Legendary University of Arkansas men’s track and field coach John McDonnell died Monday at the age of 82.
McDonnell won 40 national championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field during his 36 years at the university. Included in those accomplishments are six national triple crowns — winning the cross country, indoor and outdoor titles in the same year — and 12 consecutive indoor national championships from 1984 to 1995.
The university’s indoor track and field teams compete at the Randal Tyson Track Center, which opened in 2000 and has hosted 12 national championship meets. The $8 million facility was funded by a donation from Don Tyson, the late CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, and it was named after Don Tyson’s brother.
In 2018, Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson announced he and his family would donate $6 million to spearhead a renovation of the facility.
“John McDonnell was a class act as a human being, a true gentleman, and a close friend of the Tyson Family for many, many years,” John Tyson said in a statement. “He was also, as everyone agrees, probably the greatest track coach in U.S. history, and perhaps the most successful college coach in any sport. The Tyson family was pleased to have Randal Tyson’s name put on the UAF indoor Track Center back in the early 1990s, and to be associated with Coach McDonnell's program. My Aunt Barbara and I, along with the rest of our family, have lost a great friend who will never be forgotten and will be missed forever by the track and field community worldwide.”
McDonnell was born in Ireland but came to America to run collegiate track. He was a six-time All-American performer at Southwestern Louisiana before entering the coaching ranks.
Then-Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles hired McDonnell to be the university’s cross country coach in 1972. He was named men’s track and field coach in 1978.
He was named national Coach of the Year 30 times and won 83 conference titles in the SWC and SEC. He was elected to numerous halls of fames, and the university’s outdoor track facility is called John McDonnell Field.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a true Razorback legend and quite simply the greatest collegiate coach in the history of intercollegiate athletics,” UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said. “John McDonnell was the personification of success on and off the track, winning 40 NCAA Championships and 83 conference titles, while even more importantly making an indelible impact on the hundreds of young men who had the privilege to compete for him.
“Coach McDonnell believed in each of his student-athletes and they loved and trusted him. What resulted was a stretch of unprecedented championship success at the University of Arkansas and lifelong lessons that will carry his legacy forward.”
Funeral arrangements haven’t been announced. McDonnell was survived by his wife of 54 years, Ellen; son, Sean, and daughter, Heather Hastings; and two grandchildren.