In over 30 seasons at the helm of the University of Arkansas cross country and track & field programs (1977-2008), John McDonnell set an unprecedented record of achievement. He led the Razorbacks to 42 NCAA team championships (11 in cross country, 19 in indoor track, and 12 in outdoor track), more championships than any coach in any sport in the history of collegiate athletics.
A graduate of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, McDonnell compiled a record that most NCAA institutions would envy. In fact, only four NCAA institutions have won more than 42 men’s national championships in all sports combined. 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 cross country teams.
Arkansas’s teams were even more dominant at the conference level, winning 81 league championships and 20 conference triple crowns, including a stretch of 25 consecutive conference titles in cross country, indoor track & field, and outdoor track & field from 1987-95.
McDonnell was 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 was Conference Coach of the Year a remarkable 47 times, and District Coach of the Year 61 times. He also was awarded the NCAA Mideast Regional Coach of the Year in three straight seasons (2003-05).
Before McDonnell took over at Arkansas as head cross country coach in 1972 and as head track & field coach in 1977, only three athletes in Razorback track & field history had become All Americans. During McDonnell’s term, 182 Hogs become All Americans, and they combined to earn a stunning 645 All America honors and 54 individual national championships. Those individual athletes have included 23 Olympians spanning three decades and six different Olympic Games, including a Gold, a Silver, and a Bronze Medalist.
Several of McDonnell’s athletes have followed in his footsteps by entering into the collegiate coaching ranks, including Edrick Floreal, director of track & field at Stanford; Stanley Redwine, head cross country and track & field coach at Kansas; Lawrence Johnson, assistant coach for sprints, hurdles, and jumps at Virginia Tech; and Jerome Romain, assistant coach at Brown.
In the fall of 2006, McDonnell was recognized by the University of Arkansas for 35 years of service and dedication and by the University of Louisiana-Lafayette as an Outstanding Alumni. In addition to having the Arkansas outdoor track stadium named in his honor, McDonnell is a member of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana-Lafayette Athletic Hall of Fame, the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame, and the Mayo Hall of Fame. McDonnell announced his retirement from full-time coaching at the conclusion of the 2008 outdoor track & field season.