John McDonnell, mighty Arkansas track coach, dies at 82

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — John McDonnell, the track and field coach who set a gold standard for excellence at Arkansas during his 36 years at the school, has died. He was 82.

He died Monday night, according to a family statement released by the university. A cause was not given.

McDonnell’s men’s teams produced 40 NCAA championships at Arkansas. Under him, the Razorbacks were a perennial power in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track and field. His teams won six national triple crowns, 12 consecutive NCAA indoor titles from 1984-95 and 83 conference titles.

Athletic director Hunter Yurachek called him “quite simply the greatest collegiate coach in the history of intercollegiate athletics” and someone who made an “indelible impact on the hundreds of young men who had the privilege to compete for him.”

From 1984 to 2000, at least one of his three teams captured a national championship. Of his 40 NCAA titles, 19 came during the indoor season, 11 in cross-country and 10 during the outdoor season. McDonnell was the national coach of the year 30 times. He took conference coaching honors 49 times.

The Razorbacks, with McDonnell as coach, joined the UTEP men’s team as the only program to claim a triple crown of titles, and then surpassed the Miners with a total of six.

His teams ruled the Southwest Conference and, beginning in 1991, the Southeastern Conference. The Razorbacks won 83 titles (37 SWC, 46 SEC), which included 34 consecutive championships in cross-country, 27 from indoor and 22 outdoor.

McDonnell, born in County Mayo, Ireland, was a six-time All-American in cross-country and track and field at Southwestern Louisiana. He became head cross-country coach of the Razorbacks and then head track and field coach in 1977-78.

McDonnell was in numerous halls of fame, and Arkansas’ 7,000-seat outdoor facility is named in his honor.

He is survived by his wife, Ellen; son Sean; daughter Heather; sisters Philomena Pena, Mary McDonnell and Margaret Carr; and two grandchildren.