Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tom Donnelly

Tom Donnelly, Villanova great and famed coach at Haverford College, is 64 years old today. He is the reigning NCAA Division III cross country coach of the year, as his Fords won the NCAA cross country team championship in November.

Donnelly was a key to three cross country national titles for Villanova in 1966, 1967, and 1968. He was an all-american twice in cross (when the criteria were more onerous than they are today), and achieved all-american status on the track as well (he was an NCAA finalist three times in the steeple: 1967: 8th, 1968: 4th, and 1969: 3rd). He guided the professional running careers of, among others, Sydney Maree (who at one point after running 13:01 had the third fastest 5000 meter time in history) and Marcus O'Sullivan (who won three world championships over 1500 meters and ran 101 sub-4:00 miles).

As a prep star, Donnelly ran for LaSalle College High School in Philadelpia and won three Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) individual cross country titles (1962, 1963, and 1964) at 33rd and Dauphin. He won Eastern States as a high school senior, and in so doing set a course record at famed Van Cortlandt Park. After his Villanova career, Donnelly entered coaching and led Archbishop Wood to a Catholic League cross country title in 1969. He then returned to his alma mater LaSalle High School and promptly led the Explorers to two PCL cross titles (1971 and 1972). I had the honor of being the worst runner on one of Donnelly's last teams at LaSalle. One of Donnelly's former Haverford runners (Greg Bielecki) is now head coach at LaSalle.

Donnelly left LaSalle and filled the opening at Haverford College 36 years ago. His program at Haverford (see video below) has produced the only Division III sub-4:00 miler (Karl Paranya: 3:57.6 in 1997), 25 individual NCAA champions, an NCAA champion relay team, and his recent NCAA champion cross country squad of 2010. Over 120 All-American certificates have been won by his runners. He invests his coaching talents evenly, from those at the head of his teams to those at the back.

Thanks to Walt Chadwick of for permission to use the photo on Donnelly at the head of this post. It shows Donnelly en route to winning the 1969 IC4A steeple. Click on the photo for a super-sized version.

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