New Track Coach: Chris Bucknam

Legendary coach attends press conference, encourages new coach Chris Bucknam.

Chris Bucknam knows all about the coaching legend he's replacing at Arkansas, but he got another reminder Friday.

As he flew to Northwest Arkansas for his introductory news conference, Bucknam flipped through Arkansas' 2007-08 track and field media guide. But he joked that he turned immediately to the team's roster.

He had no interest in reading about the 42 national championships won by former coach John McDonnell during his 36-year run with the Razorbacks. He also skimmed past the section on the outdoor track facility named after McDonnell.

"I am not here to reinvent anything. I am not here to put my stamp on this program right away," Bucknam said during a news conference Friday afternoon in Arkansas' Raymond Miller Room.

"I hope that in 4 to 5 years people will look back and say this guy is doing the right types of things."

Bucknam, who made his own mark during his 25 seasons at Northern Iowa, will take over as Arkansas' men's cross country and track and field coach. It's the first significant change since McDonnell was hired to coach the Razorbacks' cross country team in 1972.

Bucknam will receive a base salary of $125,000 with the opportunity to earn more in bonuses, according to Arkansas spokesperson Kevin Trainor.

"I was looking for that formula of a total program, somebody that believed in cross country, indoor and outdoor track, somebody that wasn't just focused on distance (races) like some schools or just focused on sprints or jumps," Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said.

"Chris has the total program. As I look at Arkansas and talking to coach McDonnell, that's the secret to our success."

With McDonnell sitting in the front row, Bucknam spoke about moving Arkansas' track program forward while still continuing the winning tradition established by McDonnell, who turns 70 on Wednesday.

"I'd be lying if I said to you I wasn't a little nervous," Bucknam said in his distinct New England accent.

Bucknam built his own legacy during his 25 seasons as Northern Iowa's track and field coach. Despite a limited budget and a small recruiting area, he won 35 conference championships and turned the Panthers into a consistent top 15 program.

Bucknam, who coached both the men's and women's track teams at UNI, made a bit of history this past season. He helped the Panthers become the first Missouri Valley Conference school to win both the indoor and outdoor league championships in men's and women's track in the same year. Now comes a different set of challenges.

He faced several questions during Friday's news conference about the difficulties of replacing a legend in McDonnell, who announced April 21 that he would retire at the end of the 2007-08 season. "You can look back at the past, but don't dwell on it. He has to look forward and do what he's capable of doing," McDonnell said of Bucknam.

"Like people always said to me, ‘You think about 41 (national championships)?' I said no. I just thought about one more meet. That's what he's got to do."

McDonnell officially stepped down as Arkansas' coach after the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships earlier this month. While attending the meet in Des Moines, Iowa, Long interviewed Bucknam about replacing the coaching legend.

Long offered Bucknam the job after giving serious consideration to Dick Booth, Arkansas' longtime field events coach. McDonnell recommended Booth as his replacement, and more than two dozen Arkansas athletes signed an Internet petition to get Booth hired.

"I'm not mad at anybody," Booth said Friday afternoon while in Eugene, Ore., for the U.S. Olympic Trials. "You just kind of think, having been around (Arkansas) for 26 years and done a pretty good job and everything's going fairly well with track, that we wouldn't have had the need to start over with a new regime.

"But that's just my opinion, obviously."

Bucknam's first task as Arkansas' new coach was to hire Booth as his field events coach. His next task was to put a white Razorbacks baseball cap on his head during Friday's news conference.

Coincidentally, it was the same style hat that McDonnell is known for wearing during his time as Arkansas' coach.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories