Men's cross-country coach off to Ole Miss

Gavin Kennedy has joined a new coaching staff at Mississippi, leaving the University of Illinois after one season as men's cross-country head coach and assistant track coach.

Kennedy's departure means the Illini men's program will have its third different distance-running coach in as many years when school begins next month.

"Gavin was not pursuing another position anywhere," Illini men's track and field head coach Mike Turk said Friday, "but there was a new head coach hired at Mississippi and Gavin was recommended to him by a third party."

Rebels coach Brian O'Neal followed up on that recommendation with a contract offer that Kennedy found difficult to turn down, according to Turk.

"He made Gavin a very big offer," the UI coach said. "Gavin was looking forward to great things here at Illinois, but in the end he just couldn't pass up the financial offer that was made to him."

Kennedy came to Illinois last summer after three seasons at Iona, where he coached men's and women's cross-country as well as track distance runners. During that time, he guided the Gaels' men's cross-country team to three top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including second place in 2008. During his Iona tenure, Kennedy also coached two individual NCAA track champions and 11 All-Americans.

His lone Illini men's cross-country team placed seventh in the Big Ten, but two of his runners qualified for the NCAA Championships. Among Kennedy's UI track athletes, Kyle Engnell reached the national meet in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

A native of Waterford, Ireland, Kennedy used his international connections to recruit Class of 2012 distance runners Luke Carroll of Great Britain and Liam Markham of Ireland. Each will follow through on his commitment to the Illini despite Kennedy's departure, according to Turk.

"Gavin did a great job coaching and recruiting in his year here, and I certainly would like to have him back," Turk said. "However, I care for him as a person, and I know this is a good move for him ... and wish him all the best. He left his area of the program in good shape for the future, and I am grateful for his service to the (program)."

Kennedy succeeded Wendel McRaven, who was on the Illini staff for six years before leaving in May 2011 to become women's cross-country coach and track assistant at Northern Illinois. However, McRaven quickly moved on, joining the Texas A&M staff that summer as a distance-running assistant in cross-country and track.

Turk indicated the vacancy on his staff has been nationally posted, and he is reviewing candidates.

"I hope to conduct interviews in the next two weeks and have a new coach in place by the first of August," he said.

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