Thursday, July 27, 2017

SeattleU steps up and hires Kelly Sullivan as head track & field/cross country coach...

SEATTLE—Kelly Sullivan’s retirement lasted less than two months.

The 14-year head track and cross country coach at Oregon State (above/photo courtesy Oregon State University) was named the new track and cross country coach at Seattle University on Thursday.

In a release published by the school, SeattleU athletic director Shaney Fink said, “Coach Sullivan’s commitment to the holistic development of student-athletes aligns perfectly with the mission of Seattle University,” said Fink. “He is a proven competitor with tremendous experience and outstanding character, who will immediately propel our programs forward. We are thrilled to welcome Coach Sullivan to the Redhawk family.”

During his tenure at Oregon State, he reestablished the track program after a 16-year hiatus. Beginning in 2004 with just a distance program, one coaching position, one full in-state scholarship and no track and field facility, he departed the program with 21 event areas, 18 full scholarships, three coaching positions and a full-time director of operations.

From 1997-2003, Sullivan served as the head coach at Willamette University where he guided the men's track and field team to a sixth-place finish nationally in 2003, while the men's cross country squad was fifth in 2002. In 2003, his women's cross country team placed eighth nationally – the highest finish in school history – and he guided the Bearcats to their first-ever NWC women's cross country title in 2000.

Before coaching the Bearcats, Sullivan was head men's and women's cross country coach and assistant track and field coach at Auburn from 1984-96. During that time, Sullivan's 1985 men's team finished 12th at the NCAA Championships, his female athletes broke every Auburn distance record and earned trips to the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1994 and 1995.

Prior to coaching at Auburn, Sullivan headed the cross country program and was the assistant track and field coach at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Ore., coaching 24 NJCAA All-Americans from 1980-84. His men's cross country teams won four straight Oregon Community College titles and four straight NJCAA West Regional titles. His 1981 and 1983 teams were fourth at the NJCAA Cross Country Nationals while the 1982 team was NJCAA runner-up.

University of Washington head track coach Greg Metcalf, who was mentored by Sullivan when he was a graduate student at Auburn, said “Seattle University just made a terrific hire in Kelly Sullivan. I am incredibly excited for Kelly and this wonderful opportunity to move to the greatest city in the country and work at this fantastic university. It is a perfect fit. He was my coach and is the reason I got into coaching and I know firsthand what he Is capable of.”

“He will positively impact every athlete and every member of the Seattle U family the moment he steps onto campus. Kelly is truly one of the greatest human beings and coaches I have ever been around. He is well respected by his peers, possesses tremendous knowledge, and is filled with passion for the sport and working with young people.”

Former Oregon State athletic director Bob de Carolis said, "Congratulations to Seattle University on a great hire. In Kelly Sullivan you get a very good coach, but also even a better person. Kelly is perfectly aligned with the values of Seattle University and this hire is a great fit for everyone." has tried to reach out to Sullivan via text and hopes to talk to him soon.

In a related note, publisher Paul Merca received a text from field events coach Chad Pharis, who said that he is being retained as an assistant by Sullivan.


Seattle University’s hire of Sullivan is a great move by the school. Sullivan brings instant credibility, particularly with the high school coaches around the state of Washington, some of whom confided to me that they wouldn’t steer their athletes to Seattle University under former coach Trisha Steidl.

It’s a known fact that Seattle University faces major challenges in the area of scholarships, facilities, and recruiting.  It’s also a known fact that SeattleU’s tuition is extremely high compared to other Division I schools in the Northwest, with Gonzaga and Portland being the most comparable. All three of those schools are private Catholic schools.

The most telling fact about how ineffective SeattleU’s program was since it became Division I in 2012 (five years competing as an NCAA Division I program), it was the only school of the five Division I schools in the state not to qualify an athlete for the NCAA national finals in either cross country, indoor, or outdoor track.

Their women’s team won a Western Athletic Conference crown in cross country, and had a male athlete come close to qualifying for the national championship meet in cross country.  They’ve also had several conference champions, including most recently, heptathlete Mandie Maddux.

At the NCAA West Regionals (or what the NCAA calls the preliminary round), the only athletes from SeattleU to even qualify for that meet in the five years since becoming D1 were high jumper Shaddye Melu and javelin thrower Dylan Burnett, both of whom were coached by Chad Pharis. In contrast, no distance runners, which were supposedly the strong suit of the head coach, even sniffed the regional meet.

By the same token, since 2012, Gonzaga qualified a women’s team for the national championships in cross country, and qualified a male and female athlete for the national track and field championships.

In the same five year span (2012-17) since SeattleU became Division I, non Power 5 school Eastern Washington qualified a male hammer thrower and a female steeplechaser for the national finals, as well as a female cross country runner for the NCAA championships.

While the Redhawks have had several outstanding individuals since becoming a D1 program in 2012, the perception—at least according to several knowledgable people in the local track and field community—was that the program overall wasn’t even a decent Division II team, and that perception among coaches around the state is probably what doomed the previous staff.

Unfortunately, perception equals reality in the case of the SeattleU track and cross country program.

In the short term, Sullivan’s challenges are not going away. The Redhawks will still have to train at local high schools or park department tracks around the city. They will still have to compete in the Western Athletic Conference, which is one of the weaker Division I conferences in the country. They will have challenges with scholarships that they can/can't give to prospective athletes.

However, I believe that Sullivan can do a better job in the area of recruiting and reaching out to the high school coaches in the Pacific Northwest. I think, based on his fundraising efforts in getting a new track at Oregon State, he can rally the donors and alumni to help achieve his goals with the program.

Gonzaga has Pat Tyson and Patty Ley, and credibility within the Washington prep coaching community. Eastern just hired legendary coach Dave Nielsen as an assistant. Kudos to SeattleU’s leadership for stepping up. This hire sends a positive message to the track and field community.

Now Sullivan needs the support of his athletic department, alumni and boosters to get SeattleU going and remove the stigma of being a mediocre Division II program in the eyes of the state’s high school coaches.

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