It was a good week for diversity and inclusivity at Tennessee. Duane Ross, the head coach and director of women’s and men’s track & field, officially arrived on campus, and a UT athletics program is now helmed by a black man. The women’s soccer team hired Becky Edwards as an assistant, the first time a female has held a coaching position on the pitch at Tennessee since 2011.
Ross and Sean Carlson, who will serve as head coach and director of cross country and distance, were officially introduced to the media Monday. Ross comes to Knoxville from North Carolina A&T, where he led the Aggies to national prominence in both the women’s and men’s programs.
The 1995 national champion in the 110-meter hurdles at Clemson and a U.S. Olympian in 2004 takes a humble approach as a coach. He opened his presser by saying he has an opportunity he doesn’t deserve – and then he explained why.
“Let me be clear, even at North Carolina A&T, that program that we built for the last 10 years and was super successful, I didn’t deserve that either,” Ross said. “And this is why I say that: I know a lot of our success 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 coach track and field for a living. And I know you guys have seen the releases, I got paid a pretty good amount.
“So, to be able to do this every day, this is my passion, it’s not a job. There are so many people in other situations that would love to be doing this. So that’s why I say I don’t deserve it, but I’m going to work hard every day to earn it.”
For the record, Ross agreed to a five-year contract for $450,000 annually. His candor is quite refreshing.
He will be the fourth Black head coach in Tennessee athletics history and the first since 2014, the final seasons of basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and track & field director J.J. Clark. The first Black coach at Tennessee was Wade Houston, who led the Vols basketball team from 1989 to 1994.
Ross was hired by UT Athletics Director Danny White in May, but the coach was busy last week with North Carolina A&T at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon.
“I’m ready to get to work,” Ross said. “I know NCAAs just ended on Saturday night, and Saturday night I was trying on my new orange polo and was getting my workouts together for this coming summer. I’m excited to get started.”
Ross also would have been able to meet some of the athletes he would soon be coaching since several Lady Vols and Gentlemen Vols also were competing in Oregon in individual events. He was asked if he peeked at Tennessee’s results while he was there.
“Peek? I was all in the results and counting up the scores for next season,” Ross said. “I’m a proactive coach. I don’t sit and wait for things to happen. I was already planning for my speech when I got here, when I met with the student-athletes.”
Ross also had to walk over to nearby Tom Black Track, which is where he won his national title because Tennessee hosted the championship event in 1995. At that time, Ross would not have envisioned returning 27 years later to lead the UT program.
“The first thing I did was walk over to Lane 4, that’s the lane I ran in when I did win the title here, and I just walked it straight,” Ross said. “It felt good. So, no, I did not (think I would be back coaching here), but when this opportunity arose, I had the conversation with Danny and I’ve got to tell you, my mind was made up within the first 10 minutes. Our athletic director is very persuasive, I’m sure you guys know that. He is just innovative. As I mentioned, the support and the encouragement to say, ‘Hey, we want you to be able to do this.’ That goes a long way with an ambitious coach like Sean and myself.”
Carlson, who was hired June 11, spent the last two years at Notre Dame as the men’s cross country head coach. He was a team captain and All-American at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and led the cross country team to a Division III national title in 2009.
“The commitment from the athletic department here to drive cross country is going to be unrivaled in the NCAA, and I can’t tell you all how excited I am to get to work with the administration, with the student-athletes and with Coach Ross,” Carlson said.
“We’re going to recruit the entire state of Tennessee very heavily. When I was at Notre Dame, we were second at the national meet with seven guys from within 500 miles of campus. You can do it with local talent, and we will start there.”
Some of the track & field talent is very close. Ross’ son, Randolph Ross Jr., won the 400-meter outdoor national championship at North Carolina A&T and competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He has another year of college eligibility and could follow his father to Tennessee, stay put or turn pro.
“Long story short, I don’t know what he is going to do, but he is in orange today if that says anything,” said Duane Ross, whose daughter, Jonah Ross, also is a sprinter at North Carolina A&T.
In soccer news, new head coach Joe Kirt hired Edwards this week. The last time Tennessee had a female assistant coach in soccer was when then head coach Angela Kelly had former Lady Vol Keeley Dowling on her staff. The other assistant coach at that time was Kirt.
Edwards served as an assistant coach at Penn for two years. As a player, she was a two-time First Team All-American at Florida State and then served on the staff as a graduate assistant. She also played on USA soccer teams and then professionally for nine years in the United States and abroad.
“Becky Edwards is one of the most outstanding student-athletes we had at FSU during my time there,” former Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian. “As a player, she was a coach on the field. Her playing experience, understanding of the game and her positive personality will be a great addition to the Tennessee women’s soccer program.”
Edwards hasn’t made it to Knoxville just yet. She currently is in Aubagne, France, as an assistant coach with the U.S. Under-20 Women’s Youth National Team for the Sud Ladies Cup, the final international match before the 2022 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica in August. Edwards will arrive in Tennessee later this month.
“She knows firsthand what success and development look like at the highest level, and there is no better mentor for our current and future players, many of whom aspire to achieve similar goals in their careers as Becky has accomplished,” Kirt said. “She is fully committed to player development on and off the field. We can’t wait for her to arrive on Rocky Top.”
Kirt also added another female to his staff in Macaulay Soto, who will serve as director of operations. She served in the same position for five years for women’s soccer at Virginia Tech and managed the recruiting database, coordinated equipment and video and oversaw all aspects of team travel.
Soto was an All-American soccer player at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and won an NCAA Division III national championship in 2012.
“We are thrilled to add Macaulay to our staff,” Kirt said. “She brings a wealth of experience, professionalism and a selfless approach to our team. She will be an integral part of our day-to-day operations and bring new ideas to enhance our student-athletes’ overall well-being and experience at Tennessee.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAT: Pat Summitt would have turned 70 years old on June 14. The iconic Lady Vols basketball coach died at the age of 64, two weeks after her birthday in 2016, because of Alzheimer’s disease. The Pat Summitt Foundation spent the day sharing photos and memories of Summitt on social media to raise funds for programs for patients and assistance for caregivers. Back Pat. Always Back Pat.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.