June 9, 2021
Coach John McDonnell, legendary track/field coach at the University of Arkansas has died at the age of 82. He is the most successful coach in NCAA history, led the Razorbacks to 40 National Championships in Track/Field, and trained and coached numerous Olympic athletes to Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals.
He was born and raised in Ireland, and never lost his love for his homeland or the accent that be brought with him when he came to the United States as a college student.
Long-time UA Athletic Director Frank Broyles had a knack for spotting coaching talent and saw the untapped genius in Coach McDonnell and hired him for the program when he had limited experience. It proved to show the uncanny ability of Frank Broyles to see greatness in others and the brilliance of Coach McDonnell in turning the Arkansas program into the envy of the nation.
On a personal note, during my days when I was training for and running marathons, I invited Coach McDonnell to the Governor’s Mansion for a lunch to honor him for his achievements. Many of his former standout athletes came to pay tribute to their mentor. For me, it was an excuse to have the privilege of being in the presence of someone I admired. He was the consummate Christian gentleman, but what a delight to sit back and just listen to Coach Johnny Mac and his former track stars reminisce. The love and respect his athletes had for him was testament to his firm discipline, but loving care of those he coached. The greatest tribute of him was said by one of his runners, who simply said, “We TRUSTED Coach Mac.”
To his family, thank you for sharing him with us. We are all better because he was among us. Our condolences to you and our gratitude to God for creating and cultivating such a choice servant of the Kingdom!