OXFORD, Miss. – After helping build Florida into a national championship program, former Ole Miss student-athlete and assistant coach Brian O’Neal is returning home to Mississippi to take the helm of the Rebel track and field/cross country program as head coach, it was announced Tuesday by Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork.
A native of nearby Pontotoc, O’Neal was the 2009 national assistant coach of the year and has helped the Gators to four national championships and three runner-up finishes over the past four years.
“It is always special to see one of our student-athletes and a native of our state compete and win championships at a high level, but it is even more meaningful when you have the opportunity to bring that individual home to make that same impact at our university,” Bjork said. “Brian is extremely respected in the track and field world for what he has accomplished, and with his understanding of our program, he will be a great mentor to our student-athletes.
“Brian fits our way of thinking and our mission of hiring the best and brightest in all of our sports so that we may compete for and win championships.”
O’Neal is the third head coach in the modern history of the Ole Miss track and field program. He takes the reins from Joe Walker, who just completed his distinguished 30-year career with the Rebels.
“I’m excited to be back at Ole Miss,” O’Neal said. “Seeing the vision that Ross and John (Hartwell) have laid out for the athletics department and for our men’s and women’s track program definitely lets me know that we are on the right track. I plan to come in here and compete at a high level and raise our standards of expectations. I am definitely chomping at the bit to get ready to go here. I have a great fondness for Ole Miss, but it’s not just a homecoming. I’m coming here to compete and to win.
“I wouldn’t be in the position that I am today without both Coach Walker and (Florida) Coach (Mike) Holloway. They are my role models, mentors and great friends. They’re people that I expect will continue to provide leadership for me.”
In his 18-year coaching career at Ole Miss and Florida, O’Neal has mentored numerous NCAA champions, SEC champions and Olympic athletes.
While coaching the women’s jumpers and assisting Holloway with the sprints, hurdles and relays, O’Neal helped the Gator men’s team capture four NCAA team championships and three runner-up finishes over the last four years. The women’s team also collected three top-10 NCAA finishes during O’Neal’s time in Gainesville.
Just this past weekend, the Florida men were crowned national champions at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
Between the indoor and outdoor SEC Championships, he also helped lead the Gator men to two league titles and the women to three league crowns. Neither team finished lower than fifth at any SEC meet during O’Neal’s four-year tenure. He mentored UF athletes to 45 All-America honors, 14 All-American relays and 25 SEC titles.
Among the stars that developed under O’Neal’s tutelage at Florida were 2012 NCAA indoor and outdoor triple jump champion Omar Craddock, four-time NCAA men’s triple jump champion Christian Taylor and seven-time SEC champion and four-time All-American Shara Proctor in the women’s triple and long jumps. This year, he coached Craddock to his phenomenal accomplishments and freshman Ciarra Brewer to the SEC women’s triple jump title, in large part because of a change in technique that helped her become the No. 2-ranked triple jumper in UF history.
In his first year at Florida, O’Neal was named the 2009 USTFCCCA Men’s Indoor National Assistant Coach of the Year after guiding the Gators to NCAA runner-up finishes at the national indoor and outdoor meet.
The final season of his 15-year assistant coaching tenure at Ole Miss saw O’Neal distinguished with 2008 USTFCCCA South Region Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year honors. That year he mentored Kenyata Coleman to a fifth-place finish in the 400-meter dash at the NCAA Championships and All-America honors, as well as the 400-meter SEC title. LaJada Baldwin was also an All-America selection in the 400, holding a personal-best time of 52.51. Both advanced to the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Also in 2008, O’Neal coached four women in the 400-meter hurdle finals at the SEC Outdoor Championships, and Brittney Reese was fifth at the SEC Indoor Championships in the 60-meter dash. Reese was the 2008 NCAA indoor and outdoor champion in the long jump and represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after winning the U.S. Olympic trials.
O’Neal was promoted to Ole Miss associate coach for his final three seasons in Oxford and was responsible for coaching the sprints, relays and hurdles for the Rebels, as well as serving as the team’s recruiting coordinator.
In all, O’Neal coached 12 athletes to top-four finishes at the NCAA Championships during his first stop at Ole Miss. He also mentored 18 athletes to earn 39 All-America honors and seven SEC champions in that 14-year span.
Antwon Hicks, under O’Neal’s guidance, was a two-time NCAA indoor champion in the 60-meter hurdles, claiming the national title in 2004 and 2005. John Yarbrough was the NCAA outdoor runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles in 2007, while Hicks was the runner-up in that event in 2005.
O’Neal’s sprinters shattered school records in 11 events in 2001. The UM sprinters also excelled on a national and international level. Ole Miss was represented by three athletes who competed for USA teams over the summer. Teneeshia Jones competed in the World University Games, Kendrick Triggs competed in the Junior Pan American Games and Savante’ Stringfellow competed at both the World Championships and the Goodwill Games.
Stringfellow was the USA indoor and outdoor champion in 2000 and also claimed the NCAA Outdoor Championship in 2000, representing the U.S. in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Under O’Neal’s guidance, Jones won the 2001 SEC title in the 100-meter hurdles and finished her career with eight All-America honors and seven school records. James Shelton was the 2001 NCAA runner-up in the indoor 60 meters, garnering his first All-America honor. Triggs set the Ole Miss record in the indoor 200 and went on to post an outdoor personal-best with his runner-up finish in the USATF Junior Nationals 200.
O’Neal directed the men’s 4x400 relay team to the Championship of America title at the Penn Relays in 1999, the last year the Rebels would compete at the historic event.
In his second season at Ole Miss, O’Neal coached the No. 1 and No. 3-ranked 400-meter men in the NCAA with Brad Pride winning the SEC Championship with a mark of 45.29 and Ed Odom posting a time of 45.35.
In his first season with the Rebels, O’Neal coached Greg Saddler to an NCAA Indoor Championship in the 55 meters and coached the men’s 4x400-meter relay team to an SEC runner-up finish and a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. His 4x400 relay team that year set a then-SEC record of 3:02.30.
O’Neal was a four-year letterman as a middle-distance runner for the Rebels. He was a member of three relay teams that finished in the top three at the SEC Championships, including the 1990 SEC runner-up 4x800-meter relay team.
A 1993 graduate of Ole Miss with a bachelor’s degree in public administration, O’Neal is married to Ole Miss graduate and former Rebelette LaChonda Carter. The couple has three children, a son Cameron LaBrian and daughters Cayden Shree and Camille Brianna.
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