On Monday afternoon, the Marquette athletic department directory got a bit of a shakeup. Monmouth officially announced Mike Nelson as their new director of Cross Country and Track & Field, meaning Nelson is leaving his job as Marquette’s cross country head coach.
We should probably explain why Nelson is taking a new job 19 days before the Golden Eagles have their first meet of the season.
See, what happened was Monmouth Director of Cross Country/Track & Field Joe Compagni retired on July 3rd after 24 seasons in charge of the show in West Long Branch, New Jersey. During his tenure, the combination of the six teams he oversaw — men’s and women’s sides for cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track — won 58 conference titles. That’s an average of 2.4 titles per school year, which is no joke. To put it in context: Marquette’s entire athletic department — 16 sports — won two Big East titles in 2018-19.
Since Monmouth moved to the MAAC, Compagni had guided the Hawks to 23 indoor and outdoor track and field titles out of 24 possible, and 11 straight in the outdoor end of things. They have had 15 track & field All-America honorees in the past five school years alone.
In other words, this is a huge big deal for Nelson to take over control of this program, which explains why he’s making the move so close to the start of the Marquette cross country season. You kind of get the picture why it took Monmouth a bit over a month to go ahead and pull the trigger on a new director as well. It also can’t be ignored that this is a promotion for Nelson, as he’s going from head cross country coach and assistant track & field coach at Marquette to being in charge of everything at Monmouth.
If I had to guess, I would imagine that Marquette track & field head coach Bert Rogers will be the interim cross country coach for the 2019 season. After all, the cross country team is really just the distance running department of the track & field team, so Rogers is already familiar with the student athletes. It also can’t be much of a priority for athletic director Bill Scholl to find a new coach on such short notice when MU will have six meets this fall before the Big East championship on the first Saturday of November.
We should probably point out that Nelson is the third Marquette head coach to take a new job somewhere else since April. Carolyn Kieger left the women’s basketball program for Penn State on April 3rd, while Joe Amplo departed the men’s lacrosse program on June 5th. Before you go winding yourself into a tizzy, all three have left Marquette for programs of much stronger history and tradition of winning in their respective sports.
If we’re being honest about things — and why wouldn’t we be — this is an opportunity for Marquette to take advantage of going forward. As we discussed in our looooong rundown of Connecticut’s impact on the Big East, cross country under Mike Nelson hasn’t been knocking them dead out there. He’s been in charge of the program for 12 seasons, and neither side has ever finished better than fourth at the Big East championships. I’m not exactly sure what can be done to improve on this in the long term from a coaching perspective, but Nelson was never going to be putting his job at risk at any level, either. With his departure, the administration can take a moment to assess what can be done to improve things, and that’s never a bad thing.
Marquette’s cross country teams kick off the season on August 31st up north a bit in a meet hosted by Green Bay. The Golden Eagles won’t have a home meet this season, but they will be hosting the Big East championships at Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside down in Kenosha.
(h/t to the esteemed Admiral Ackbar, S.J. for giving us the heads up)