A Review Of John McDonnell (The Book): Former Hog Says, “Two thumbs up” And “The book is full of insight into the hard-working, team-first ethos that made us such a successful program.”

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“There wasn’t some secret to our success, just hard working, high character guys who loved to compete … not only in their respective events but among each other for John’s attention.”

By Marlon Boykins
April 25, 2013

LetsRun.com Note: We asked two LetsRun.com visitors to review the new biography, John McDonnell, about John McDonnell – the most successful NCAA coach in history with 40 NCAA titles (42 if you count two vacated by the NCAA) – written by Andrew Maloney with some help from John McDonnell himself.

This review is done former Arkansas 800 runner Marlon Boykins. Boykins, who has a 1:47.95 PR and competed in the 1992 US Olympic Trials, ran for the Hogs at the pinnacle of McDonnell’s success as he was at Arkansas from 1989 to 1994 and the Hogs won 3 straight national triple crowns during the 1991-92, 92-93 and 93-94 school years (meaning they won the team NCAA titles in cross-country, indoor and outdoor track).

Boykins was on teams with some true legends, including his roommate, 10-time NCAA long/triple jump champ Erik Walder (also 1997 WChamps silver medallist), who still is the collegiate long jump record holder at 28 feet 8.25 inches (8.74 meters), as well as miler Graham Hood. Hood, a nine-time All-American, was ninth in the Olympic 1,500 for Canada while in college. Hood also won a Millrose title over Marcus O’Sullivan while in college and seven Penn Relays gold watches, where he was the Most Outstanding Performer in 1994.

The second review was written by NCAA DII coach Torrey Olson.

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Below is Boykins’ review. When Boykins mentions a few athletes, we tried to add in some stats so you’d realize how good the people he’s talking about were. We also have a great excerpt from the book, which can be read here.


In memory of the legendary Roger Ebert I give this book “two thumbs up!”

First, I never knew Coach was a beast as a runner but him beating Jim Ryun in the 2-mile almost floored me!  The book is full of insight into the hard-working, team-first ethos that made us such a successful program.  My only gripe is instead of the cover reading, ‘the most successful coach ever’…it simply should have read, ‘the greatest coach ever.’  Learning about the legends like O’Shaugnessy (Niall – in 1974 he was McDonnell’s first Southwest Conference champion as well as Arkansas’ first All-American in two decades, ran 3:55.4 for the indoor mile in college when the world indoor record was 3:54.93), O’Mara (Frank – 1983 NCAA 1,500 champ, 2-time world indoor 3k champ), Doug Consiglio (collegiate 1k record holder for 20 years), Joe Falcon (1987 NCAA XC champ, 1990 Dream Mile winner in 3:49.31) and the like was also very refreshing.  By the time I arrived in 1989 the juggernaut was well under way with “Doctor Reub” (Reuben Reina (still the Foot Locker XC course record holder from 1985, eventual NCAA champ in 3k, US Olympian and US XC champ)) leading the way and setting an example of excellence for all of us to follow. On long runs with (coach) Stanley Redwine‘s group we would always hear the tales about those legends that came before us and it was fun to read about the stories that were the stuff of lore for so many years.  Made me smile and appreciate how fortunate I was to run for a man who demanded and expected nothing but the absolute best of all his charges…right on down to walk-ons like the great Todd Gizzi!  By the time guys like Graham Hood, Niall Bruton, Frank Hanley arrived….along with my roomates Erick Walder and Ray Doakes in the Jumps, Chris Philips in the Hurdles and Calvin Davis (400M National champ), we were competing more amongst each other than any other outside opponent.  It was a self-contained UBER-COMPETITIVE atmosphere….the sprinters, jumpers and distance guys all trying to show which group reigned supreme while as individuals we all pined for John’s attention.  Just a simple pat on the back and a “way to go kid” sent you to the moon and you were emboldened to run through a wall for the guy!

That was the beauty about the environment that John fostered.  He was/is such a high character guy you not only felt like you were letting him down, but all the Razorbacks that came before you if you did not give your best effort.  He was/is a plain speaker and told you exactly how things were, and you knew he wasn’t joking if he were to mention that there would be a guy brought in next year to take your place if you kept going the way you were going! LOL! There wasn’t some secret to our success, just hard working, high character guys who loved to compete….not only in their respective events but among each other for John’s attention.  My fondest memories are the team meetings at the end of the day at a Conference or National meet….he would gather us all in a room after dinner and talk about that days’ effort…who let us down, who stepped up, what we needed to do the next day, etc.  I remember leaving those meetings with a sense of comittment/urgency that I have never felt before or since…you didn’t want to let anyone down and a National Championship was the business at hand.  Those were the times when you realized it was all about the TEAM and if you didn’t play your part John and EVERYONE else let you know. Guys who had just won the National Championship in their event that day turned into cheerleaders overnight and encouraged you to take it to the next level.  The meanest, most ornery guys (like Graham Hood…what a tough son-of-a b*$# he was) suddenly screaming at the top of their lungs for you to be better than you ever were before.  It was a magical time.  Closing out a meet in a sheen of sweat and Arkansas gear, calling out those beloved Hogs at the end of the affair…it was intoxicating…3 Triple Crowns.

The book moved slowly at first but I think gives great insight into a model that might never be replicated again.  Building a program without the short shelf life of Sprinters and focusing on Distance and Jumpers….later incorporating long sprinters and short sprinters into the mix to put forth teams that were record-setting.  To make plain the mission of success (only through hard work), to run with pride and the great feeling of wearing that Arkansas jersey knowing that everyone was gunning for you and plotting your downfall.  So many behind the scenes moments were expertly laid out by the fellows that it almost seems surreal now reading back about the history that we were making.  A true leader, the book accurately paints John as the caretaker of an ideal….an ideal that many immigrants come to this country with….Preparation + Opportunity = Success.  There is no substitute for hard work and if you are unprepared to seize the moment when the time arrives you will not be successful and live with nothing but regret.

I could talk for days on end about the man and his impact on thousands of lives but the record has been written and speaks for itself.  Thanks for allowing me an opportunity to relive some of the happiest moments of my life with guys who are life-long friends.  Those bonds created through the crucible of competing for John and Arkansas can never be broken.

Take Care,

Marlon Boykins


More: Arkansas Sports Hall Of Fame Feature On Frank O’Mara, Which Also Has A Lot Of Info On Niall O’Shaughnessy
*1995 Philly Inquirer Recap Of Penn Relays: There Is Nothing Like Penn Relays, Says Arkansas Star Senior Graham Hood, Who Added Two More Watches To His Collection, Not To Mention More Memories
*1995 AP: Sullivan Bests Hood  In Battle Of NCAA Milers
*1995 NY Times Recap Of Millrose: TRACK & FIELD; Arkansas Senior Is Young, Gifted And Smart Enough To Capture A Wanamaker Mile
*1995 Philly Inquirer On Penn Relays: Distance Medley Could Again Be The Highlight – Two Canadians, Michigan’s Kevin Sullivan And Arkansas’ Graham Hood, Are The Men To Watch


*You can buy John McDonnell: The Most Successful Coach in NCAA History from Amazon.com and other book sellers.

(LetsRun.com receives a commission from Amazon.com when you buy books through our links. LetsRun.com did not receive compensation for this review or have any influence on the reviewer, Marlon Boykins, who received a free book in return for the review.)

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