Legendary college athletics coach John McDonnell dies in Arkansas
Mayo man went to US on an athletics scholarship before storied career as a coach
Arkansas coach John McDonnell (sunglasses on his cap) celebrates with his team after the Razorbacks won their third title in a row at the NCAA Track & Field Championships in 2005. Photograph: Kirby Lee/WireImage
Distinguished American collegiate track and field coach John McDonnell has died at the age of 82 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His career spanned four decades and included some of the most Irish successful distance runners and multiple Irish Olympians over the years such as Frank O’Mara, Niall Bruton and Alistair Cragg.
McDonnell was synonymous with the success of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, as men’s head of track and field, his hall of fame coaching unrivalled in the history of NCAA athletics, producing 40 NCAA championships, including six national triple crowns and 12 consecutive NCAA indoor titles from 1984-95.
Originally from Mayo, McDonnell first left for the US on a running scholarship of his own, becoming a six-time All-American in cross-country, and track and field at Southwestern Louisiana, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1969. In 1972, McDonnell became head cross-country coach at the University of Arkansas, known as the Razorbacks, and then head track and field coach in 1977-78.
A statement from the McDonnell family said: “He passed away so peacefully, enveloped in the love of his family and friends. He could have settled anywhere in America after emigrating from Ireland, but chose to call northwest Arkansas home because as he often stated, this was ‘God’s Country’.
“His career speaks for itself, but what truly spoke was his love for God, serving others, and his limitless generosity. We want everyone to know how thankful he was for the support, love, friendship, and depth of opportunities he received throughout the years.
“While the world has lost an extraordinary man, we not only mourn his loss, but wholeheartedly celebrate that God allowed people around the world to be touched and impacted by his gifts of faith, love, and inspiration. His legacy and spirit will forever live on through his family, friends, colleagues, and athletes.”
Few coaches in the history of any US college sport rival what McDonnell achieved at the University of Arkansas. From 1984 to 2000, a span of 17 years, at least one of his three teams brought home a national championship.
In total, there were 40 NCAA Championships for the Razorbacks under McDonnell, with 19 won during the indoor season, 11 in cross-country and 10 during the outdoor season. McDonnell received national coach of the year honours 30 times in his career as well as 49 conference coaching honours, before retiring in 2008.
In all he coached 23 Olympians, 105 NCAA individual event champions and 331 individual event conference champions. In addition to the championships, his list of honours includes membership in the halls of fame for National Track and Field, United States Track and Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), USA Track and Field, Arkansas Sports and Louisiana-Lafayette as well as the University of Arkansas Hall of Honour. Arkansas’ 7,000-seat outdoor facility, John McDonnell Field, is also named in his honour.