NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) announced Tuesday the six coaches who will be inducted into the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018.
Dr. Artis Davenport, Karen Dennis, Ron Mann, Damon Martin, John McNichols and Dan Pfaff will be enshrined in the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame, for not only their incredible and historic accomplishments as cross country and/or track & field coaches, but also the long-lasting impact their contributions have had and will continue to have on the sports they coached.
L-R: Karen Dennis, Damon Martin, Dr. Artis Davenport II, Ron Mann, Dan Pfaff and John McNichols
These six coaches will be honored at the 2018 USTFCCCA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Tuesday, December 18, at the USTFCCCA Convention in San Antonio, Texas, which will be held at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa.
Started in 1995, the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame exists to recognize coaches who have brought great distinction to themselves, to their institutions and to the sports of cross country and track & field. Each of the honorees exemplifies the qualities of dedication to the sport, leadership and passion for their profession and serves as an inspiration to coaches everywhere.
The full USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame and information on all of its past inductees can be found by CLICKING HERE.
Dr. Artis Davenport II created his own path.
Back in 1961, after a pair of successful two-year stints at Alcorn State University and Dillard University in which he won multiple conference championships in track & field, Dr. Davenport went to Southern University at New Orleans as an assistant professor of physical education. Dr. Davenport put his coaching career on hold because SUNO didn’t have an intercollegiate athletic program at the time – just intramural sports.
Being the visionary that he is and seeing the wealth of potential on campus from his vantage point, Dr. Davenport spearheaded a movement to build SUNO’s athletic department from the ground up. After 12 long years of unwavering diligence, the Black Knights – as they were then known – came to be.
Under Dr. Davenport’s direction, SUNO’s track & field program immediately left its mark on the NCAA Division III level when competition in the division started in 1974. After a runner-up finish outdoors that year, the Black Knights reeled off three outdoor team titles in a row from 1975 to 1977 and became the first of three programs to three-peat in NCAA DIII history.
SUNO put together a masterclass performance to win the 1975 crown. The Black Knights won five individual titles – a feat no program would match until 2003 – and won by 32 points, which was the largest margin of victory at the NCAA DIII Outdoor Championships for 29 years.
Dr. Davenport-coached sprinters dominated the NCAA DIII ranks from 1975 to 1982. SUNO won 19 NCAA sprinting titles in eight years, including five in the 4x400 relay, four each in the 200, 400, and 4x100 relay, as well as two in the 100.
The Black Knights finished on the NCAA DIII outdoor podium three more times before their move to the NAIA in 1987. The men’s team was third in 1980 and 1982, while the women were hard-luck runners-up in 1985 when SUNY Cortland topped them by one point.
Success followed SUNO across divisions as it won four NAIA national team titles and captured 40 event titles with Dr. Davenport. His women’s team swept the indoor and outdoor team titles in 1995 and 1997, while the men’s team took runner-up honors in 1998.
Dr. Davenport stepped down from his position at SUNO in 1999 and then worked at Bethune-Cookman College as a part-time assistant track & field coach beginning the following year. He proved that his coaching works in any sport at any level when he guided the Bethune-Cookman women’s bowling team to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2005.
Karen Dennis is a trailblazer, but breaking glass ceilings has come as a byproduct of her laser-like focus on excellence.
Throughout her career, which has spanned four decades, three programs, and two conferences, she has had one common goal: Winning. And win she has.
Dennis began coaching in 1977 at Michigan State – her alma mater – after a successful athletic career with the same program that saw her win the 220-yard dash at the AIAW Championships two years earlier. She graduated with a degree in agricultural economics and decided to pursue a career in coaching only when USTFCCCA Hall of Fame coach Dr. Nell Jackson, then the female administrator of the all-women’s sports programs at Michigan State, pointed out the need for more women coaches in collegiate athletics and opened a spot on her staff for Dennis while she finished her master’s.
After four years as an assistant coach, Dennis took over as head coach of the women’s track & field team in 1981. Over the next 11 years, Dennis led the Spartans to the 1982 Big Ten outdoor title and mentored a number of Olympians, Big Ten event champions, and All-Americans, most notably Judi Brown, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist in the 400 hurdles.
Dennis left Lansing, Michigan, for the bright lights of Las Vegas when she accepted the role as head women’s track & field coach at UNLV in 1992. She made an immediate impact as the 1993 Rebels captured the inaugural MPSF indoor title. Under Dennis’ direction, 12 women from UNLV combined to earn 27 All-America honors, while two – Ayanna Hutchinson and Alicia Tyson – competed at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
After 10 years in Las Vegas, Dennis returned to the friendly confines of the Big Ten – but this time at Ohio State. Dennis served an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s track & field programs from 2003 to 2006, then was promoted to head women’s track & field coach in 2006.
The Buckeye women thrived with Dennis at the helm. Dennis-coached athletes earned 31 Big Ten individual titles, 19 First-Team All-America honors and two NCAA individual event titles. Ohio State, as a team, completed the Big Ten indoor-outdoor sweep in 2011 and repeated as outdoor champions the following year.
