John Coughlan’s teams at Illinois State University won 25 Missouri Valley Conference titles in cross country, indoor track & field, and outdoor track & field. When he retired in 2001 following 23 years as head coach, he had won more MVC championships than any coach in any sport.
Prior to becoming the head coach at Illinois State in 1977, Coughlan was a highly successful prep coach at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. He was named the National High School Coach of the Year in 1977.
In a well-balanced conference like the Missouri Valley, teams seldom dominate. But 20 years ago, Coughlan’s Redbird men’s cross country, track & field programs were in the midst of a stretch in which Illinois State won eight straight league running championships: the 1984-86 cross country titles, the 1985-87 indoor track & field titles and the 1985-86 outdoor track & field championships. It’s a streak no team has come close to duplicating in the Valley since.
Coughlan had five top-25 team finishes at the NCAA Championships, nine District V Coach of the Year awards, 24 conference championships, 38 All Americans, 195 national qualifiers, and 281 conference champions.
National-caliber individuals like two-time NCAA high jump champion Tom Smith, plus All Americans Bruce Ewen (35-pound weight), Pete Palumbo (1,000 meters), and Darryl Frerker (mile) piled up the points in conference meets.
Perhaps Greg Love was the number one example of Coughlan’s coaching skills. A walk-on who earned a scholarship, Love trained hard in the Illinois State program and eventually was not only a conference champion, but a Drake Relays champion and a sub-4-minute miler.
Coughlan is a member of the Illinois State and Drake Relays Coaches Hall of Fame.