Duane Ross, the former director of athletics programs at NC A&T, was officially introduced Monday as the new head athletics coach at Tennessee. Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White made the announcement on the UT campus.
“There was a name at the top of every conversation when we started talking about what was happening at the elite level in athletics,” White said. “Every time you looked up (at the NCAA Championships last week) every major Blue Blood brand was on the video board. And every time you looked up Eugene, Oregon, you saw North Carolina A&T again and again. So impressive the program that Duane built there. Truly, excellence on a grand scale in all areas.
“We’re doing what our group asked,” White said, “get a proven winner.”
The Duane Ross Bombshell
While Ross’ hiring was announced informally two weeks ago, the new Tennessee coach dropped a bombshell Monday when he hinted that his son, a three-time NCAA Div. I 400 meter champion and Olympic gold medalist Randolph Ross Jr.a junior at A&T, would join him in Knoxville.
“Long story short, I don’t know what he’s going to do, but he’s orange today if that means anything. Ross said at the end of a question about his son’s future plans. Orange is the main color of Tennessee. Ross said his son still has a year and a half of eligibility left.
Young Ross won this year’s NCAA Division. I title over 400 meters indoors and the last two titles over 400 meters outdoors. He also has a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the 4×400 meter relay.
Duane Ross at NC A&T
Ross, whose first name is Randolph Duane Ross, returns to the Tennessee athletics program after 10 seasons at the helm of North Carolina A&T.
He led the A&T men to a third-place finish at the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championships, earning him National Coach of the Year honors. The Aggies men went one step further in March when they earned a second-place team finish at the 2022 NCAA Indoor Championships, the best result ever by an HBCU program. The men finished tied for ninth at the just-concluded outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon last week.
The A&T Women tied for fourth with Alabama last season in the Outdoor Championships.
In 10 years as a Division I head coach, Ross developed more than 30 first-team All-America performers at A&T.
“First of all, let me say that I’m extremely lucky and excited to be here,” Ross said at the press conference. “It’s an absolutely wonderful opportunity that, I’ll be honest, I don’t deserve. To be around so many happy people and so many people who want to be invested in my success and the success of student-athletes in says a lot. I’ve just been overwhelmed and thrilled for the past two weeks. So I’m thrilled to be here, thrilled to be part of this family. I’m ready to get to work.
“Let me be clear, even at North Carolina A&T, this program that we’ve built over the last 10 years that has been very successful – I didn’t deserve it either,” Ross added. “And that’s why I say this: I know that a lot of our success that we had at North Carolina A&T was because I woke up every morning and realized that I didn’t deserve it, but I worked hard every morning to earn it, and I instilled that belief in our student-athletes. I mean, come on, I train athletics for a living. And I know you’ve seen the releases, I got paid pretty well. So being able to do that every day is my passion, it’s not a job. There are so many people in other situations who would like to do this. That’s why I say I don’t deserve it, but I will work hard every day to earn it.
Duane Ross in Tennessee
Ross also spoke about the prospects for success in Tennessee.
“The sky is the limit. The sky is the limit, but my belief was that the sky was the limit where I was (previously). I never thought less of my abilities or those of my student-athletes. What I said for 10 years was, “If you give me a track and you give me a weight room, we’re going to compete with the best and ultimately be the best.” That doesn’t change.
“I loved our North Carolina A&T alumni. I loved my staff and I loved my AD. The most important thing for me was the next opportunity. As I mentioned, my initial conversation and that feeling that Danny and his staff are invested in my success, in the success of Sean (Carlton), in the success of the staff. We spend so much time investing in the success of our student-athletes, so sometimes we forget that we want to be the best at it too. Danny made a statement to me when I first met him that practically sold him. We spent hours together, but he could have led with that statement alone. and avoid all this conversation. He said, ‘We have your back.’ It was huge, it was huge for me.
White had also promised to bring in an elite cross-country and distance coach to join Ross and did so by appointing Sean Carlson. He comes to Tennessee after spending the last 10 years at Notre Dame, building his distance group into one of the best in the country. While in South Bend, Indiana, he guided athletes to four American college records, 13 school records, 29 NCAA All-America performances, two NCAA records, and three NCAA championships.
Tennessee has a rich tradition of track and field and cross country championships. The programs have won eight combined National Tag Team Championships – five by the Vols and three by the Lady Vols. Four of those NCAA team titles have come since 2000. The Tennessee track has also produced 45 Olympians who have won 18 medals overall, including 10 gold medals.
Quotes from Ross’ press conference
If his son (Randolph Ross Jr.) still has eligibility and where will he spend it if he does…
“Yes, he is a year and a half old. That’s an excellent question. I had it all week. Let me tell you something about my son. I know that we talked a lot about him as a professional. There was a lot of talk about him running professionally last year after running and going to the Olympics. My son came up to me, I sat him down and said, “We need to sit down and have a real conversation about the future.
He cut me, and he never cuts me. That’s how I knew he was serious. He cut me off and said, “Dad, nothing will change in my life if I turn pro.” I’m not about to buy a house or spend money. I want to do what I do, I aspire to break the college record. I want to break the world record, I’m in no rush to do those things that everyone talks about. As a father, it made me feel like I did something good for him to come out and say those things. It will be his decision.
Our last and greatest conversation was when he came to see me recently and said, “I want to win a national tag team championship. We had the ones that eluded us, finishing second this last indoor season, third outdoor (last year), fifth last indoor and then this year having some mishaps at the NCAA championships when we should have been in contention. We have been so close. My thoughts are with him and my daughter (Jonah Ross), who is also on the team. He wants to win a national championship. Ever since I got them on my team, I told them you didn’t want to miss this. I was on Clemson teams when we finished second at the NCAA championships twice. My former students and I still talk about those moments and the short films. I tell our guys all the time, you don’t want to live your life with regrets. When you’re on the trail, be disciplined and leave it all behind. Long story short, I don’t know what he’s going to do, but he’s orange today if that means anything.
If his success at North Carolina A&T, an HBCU, gave other programs at HBCU schools optimism that they could succeed at a high level…
“I hope so. I’ve spoken to some coaches who are in the MEAC (Middle East Athletic Conference) and the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) who thanked my staff and I for what we have done. I told them, ‘No thanks necessary.’ That’s what we’re supposed to do as coaches. We are meant to uplift each other and create more opportunities for everyone. This is something, as I mentioned earlier, in which I take great responsibility. I hope I did.
I hope the next A&T coach comes along and can take this program forward. Sean and I have talked about it and I think that’s why our relationship is going to be so good and this program is going to be unstoppable – we both understand the gift. It is a gift for us to be able to change the lives of young men and women. It’s not about us. We both understand that. When the coaches collectively understand what the true gift is and we can get by with the jealousy of what we do, I think this sport will grow. It is an Olympic sport. It’s supposed to be the most talked about and watched sport in the world. I hope I left a great legacy to HBCUs. That was the hardest part of my decision actually. When you build something for 10 years, you can’t walk away from it that easily. I knew what we had built there. In the early years, it was all about winning championships. I will admit it. During this trip, he became more about the mission. The mission taught these black men and women that they could do anything they aspired to. It literally became the mission. It wasn’t about the trophy. It was about saying, “We can be the best despite what people say. It was always the same thing every year: “You can’t afford it. You can not do this. You can not do this. At the very first meeting at North Carolina A&T with some of our alumni, a man told me that I was too ambitious, that I couldn’t win national championships, and that I couldn’t do all the things that we speak. Our opponents have not yet learned that all this gives me more power. It gives me more focus. Sean and I are about to do something this country has never seen.