Then in 2014, Dennis took full control of both the men’s and women’s programs at Ohio State when she was named Director of Track & Field and Cross Country. In just the last four years, Dennis guided the Buckeyes to 37 Big Ten individual titles, 31 First-Team All-America honors, and yet another NCAA individual event title.
And for someone who wants to be known for winning, 2018 must have been the sweetest year yet for Dennis. Her men swept the indoor and outdoor conference crowns and she became the first woman to lead a men’s program to a conference title in Big Ten history.
Dennis is a seven-time USTFCCCA Regional Coach of the Year and served as head coach of the U.S. women’s track & field team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
When the number of championships a coach won dwarfs the number of years that coach spent in the profession, then said coach clearly left a lasting impact on his sport. It’s safe to say Ron Mann, who won 66 conference titles in 33 years on the collegiate level, did exactly that.
Mann began his coaching career in 1972 as an assistant at Mesa Community College in Arizona following a standout career as an athlete at Northern Arizona University. Mann most notably helped the Lumberjacks to the 1971 Big Sky Conference title in cross country and a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships that same year.
Following eight years between Mesa CC and Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix – his prep alma mater – Mann returned to Flagstaff as the head coach of the women’s cross country and track & field programs at Northern Arizona. Mann took over the reins of both the men’s and women’s programs in 1982 and what transpired over the next 22 years was nothing short of legendary.
From 1982 to 2004, Mann’s teams dominated the Big Sky Conference. The Lumberjacks won their first Big Sky Conference team title in 1984 (men’s cross country) and didn’t stop until they chopped down 57 more, including 13 more in men’s cross country, 11 in women’s cross country, 11 in men’s indoor track & field, eight in women’s indoor track & field, nine in men’s outdoor track & field, and five in women’s outdoor track & field.
Mann-led athletes at NAU also shined on the national level. The Lumberjacks finished in the top-10 16 different times at NCAAs as a team, hauled in 107 All-America honors and won four individual NCAA crowns – the first from Angela Chalmers at the 1986 NCAA DI Cross Country Championships; the last from Ida Nilsson in the steeplechase at the 2004 NCAA DI Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Mann retired from NAU in 2004 to focus on coaching the U.S. men’s track & field team at the 2005 IAAF World Championships, but found his way back into the collegiate ranks that same year as the Director of Cross Country and Track & Field at Louisville.
Over the next nine years, the Cardinals thrived under Mann’s direction.
Mann’s teams won eight BIG EAST titles, nabbed 47 All-America honors and four individual NCAA championships and placed in the top-10 of the NCAA Championships three times. The Louisville women’s track & field program won five consecutive outdoor titles from 2008 to 2012 – a feat only matched by one other program in conference history (Georgetown’s men from 1995 to 1999).
Mann also spent the later parts of his collegiate coaching career in administrative roles with the USTFCCCA. He was the Second Vice President of the NCAA Division I Track & Field Executive Committee from 2006 to 2009, the First Vice President of that same committee from 2009 to 2011 and then served as President from 2011 to 2013.
He retired from collegiate coaching in 2013 and currently coaches athletes at the marathon distance, most notably 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir.
Thirty-three years ago, USTFCCCA Hall of Fame coach Dr. Joe Vigil hired a young upstart by the name of Damon Martin as the graduate assistant for the women’s cross country and track & field program at Adams State University. Martin had just wrapped up a sterling four-year career as a member of the University of Arkansas-Monticello cross country and track & field team where he finished as runner-up in the 1500 at the 1985 NAIA Outdoor Championships.
The rest, as they often say, is history.
Martin learned how to build championship programs by watching Vigil, and when Martin was promoted to head coach of the women’s program in 1989 and taking over that same role on the men’s program seven years later, he left his own stamp on the record books.
Adams State has won 35 national team titles and 94 conference team titles in the past 29 years under Martin’s direction. The Grizzlies have garnered more than 1,000 combined All-America honors and won more than 100 individual national crowns during that same span.
Martin got his first taste of a national championship in 1988 when he was the interim leader of the men’s cross country team, as Vigil handed off the reins so he could focus on coaching at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. That was the sixth-consecutive crown for Adams State and one of 12 that it captured at the NAIA level in cross country.
It didn’t take long for Martin to win his first national title as the coach on record. And once that happened the following year – in his first year as head coach of the women’s cross country and track & field teams, at that – the floodgates opened.
From 1989 to the conclusion of the most recent academic year, there have only been five years in which the Grizzlies didn’t win a national title of some sort in cross country or track & field. It’s safe to say Adams State has been a fixture on top of the podium.
The women’s cross country team has won the lioness’ share of those team trophies. After a pair of national titles in 1989 and 1991 that wrapped up their stay in the NAIA, the Grizzlies have feasted at the NCAA Division II level. Adams State has won 17 NCAA DII crowns, including eight in a row from 1992 to 1999, seven in a row from 2003 to 2009 and most recently in 2017.
The men’s cross country team matched the women this past year and completed the fifth sweep of the NCAA DII team titles in school history with Martin at the helm. Martin also has guided the men’s program to five additional team titles in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Six of Martin’s national titles so far have come in track & field with an even split down the middle between the men (three) and women (three).
