HuntsmanIt was not often that the head coach of a college track and field program personallyknew the governor of the state and had the head basketball coach of the same collegepicking his brain for advice, but after five national championships that was the sort of...
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It did not take Sean and Heather long to share their fatherâs affinity for baby calves atThe Razorback track team is greeted by Arkansas governor Bill Clinton outside the statecapitol building in Little Rock after winning their first national title in 1984. Photo cour-Frank OâMara, Mike Conley, and Paul Donovan wore their Olympic suits prior to the1984 Olympics in front of a massive billboard celebrating the programâs first indoor...
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...âThis will go down as one of the greatest victories in Arkansas history.â âJohn McDonnell at the 1989 Penn Relays.As the decade drew to a close, the ultracompetitive Southwest Conference suddenlyfound itself in a state of self-immolation. Several of the major football programs wereon some form of NCAA probation, most notably Southern Methodist, which faced the...
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...âYou knew the way he looked at you what he expected. He expected the bestout of you and had a way of explaining things to you that was down to earth.He made you want to win for him. He could say âTwenty points,â and Iâd say âTen-time NCAA Champion Erick WalderDoug Brown can certainly be forgiven for wishing that neither John McDonnell nor the...
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...âWhat Arkansas had in John was special and it will never happen again.â âGeorge Mason head coach John CookOne of the consequences of prodigious success is that it is frequently followed byturnover. Important cogs in the machine are lured elsewhere by the opportunity to leadprograms looking for someone to replicate that success at their institution. Arkansas...
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John and his family with President Clinton at the White House in 1993 after Arkansaswon its tenth consecutive NCAA indoor championshipâa Division I record. Photo cour-John and his children, Heather and Sean, greet the parrots in New Orleans for theReuben Reina (left) and Brian Baker were mainstays on several national championshipteams. Reina captured individual national titles in 1990 and 1991, and Baker followed...
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...âWhen John wore his white warm-ups, which I called his medal warm-ups, I was alwaysworried. Thatâs when I knew he was confident they were going to win.â âStanford coach Vin LanannaWhen John McDonnell magnanimously congratulated Vin Lananna in a hotel lobby in1992 on accepting the Stanford job and commented that he was going to be a âpain in...
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...âIt was like I hadnât looked in the mirror. I was like, âMy God, where have all âJohn McDonnellIt was a cold morning on January 14, 2001 when John and Ellen McDonnell awoke at6:00 a.m. to get ready for Sunday mass. As he began preparing himself, John immedi- âMy stomach was burning, and I thought it was indigestion, so I took Alka Seltzer,...
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...âIn my judgment he is the greatest leader that Iâve ever known. He epitomizesthe very best qualities of leadership because he surrounded himself with very,very talented people in his assistant coaches and athletes while creating an envi- âDr. Alan Sugg, University of Arkansas president (1990â2011)It seemed like my philosophy on leadership was shaped by the people I encountered...
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... âAlistair Cragg1If recruiting is the lifeblood of any successful collegiate athletics program, then theArkansas dynasty appeared to be as healthy as ever entering the fall of 2003. âYou will never see a donkey win the Kentucky Derby,â said McDonnell. There were certainly plenty of thoroughbreds coming to town for that fall cross-...
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John Tyson and John McDonnell in 2007. The Tyson familyâs generosity led to theindoor facility and the televised Tyson Invitational. Photo courtesy of University ofJohn exhorting his runners from his usual spot behind the first curve at the TysonCenter. Photos courtesy of University of Arkansas Media Relations.Woo! Pig! Sooie! John (right) waves to the hometown crowd after the 2005 NCAA...
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...âThe hatred for Arkansas is overshadowing one of track and fieldâs better coach-ingjobs ever seen. McDonnell shifted kids here and there, the kids reacted withheart seldom seen in todayâs sporting events. The early burial of the Razorbackswas cast aside by runners who believe in their coach and his system. [This] may âLetsrun.com after the 2006 SEC Outdoor Championships...
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...âHe is a friend who became the most successful coach in the history of intercol-legiate athletics. You donât have that kind of success that many times over thatmany years without caring for the well-being of your athletes.â âFormer United States president Bill ClintonThroughout his career, McDonnell had offered suggestions for the betterment of the...
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Page Count: 560
Publication Year: 2013