The Impact Of Duane Ross And Sean Carlson To Tennessee

By Garrett Zatlin - MileSplit Recruiting Correspondent

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When one domino falls, a few others usually follow.

The first domino dropped in late May when Tennessee announced that Beth Alford-Sullivan, the Volunteers' Director of Track & Field and Cross Country, had "mutually agreed" to part ways with the university.

The next came just four days later when the university announced that 2021 National Coach of the Year, Duane Ross, would be taking over as Tennessee's newest Director of Track & Field.

Ross was then the head track and field coach at North Carolina A&T. But the 2004 Olympian transformed the Aggies into a national powerhouse. By the end of his tenure, his men's and women's teams could confidently tussle with the most elite Power Five programs in the NCAA.

But Ross wasn't the only big-name coach on the move.

Following the completion of the men's NCAA Outdoor Championships, Tennessee then announced that Notre Dame head cross country coach Sean Carlson would assume the Director of cross contry and distance role in Knoxville.

Carlson took over the Notre Dame men's distance coaching position in 2014 when the team finished just 14th place at the Great Lakes Regional Championships.

Since then, Carlson had turned the Fighting Irish into a modern-day powerhouse, producing multiple national champions on the track, countless All-Americans and a runner-up team finish at the NCAA XC Championships.

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Coaching moves of this magnitude don't happen often, but when they do they often cause a massive ripple effect throughout the rest of the country.

Carlson has arguably been the best recruiter of high school distance talent in the NCAA since taking over in 2014. He has assembled consecutive recruiting classes that could be argued as the best in the nation on the distance side of things.

In fact, his Class of 2022 recruits may have been his best work yet.

Current distance signees for the men's team included Izaiah Steury (IN), Sam Rich (SC), Gabe Hinrichs (NE), Ethan Coleman (WA), CJ singleton (PA) and Daelen Ackley (MO).

Collectively, that group features six boys who have gone sub-9:00 in the 3,200 meters and four boys who have gone sub-14:50 in the 5,000 meters.

As for North Carolina A&T, their incoming group of recruits is just as electric. 

Current signees include Kylah Buckle (FL), Jordany Valquez (MA), Dawson Grogan (MD), Isaiah Monroe (NC), Michael Rodriguez-King (NY) and Tairah Johnson (TX).

Every single one of those recruits ended an indoor season or an outdoor season ranked in the top 27 nationally in at least one event.

So what happens now?

Where will these recruits go?

Could some recruits suddenly jump ship and follow the coaches who originally recruited them to Tennessee?

And even if they wanted to suddenly transition to Knoxville, would there even be enough scholarships available?

Those are fair questions that do have a multitude of realistic answers. But we do have some precedence with this situation. 

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When Ben Thomas left Virginia Tech to take over the Oregon Ducks as the team's newest men's distance coach, Class of 2018 commit Brodey Hasty reversed course and ended up going to Northern Arizona -- he was originally slated to sign with the Ducks. 

Fellow Class of 2018 signee Josh Hoey ultimately opted out of the NCAA altogether and signed a pro contract with Adidas alongside his brother Jaxson, an Oregon distance runner at the time.

It is theoretically possible for some of these Notre Dame and North Carolina A&T signees to reset their sights on the Volunteers (or a different program entirely) and follow in a similar path as Brodey Hasty once did in 2018.

However, the difference between Thomas in 2018 and Carlson and Ross in 2022 is that Virginia Tech's roster was in a much different position than the position that Notre Dame and North Carolina A&T are in now.

At the conclusion of 2018, the Hokies lost Vincent Ciattei, Patrick Joseph and Neil Gourley to expired eligibility.

That group of three helped Virginia Tech win a DMR national title. That trio also went three-for-three when earning All-American honors in the mile at the same indoor national meet.

But for Notre Dame and North Carolina A&T, the situation is a bit different. 

Yes, the Irish are losing Yared Nuguse, Andrew Alexander, Anthony Russo and maybe a few others. And yes, the Aggies are losing Rasheem Brown, Brandon Hicklin, Daniel Stokes, Paula Salmon and Delecia McDuffie.

However, there is still plenty of elite talent at both Notre Dame and North Carolina.

Dylan Jacobs, the recent NCAA 10k Champion and 2017 Foot Locker National Champion, is currently in the transfer portal. And according to one of my sources, there is already an indicator next to his name to suggest that he has made a decision as to where he will go next.

On paper, all signs would point to Tennessee.

It's a somewhat similar story for Randolph Ross, the 400m Olympian, an NCAA champion and the son of the aforementioned Tennessee head coach, Duane Ross.

In a recent press conference, Duane Ross said that he didn't know what his son, Randolph, would do. He did, however, hint that Randolph was intent on staying in the NCAA and that he wanted to continue his climb towards collegiate all-time greatness.

Those are just two examples of top-tier collegians who will almost certainly be priority names when introducing new talents to Tennessee.

Of course, the questions don't stop there.

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Who will be the next men's distance coach at Notre Dame? Who will be the next Director of Track & Field at North Carolina A&T?

Fortunately, we don't have to wait very long to know that answer. On Friday, the Aggies hired Allen Johnson, a 1996 Olympian who most recently was an assistant with NC State as a sprints and hurdles coach. 

On paper, the Director role at North Carolina A&T is more appealing. There is already a slew of national-caliber stars in Greensboro and Ross has left the program with good bones. 

Plus, the money that comes with a Director role is typically more attractive than most salaries that come with an assistant role. 

When it comes to Notre Dame, it is highly unlikely that a Director or head coach of a major program would leave their position for a much smaller role.

An assistant coach with non-leading responsibilities at an established distance-oriented university would likely be the best bet in terms of filling the empty position in South Bend, Indiana.

The eventual coaching hires at both Notre Dame and North Carolina A&T will be crucial to get right. Both programs sit at the top of their respective disciplines.

Simply maintaining the incredible success and elite recruiting will be a massive, and potentially daunting undertaking. However, it's also an undertaking that could prove to be fruitful to one's coaching career.