With the strength of Martin’s men’s program over the years at the NCAA DII level, the USTFCCCA named the Men’s Program of the Year honor in that division after him. Adams State captured the Damon Martin Division II Men’s Program of the Year nine consecutive times between 2008 and 2017.
Martin served as President of the USTFCCCA in 2015 and 2016 and NCAA Division II Executive Council Chairman from 2012 to 2014, among other roles over the years.
John McNichols left an undeniable legacy on the sports of cross country and track & field.
McNichols began his foray into the world of track & field in high school, where he starred as a hurdler. His prowess caught the attention of Indiana University coach Jim Lavery, who brought McNichols to Bloomington on a full athletic scholarship.
After graduating in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education – which he’d later upgrade to a master’s – McNichols started out as a coach and teacher with the Monroe County School Corporation before transitioning to Bloomington North High School in the same capacity.
McNichols turned his attention to the collegiate ranks in 1983 when he was hired as the head men’s cross country and track & field coach at Indiana State University. He’d hold that position until 1989 when he added overseeing the women’s program to his responsibilities.
The Sycamores thrived under McNichols’ direction.
Indiana State dominated the Missouri Valley Conference like no other team in conference history. McNichols-led teams captured 38 conference titles in 34 years with 11 in those in cross country and 27 of them in track & field (10 indoor, 17 outdoor). Those team titles wouldn’t be won without individual glory, though, as the Sycamores totaled 464 MVC individual championships (456 in track & field, eight in cross country) with McNichols at the helm.
McNichols’ athletes were also successful on the national level – none more so than Holli Hyche.
Indiana State standouts captured 15 individual NCAA titles in track & field, seven by Hyche. All of Hyche’s national titles were consecutive as she swept the indoor and outdoor short sprint crowns in 1993, repeated the following year indoors, and won the 100-meter championship outdoors.
The Sycamores totaled 113 All-America honors between cross country and track & field, punched 173 tickets to either the NCAA Indoor or Outdoor Championships and teamed up to finish in the top-25 of NCAA meets 15 times. Behind Hyche’s lead, Indiana State tied for fifth at the 1993 NCAA Indoor Championships, the best finish by a McNichols-led team.
Hurdling was always McNichols’ first love, and he ensured that the Sycamores excelled in that discipline. McNichols coached two hurdlers who won national titles – Chris Lancaster, 1990 110 hurdles champion; Aubrey Herring, 2001 60 hurdles champion – and helped four athletes go sub-13.45 outdoors and five go sub-7.77 indoors.
One of McNichols’ finest contributions to cross country was the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. McNichols oversaw the construction of the course, which was built on the site of a reclaimed coal mine. The course hosted the NCAA Division I Championships 12 times over the years – including eight in a row from 2004 to 2011 – and will once again welcome the best of the best to its grounds in 2019.
McNichols served in high management positions in domestic and international track & field, too. He was a meet official at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles as well as the 1987 Pan-American Games and the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials before ascending to Head Marshal of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
McNichols will be inducted posthumously, as he passed away in 2016.
Few coaches prepared their athletes for success across every level of competition as much as Dan Pfaff has in a career that has spanned into a fourth decade.
In 30 years as a collegiate coach at Houston, UTEP, LSU, Texas, and Florida, Pfaff stockpiled championships and All-America honors. Athletes that were directly coached by Pfaff combined for 29 NCAA individual titles, more than 150 All-America honors, and a slew of collegiate records. Those same athletes helped their teams to NCAA glory as well, as 17 teams Pfaff assisted won NCAA titles.
Pfaff began his coaching career in 1976 at Carlisle Senior High School in Ohio after graduating from Wright State with a degree in science education. He spent three years in the Buckeye State before joining the staff at the University of Houston as a graduate assistant, which is where he’d get a master’s of education in sports science.
It didn’t take long for Pfaff to move up the ladder. Three years later, Pfaff was an assistant coach at Wichita State and two years after that, he took over the only collegiate head coaching position of his career with the UTEP women’s track & field team.
Pfaff soon moved to Baton Rouge, where his career took off. As the head field events coach at LSU from 1985 to 1995, Pfaff helped the Tigers win 17 NCAA team titles. LSU’s women were particularly dominant between those years as they captured 15 of those crowns themselves.
The Lone Star State was next for Pfaff as he spent eight years as an assistant at the University of Texas. From 1995 to 2003, Pfaff helped turn the Longhorn men into a perennial power.
Pfaff made a one-year stop at the University of Florida in 2006 before turning his attention to coaching professionals, who have been sublime at the international level.
He guided 33 athletes to the Olympic Games, who have won a total of 10 medals, including 1996 100-meter gold medalist Donovan Bailey of Canada and 2012 long jump gold medalist Greg Rutherford of Great Britain. Bailey is one of five Pfaff-coached athletes who have set world records under his direction.
In addition to coaching in 10 Olympic Games and 15 World Championships, Pfaff has lectured in 37 countries and has been published in more than 20 of those. He was appointed education curriculum chair for both the U.S. Track & Field Coaches Education Schools and the NACAC Caribbean Basin Project and is the lead instructor for each organization.