CHAMPAIGN — Gavin Kennedy, who guided the Iona men's cross-country team to NCAA top-10 finishes each of the last three years, is taking over an Illinois program that hasn't reached such heights since 1986.
Illini men's track and field coach Mike Turk announced Tuesday the hiring of Kennedy as cross-country coach and assistant track coach. In the latter role, the 29-year-old native of Waterford, Ireland, will work with the distance runners.
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"Coach Kennedy is making his way up the coaching ranks quickly," Turk said. "He is a highly qualified coach and has a reputation as a tremendous recruiter. I'm thrilled he is joining us on staff, and I know he will make a major contribution.
"Although young, he brings tremendous experience with him from a perennial Top 10 cross-country program at Iona College."
Kennedy's most successful Gaels team was the 2008 squad that finished second at the NCAA meet. In track, he produced two individual national champions, the first in school history. In three years at Iona, athletes coached by Kennedy earned a total of 11 All-America awards in cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track.
"I am thrilled about the opportunity presented to me at Illinois," Kennedy said. "When I came to visit I was excited about where Coach Turk wanted to take the program. His vision and passion is what made my decision easy."
A former distance runner at DePaul, Kennedy was MVP of the Blue Demons' indoor track team in 2004 and 2005 and earned all-conference honors all four of his years at the school.
Kennedy has previous coaching experience as an assistant at DePaul, Northwestern and St. Louis. At Iona, he also coached on the women's cross-country and track staffs. During his final season with the Gaels, Kennedy was elevated to associate head coach.
Kennedy succeeds Wendel McRaven, who left in May to become women's cross-country coach at Northern Illinois. McRaven subsequently accepted a job offer from Texas A&M to become men's and women's assistant coach for distance running.
Kennedy assumes direction of an Illini men's cross-country program that has finished in the second division of the Big Ten Championships every year since 1997. Its highest finish in that span was sixth — in 2007 and 2010 under McRaven. However, the team typically has fared better in NCAA regional meets, including fifth-place finishes in 2004 and 2010.
Turk is looking for Kennedy to raise the bar with future UI teams.
"Gavin has a burning passion for the sport and a work ethic that is second to none," Turk said. "His aggressiveness and confidence will have an impact upon the athletes in our program. I know his athletes will be well prepared, both physically and mentally, to perform up to their abilities."