MADISON, Wis. -- Mick Byrne, the head men’s cross country coach and assistant track coach at Wisconsin for the past five years, has been named Director of Cross Country and Track and Field for Wisconsin’s newly-combined men’s and women’s program, UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez announced on Thursday.
Byrne, who has led the men’s cross country squad to five Big Ten championships in as many seasons and guided the Badgers to the 2011 NCAA championship, will oversee a combined men’s and women’s cross country and track and field program.
“This is a special day for me,” Byrne said. “I came to Wisconsin five years ago and fell in love with everything this university and this athletic program had to offer. To have the opportunity to lead not only our men’s distance runners but our entire track and field programs is truly a dream come true for me.”
“We couldn’t be more pleased to have Mick Byrne leading our cross country and track programs,” Alvarez said. “As we move into a new era with our combined program, we have all the confidence that Mick will carry on the tradition of excellence we’ve enjoyed in both cross country and track.”
Wisconsin becomes the seventh Big Ten Conference school to combine its men’s and women’s cross country and track programs. Nationally, eight of the top 10 men’s finishers and nine of the top 10 women’s finishers at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships represented combined programs. Four of those combined programs placed both their men’s and women’s teams in the national top 10.
“While combining programs is a national trend, it’s a decision that was made here because of the benefits that we can realize from running a combined program at UW,” Byrne said. “The team aspect of track and field is something that’s always been embraced here but something I think we can strengthen even further for both the men and women by making this move.”
Within the new program, Jim Stintzi will serve as head women’s cross country and track and field coach, with assistants Nate Davis and Dave Astrauskas coaching both men’s and women’s athletes. The Badgers have also added Gavin Kennedy to serve as assistant distance coach for men and women, and Byrne will make an additional hire to round out UW’s coaching staff.
Longtime men’s track and field head coach Ed Nuttycombe, who officially retires Thursday, will serve as a volunteer assistant for the Badgers. During his time at Wisconsin, he led the Badgers to 26 Big Ten titles and the indoor national championship in 2007.
“I couldn’t think of anyone better equipped to move our track and cross country programs forward than Mick,” Nuttycombe said. “I know the Badgers are in good hands.”
From Nuttycombe, Byrne inherits a men’s program that in 2013 claimed the Big Ten indoor crown, took third at the NCAA indoor championships and finished second in the running for the prestigious John McDonnell Program of the Year award from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. That honor is given to the team with the best average NCAA finish between cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field.
“You never want to have to replace a coach like Ed Nuttycombe, but we’re extremely fortunate to have someone on our staff that is a proven winner and a coach that will carry on the tradition of winning with integrity and character that Coach Nuttycombe made his trademark,” Alvarez said.
“Following in the footsteps of someone that has had more success than anyone in the history of our conference and is truly respected and beloved across the country is going to be a challenge,” Byrne said. “But I’m here because I love a challenge. I’ve learned so much from Ed Nuttycombe in my time here, and we’re going to give it everything we have to continue the tradition of winning that he’s established over the last 30 years.”
Byrne is one of the most respected distance coaches in the country and has been awarded 32 conference coach of the year honors in cross country, including 22 straight awards between his time in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at Iona College and his five seasons in the Big Ten at UW. He was also honored as 2011 National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
During his five seasons leading the men’s cross country team at Wisconsin, Byrne has helped carry on the Badgers’ winning ways. He has placed four UW teams on the podium at the NCAA championships, including three-straight top-three finishes from 2010-12. In 2011, he led Wisconsin to its fifth national championship in cross country. Over the past 10 seasons, including his time at Iona, Byrne’s teams have scored eight podium finishes at the NCAA championship.
In addition, he has carried on UW’s record-setting streaks of 14 consecutive Big Ten titles and 11 straight NCAA Great Lakes Regional crowns. Individually, the Badgers have earned 14 All-America accolades in Byrne’s first five seasons.
The Badgers’ distance crew has also been successful on the track, as 10 Wisconsin athletes have combined for 17 first-team All-America honors during his five years. Only Oregon has produced more All-Americans in the distance events over that span.
Prior to Wisconsin, Byrne spent 24 years in the Division I coaching ranks at Iona College. After taking over Iona's head coaching duties in 1989, he built the Gaels' men's cross country program into not only a conference powerhouse, but also a consistent national contender.
The Gaels' tradition of excellence produced an astonishing 17 consecutive MAAC titles and 12 trips to the NCAA championship, including four podium finishes in Byrne’s final five seasons. The women’s cross country team also enjoyed success during Byrne’s tenure, as the team won three MAAC titles in his final four years at Iona.
A native of Dublin, Ireland, Byrne competed collegiately at Providence College and earned a bachelor’s degree in international marketing. A four-year cross country standout for the Friars, he helped elevate the program to national prominence in distance running. Byrne still holds a school record as a member of Providence's 1977 four-mile relay team.
Byrne and his wife, Mary Jo, have two sons, Aidan and Cian.