Ohio State’s Karen Dennis announces retirement
Director of Men’s & Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country coached for 45 years
Karen Dennis, the historically successful director of track & field and cross country at The Ohio State University, has announced her retirement from coaching after 20 seasons at Ohio State. Dennis has spent 45 years in collegiate coaching with enough team and individual champions, Olympians, Hall of Fame honors and coach-of-the-year accolades to be elevated into the rare air of legendary.
Dennis announced the news of her retirement to her coaching staff and team Monday morning, just days after 22 Buckeye student-athletes competed at the NCAA championships and just three weeks after her men’s and women’s teams each captured Big Ten Conference outdoor championships.
“I hope this isn’t too much of a surprise,” Dennis said. “I have coached for a long time and there are still things in life I’d like to do. I am truly thankful for this profession, and I want to express my gratitude to the many assistant coaches and support staff that have shared and sweated alongside me on this incredible journey. They share a primary role in the success of our programs.
“I also want to thank the hundreds of student-athletes who have shared their lives and careers as Buckeyes, and also their parents.
“I want to thank the great coaches here at Ohio State, and in the Big Ten Conference and nationally, who have served as examples of excellence and who have challenged and motivated me to be better.
“And, I want to thank my family for the sacrifices they made while I pursued coaching, and specifically my daughter Ebony, who shared with me and introduced me to hundreds of kids through her work.”
Dennis just completed her eighth season as director of both the men’s and women’s programs at Ohio State. She arrived in Columbus in 2002 as an assistant coach for the women’s team and in 2006 she was named women’s head coach. In 2014 she was promoted to director of the men’s and women’s track & field and cross country programs.
“I want to thank Gene Smith, who believed in me and hired me into the dual men’s and women’s position at a time when very few women in all of track and field had a dual role,” Dennis said. “And, I want to thank my longtime sport AD at Ohio State, T.J. Shelton, who was very instrumental in the success of this program.”
Dennis’ coaching and leadership positioned Ohio State as one of the top programs in the Big Ten Conference and nationally. Her Buckeyes captured 12 Big Ten Conference championships, including women’s indoor (2011, 2015, 2019, 2020) and outdoor (2011, 2012, 2019, 2021, 2022) crowns as well as men’s indoor and outdoor championships in 2018, their first in 25 years, and an outdoor crown in 2022.
Her 12 Big Ten championships are No. 1 all-time for an Ohio State female coach and rank in a tie for third with Mike Peppe (men’s swimming) among all Ohio State coaches. Only Jim Brown (17 men’s golf titles) and Ty Tucker (16 men’s tennis crowns) have led Ohio State teams to more Big Ten championships than Dennis. Therese Hession, recently retired women’s golf coach, rounds out the Top 5 with 11 Big Ten crowns.
This final season under Dennis’ direction has cemented her legacy. This is the first time Ohio State has won both a men’s and women’s outdoor Big Ten team championship in the same season, and this is the first time in 25 years for a Big Ten team to accomplish the feat. Her women’s team set a new championship record for points scored at the Big Ten outdoor championships with 185.5, and on Saturday wrapped up a 12th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Her last Big Ten titles came just months after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where five current or former Dennis athletes competed, including shot putter Adelaide Aquilla, who defended her outdoor NCAA shot put title last Thursday to give Dennis her eighth NCAA champion. Dennis coached a total of eight Olympians.
“I can’t thank Karen Dennis enough for her friendship, her mentorship and the love she has for her student-athletes and Ohio State athletics,” Gene Smith, Senior Vice President and Wolfe Foundation Endowed Athletics Director, said. “I want to congratulate her on a truly legendary career in coaching. We have been incredibly fortunate to have her leading our programs.”
Dennis has been honored as the Big Ten’s track and field coach of the year 12 times, including eight honors in the last five years. Her honors are capped by earning the 2022 women’s and men’s outdoor coach of the year honors last month, and thus becoming the first coach in conference history to be named coach of the year on both the men’s and women’s side at the same outdoor championships.
The United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) named Dennis its regional coach of the year six times.
140 Individual/Relay Big Ten Champions
Dennis’ student-athletes have won 118 Big Ten Conference individual titles plus an additional 22 relay crowns for a total of 140 Big Ten champions as head coach at Ohio State and Michigan State.
Dennis’ coaching leadership on the national and international track and field circuit is highlighted by an appointment as the head coach of the U.S. women’s track and field team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Prior to her Olympic coaching duties with Team USA, Dennis was an assistant coach of U.S. national teams at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenberg, Sweden; the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba; and the 1989 World University Championships in Duisburg, Germany.
Dennis is a member of the USA Track & Field International Competition Committee and a past president of the Athletic Congress Women’s Track Coaches Association. She has also served as a member of the NCAA Women’s Track and Field Committee and the NCAA Track Coaches Association.
Dennis has been enshrined in three Halls of Fame: she was named to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018, to the Michigan State Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 and to the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020.
Dennis is a 1977 graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in public affairs management, and she received her master’s degree in sports administration in 1979. She helped the Spartans’ track and field team to a fourth-place finish at the AIAW national championships in 1975.
The 45-year coaching career for Dennis includes 37 years as a head coach: 16 years at Ohio State, 10 years at UNLV and 11 seasons at Michigan State. She guided 39 indoor/outdoor teams to the NCAA championships.
For more information about Coach Dennis’ career and accomplishments, go to the Ohio State Buckeyes website.