Sunday, June 8, 2008

After 83 conference titles, coach hangs it up

Good luck to John McDonnell.  

This week, the 70-year-old track and field coach at Arkansas is going for his 43rd national championship.  That's not a typo.  McDonnell has won 42 national titles as the Razorbacks' coach.   He recently announced his retirement.  Someone will have big shoes to fill.

When he joined the school in 1972, he says he was just hoping to win one national championship. I think it's fair to say that he's exceeded his goal.

What's interesting is that he didn't win his first until 1984, 12 seasons into his stint at Arkansas.  Since then, he's won the NCAA "Triple Crown" (cross country, indoor, outdoor titles in the same year) five times.

And over the last 34 seasons, his teams have won the conference cross country title EVERY SEASON.  That's 34 in a row.  Overall, he's won 83 conference titles.  Amazing.

According to one of his assistants, McDonnell makes his expectations clear from the start:  "[Coach McDonnell] throws is right out there.  We're going to work hard and we're going to win."

McDonnell has "an uncanny ability to know when to chew a kid and when to pat him on the back."  Communication is a key part of his coaching technique:  "You can learn a lot by listening," he said. "A lot more than by talking."