Oregon to Merge Men's and Women's Track Programs Under the Direction of Martin Smith
Jan. 28, 2003
EUGENE - Martin Smith, who has accumulated Pacific-10 Conference and West Region coach of the year honors in his four seasons as the University of Oregon's men's track coach, will assume the title of Director of Men's and Women's Track and Field and Cross Country following the 2002-03 season.
The 51-year native of Alexandria, Va., will add supervision of the women's programs upon the retirement of women's head coach Tom Heinonen at the end of the 2003 track and field season. Heinonen announced his retirement as women's track and cross country last October following the conclusion of his 27-year Oregon track coaching career this spring.
It will mark the first time that one individual has overseen the direction of Oregon's storied athletic programs and Smith's second occasion he has guided combined men's and women's teams. He worked with the men's and women's cross country programs at the University of Virginia from 1980-83 while serving as the school's assistant track and field coach, and officially was elevated to the post of head cross country coach the final season. The Cavalier women won NCAA cross country team titles in 1981 and 1982 while Lesley Welch won the individual crown in 1982 as one of 11 men's and women's All-Americans.
'When Tom Heinonen announced his retirement last fall, it became my challenge to make the decision as to whether we would hire another women's (head) coach or to merge the programs,' Oregon Director of Athletics Bill Moos said. 'After a lot of consideration, studying and research, we decided to do what the majority of the Pac-10 schools have done before us and that is to merge the programs under one director.
'Martin Smith has an outstanding background and tremendous credentials, and has proven to be successful in coaching both men and women. I'm quite pleased he has accepted my offer and I look forward to a great deal of success with Oregon track and field.'
Since his appointment as the Ducks' 10th men's track coach on July 15, 1998, Smith has helped reposition the men of Oregon among the nation's elite programs. His Duck track squads have posted a pair of ninth-place NCAA finishes - outdoors in 2001 in Eugene and indoors in 2002 - and his UO cross country teams have claimed two, top-five finishes among their three NCAA trips under the fourth-year cross country head mentor.
Individually, the Ducks' men have captured 24 All-America honors and 11 Pac-10 titles on the oval, and harriers have added another conference title, and nine All-America honors since 1998, including four in the fall of 2002.
The past two seasons have particularly stood out in webfoot history. In the NCAA Championships' ninth trip to Hayward Field in 2001, the Ducks featured two NCAA champions (Santiago Lorenzo, decathlon; John Stiegeler, javelin) and a top-10 team finish for the first time since 1986. Last year, they climbed the conference charts with a runner-up finish - their highest since 1996 - and their five individual champions were the most since 1991 (5).
'In today's collegiate track and field environment a move like this has many advantages,' Smith said, 'especially in a community like Eugene where the sport has such a central place in the community and is loved so much. Tom has been a pioneer in developing women's collegiate athletics, and we hope to extend his successful tradition at the conference and national levels.
'I came here with the specific goal of creating an environment for student-athletes to grow and have a tremendous athletic and academic experience, and we'll continue to use the same philosophy for both programs,' Smith added. 'There are a lot of decisions to be made, so the next step will be to take a step back and evaluate our resources and define a clear direction for the combined program.'
Smith becomes only the fifth person to oversee the Oregon women's track and field and only its second since its move to varsity status before the 1977-78 season.
Heinonen's tenure stands out as one of the sport's finest in the country. The 57-year-old Minneapolis, Minn., native is the only women's coach in NCAA history to have won multiple national titles in outdoor track and field (1985) and cross country (1983, '87). Of Oregon's 103 track and field All-America honorees during his tenure, 53 have come from his distance pupils, including nine of Oregon's 14 national champions. In cross country, the Ducks have posted 18 top-10 NCAA/AIAW finishes in 24 trips, and individuals have combined for 31 All-America honors, seven regional and eight conference titles. Heinonen was named NCAA Coach of the Year following all three national championships and Pac-10 Coach of the Year eight times (6 XC, 2 TF).
'This is clearly the right thing to do,' Heinonen reaffirmed. 'The way Martin does it is a high-quality, high-intensity kind of program.'
Heinonen became Oregon's fourth women's track and field head coach in 1977 after beginning his cross country tenure at the school in 1975. His 28-year overall head coaching tenure more than doubles that of any other men's or women'sPac-10 head coach, with 11th-year Stanford mentor Vin Lananna owning the second-longest stint.
Oregon becomes the eighth of nine Pac-10 track and cross country programs to appoint a joint supervisor over their men's and women's programs, with only UCLA featuring separate head coaches despite combining assistant coaching responsibilities.
Smith joined the Ducks after a successful stint at the University of Wisconsin (1983-1998), where the men's cross country head coach and assistant track coach led the Badgers to two NCAA cross country team titles, nine NCAA top-five team finishes, and one individual title. His track athletes combined for 44 All-America honors and five NCAA track titles.
Smith broke into the collegiate coaching ranks at George Mason (1978-79) after three seasons at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., where he led the squad to the AAA state title in 1978.