After 13 years at the University of Tennessee and five at the University of Connecticut (UConn), J.J. Clark has been tapped as Stanford’s next Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field, Athletics Director Bernard Muir announced on Thursday.
The decision comes nearly a month after former head coach Chris Miltenberg announced his decision to leave Stanford to take on the same coaching position at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Four of his five assistant coaches have followed him to UNC.
Clark served as head coach of the UConn women’s cross country and track and field programs since fall 2014. Before then, he coached at Tennessee from 2001 to 2014, leading the Lady Vols to indoor national team titles in 2005 and 2009.
“J.J. is well-respected among his coaching peers and throughout the track and field community, and has an established history of bringing out the very best in all those associated with his program,” Muir said. “He has an undeniable passion for the student-athlete experience in the classroom as well as on the field, and is a perfect fit to lead the Stanford track and field program.”
Clark has not announced any assistant coaches to replace the four that have left. Assistant coach Dylan Sorensen, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Michael Eskind, throws coach Amin Nikfar and Assistant Athletics Director Jessica Riden all announced their departure shortly after Miltenberg. The only coach remaining from the Miltenberg-era is sprints and hurdles coach Gabe Sanders.
“It is with great pride and excitement that I am embarking on my next chapter as Stanford’s Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and field,” Clark said. “My commitment will be continuing the program’s rich tradition and legacy while reinforcing life lessons to the student-athletes that transcend sports.”
During his time at UConn, Clark led the women’s indoor track and field team to back-to-back American Athletic Conference (AAC) titles in 2015-16, followed by the school’s first women’s cross country AAC title in 2017.
At Tennessee, Clark managed the women’s track and field team until 2011, when he was promoted to serve as the Director of Cross Country and Track and Field, overseeing both the men’s and women’s programs. Under his tenure, Tennessee accumulated three SEC indoor championships and five cross country conference titles. In 2009, Clark was named the National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association and the United States Track Coaches Association in 2005.
Clark graduated from Villanova in 1986 with a degree in communications. As a Wildcat, he was a sub-four miler and competed at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. A Maplewood, New Jersey, native, he graduated from Columbia High School and was a New Jersey high school state title winner in the mile and two-mile as a senior in 1982.
Clark steps into the role after a particularly successful year for the Cardinal. For the first time in school history, Stanford was deemed the No. 1 men’s cross country and track and field program of the year. The award is given to the program with the highest cumulative finish at the NCAA Championships in the cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.
While Stanford has placed in the top-three on the list on four different occasions, the 2018-19 athletic year was one of the most dominant for the Cardinal men. In the fall, Grant Fisher ’19 tied the program’s best individual finish at the cross country national championships with a runner up performance, leading the team to a fifth-place finish. In the indoor track season, a pair of runner-up finishes in the distance medley relay (DMR) and 3,000 meters (also ran by Fisher), as well as Harrison William’s title-winning performance in the heptathlon propelled the Cardinal men to a two-way tie for fourth.
In the outdoor season, Fisher again delivered with a hard-fought runner-up finish in the 5,000 meters, while Williams claimed the decathlon silver and fifth-year Steven Fahy won his first NCAA title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, despite falling over the final barrier. While Fisher signed with the Nike Oregon Project, joining former teammate Sean McGorty, Fahy and five of the seven runners that represented Stanford in last year’s cross country championships will return to the roster this fall.
On the women’s side, the Cardinal placed fifth in the Program of the Year standings, making Stanford one of just two schools to place both programs in the top five. They will be led by a pair of returning veterans in seniors Fiona O’Keeffe and Christina Aragon. After a fifth-place finish at the cross country championships last year, six of the top seven runners will be returning to the team this fall. At the indoor championships, the women placed 12th, making it their sixth consecutive appearance in the top 20.
The outdoor season saw the women place 10th, highlighted by senior Mackenzie Little’s second straight javelin title. For the second year in a row, the men’s and women’s programs placed in the top 10 at the outdoor track and field championships, the first time since 2001-03.
Clark will also be tasked with welcoming a superbly talented group of freshmen. FloTrack ranked Stanford’s recruiting class as the No. 1 in the nation for both the men’s and women’s teams. The new faces include 2018 Nike Cross Nationals Champion and course record-holder Liam Anderson as well as Grace Connolly, a two-time Massachusetts Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
The cross country season kicks off with the John McNichols Invitational in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Sept. 21.
Contact Alejandro Salinas at asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu.