Family Motivates Walker To Leave Ole Miss Track Program

(Photo By Matthew Sharpe)

Feb. 28, 2012

OXFORD, Miss. – For Joe Walker, family comes first.

After three decades of developing national champions for the Ole Miss Track and Field program, Walker will step away following the 2012 season with plans to join his oldest son, Joe III, on the Louisville track staff.

“I will always be an Ole Miss Rebel,” said Walker, who is in his 30th season over two stints as the Rebel head coach. “I have thoroughly loved and appreciated being a part of Ole Miss and Oxford. However, the opportunity to coach alongside my son and be with my grandchildren is too precious an opportunity to pass up. I have given my heart and soul to Ole Miss, and Ole Miss will always be in me.”

“It is hard to imagine Ole Miss without Joe Walker,” said Athletics Director Pete Boone. “Joe has been a model of consistency, and a mentor for many of our coaches. We appreciate his endless contributions to Ole Miss, and we look forward to building on the foundation of success he has established.”

One of the most respected coaches in the country, Walker has produced countless SEC champions, NCAA champions and Olympians during his more than four decades of coaching.

As the Rebels’ head coach, he has guided his teams to 11 top-20 national finishes, including six times in the last five seasons, and is a six-time SEC Coach of the Year honoree. His pupils have earned All-America recognition 115 times, including 12 NCAA individual championships.

The Mississippi native has mentored NCAA champions during each of his head coaching stops at Ole Miss, Florida and Mississippi College. At least one of his athletes or former athletes participated in every Olympic Games from 1976-2000 and then again in 2008. His love for teaching and mentoring young people to excel on the track and in all areas of life was rewarded in 2002 when he was named the USOC National Track and Field Coach of the Year.

Walker has coached athletes to 71 SEC individual championships (58 at Ole Miss, 13 at Florida) and eight SEC relay championships. Twice his relay teams have broken the SEC record. He coached the high scorer at the SEC Championships six times in his career at Ole Miss, including 2012 SEC Indoor Championships high scorer Ricky Robertson.

A long jump specialist, Walker coached the famous Larry Myricks, who made four Olympic teams; Ralph Spry, the first-ever Ole Miss track and field NCAA champion; Tisha Parker, who at the time held the SEC outdoor record and was the first Ole Miss female to win an SEC title; Savante' Stringfellow, who won three NCAA titles and had a great international career while making the 2000 Olympic team; Shantel Glass and Charles Bailey, who won SEC titles; and Marquita Aldridge, who was also on the USA world junior team.

Most recently, Walker coached quite possibly the greatest Rebel female athlete, as he helped Brittney Reese become the most decorated women’s track athlete in school history. As a sophomore in 2007, Reese won both indoor and outdoor SEC titles in the long jump, was the NCAA runner-up in the long jump and finished eighth at the USA World Championships. In her final season at Ole Miss in 2008 before turning pro, Reese captured the SEC titles in the long jump and high jump en route to winning the SEC Commissioner's Trophy for accumulating the most points during the course of the meet. Her 31 points scored were the most by any athlete in school history. Reese went on to become the first female in school history to win an individual NCAA Championship as she accomplished the feat in the long jump at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She also finished third in the high jump and was named an NCAA All-American in both events.

Reese continued her dominance under Walker at the SEC Outdoor Championships as she was crowned the SEC Champion in the long jump. With that distinction, Reese became just the third athlete in school history to win back-to-back SEC Championships. Once again, she also captured the SEC Commissioner's Trophy and finished the weekend with 27.25 points. Reese went on to win her second NCAA title of the season as she was named the NCAA Champion and an All-American in the long jump when she recorded a mark of 22-09.00 to equal the longest jump in the world at that time. Reese capped her sensational season by finishing first in the long jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials with a school record leap of 22-09.75, becoming the fourth track and field athlete in school history to compete for the United States in any Olympic Games. Reese finished fifth in the long jump at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and was the top American finisher in the event. In 2009 she established herself as the top female long jumper in the World with victories at the World Championships and World Athletic Final and finished the season with the longest jump in the world with a 23-03.50 leap. She again won the long jump at the 2010 and 2011 World Championships, establishing herself as the world's best in the event.

Walker has also seen success in the hurdles. Early in his career, Walker coached Tony Dees, who won the 1992 Olympic silver medal. Antwon Hicks won two NCAA indoor 60 hurdle titles and one NCAA 110 meter runner-up finish, was a World Junior Champion and a semi-finalist in the 2004 Olympic Trials. John Yarbrough won the SEC indoor 60 meter hurdle title in 2007 and was the MidEast NCAA 110 meter hurdle champion en route to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. More recently, Lee Ellis Moore was a two-time All-American and the 2011 SEC Champion in the 400 meter hurdles.

Over the years, Walker's teams have traditionally been outstanding in the classroom as well as on the track. Calvin Thigpen was a Rhodes Scholar and a GTE Academic-All American. Kirui was named to the Academic All-American team in 2007 and 2011, and Moore earned Academic All-American accolades in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Sofie Persson joined that group in 2011.

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