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UA Hall of Fame coach Lance Harter will retire in 2023

by Bob Holt | November 2, 2021 at 10:04 a.m.
Arkansas coach Lance Harter watches Saturday, April 27, 2019, during the National Relay Championships at John McDonnell Field on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Lance Harter, who has led the University of Arkansas women’s cross country and track and field teams to six national championships and 42 SEC titles, will retire after the 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the UA announced Tuesday.

Arkansas assistant coach Chris Johnson, who is in his 11th season with the Razorbacks, will replace Harter as head coach, UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek announced.

Johnson, 44, who coaches sprinters and hurdlers, officially will take over as head coach on July 1, 2023. Johnson was a graduate assistant at Arkansas from 2003-04, and returned to the Razorbacks after coaching eight years at Penn State.

Harter, 71, has been Arkansas’ coach since 1990. He was inducted into the U.S. Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame last year.

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“I’m super excited about the opportunity to have Chris Johnson take the reins as the head coach when I step down from that role,” Harter said in a news release. “He will keep the philosophy and the winning formula that we have established in years past.

“Chris has been on the short list of every job in the U.S., and I think Hunter was astute enough to know that we have a great one here, let’s not let him get away.

"I think this whole transition will be relatively smooth. He’s done an absolutely fantastic job wherever he’s coached.”

When Harter was named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Sportsman of the Year in December 2019, he speculated on how much longer he wanted to continue coaching.

"I love what I do. I look forward to going to work every day," Harter said. "Is there going to be a time when I probably need to be honest and address that? Yes.

“Is there a capacity where I maybe turn over the head job to somebody and then I become either just the distance coach or possibly a volunteer coach? I love coaching, and I think it keeps you young."

Harter said in a news release he’s proud of his accomplishments at Arkansas, which include a national triple crown in 2019 — when the Razorbacks swept the titles in cross country and indoor and outdoor track — and seven SEC triple crowns.

Arkansas won its ninth consecutive SEC cross country championship last Friday.

“The record is something I’m very proud of,” Harter said. “I share it with every athlete that contributed, and especially to every staff member that we’ve had. Our legacy has very few parallels in the NCAA.”

Bev Lewis was Arkansas’ women’s athletic director when she hired Harter from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo to be her replacement as the Razorbacks’ coach. Harter won 14 Division II NCAA titles at Cal Poly.

“When I was hired, Bev Lewis said she wanted to find somebody who would take the program up a notch,” Harter said in the news release. "I felt like we achieved that, and I feel that the selection that we’ve made to be the next head coach in the years to come will do the same.”

Yurachek praised Harter for continuing to focus on maintaining the success of the women’s cross country and track programs.

“Even as he plans for the culmination of his Hall of Fame career in June 2023, Coach Harter is working to ensure that the national championship program he has built, will be positioned for future SEC and national championships under the leadership of Coach Chris Johnson,” Yurachek said in the news release. “I am grateful to Coach Harter for his many contributions to our program and am confident that Coach Johnson will continue to build upon that phenomenal success in the future.

“We look forward to cheering on Coach Harter and his teams in his final two seasons as he works collectively with his coaching staff and his remarkable student-athletes to place an exclamation point on his extraordinary legacy.”

Johnson has earned three National Assistant Coach of the Year honors, including during the 2021 indoor season when the Razorbacks won Harter's sixth national championship.

“It’s exciting for me and one of those things you dream about when you take a job like this, the possibility of being able to take over a historic program like the Razorbacks,” Johnson said in the news release. “Coach Harter has done a fantastic job and has set the bar very high.

“To have the ability for him, Hunter Yurachek, and the staff to trust me with the head coaching job is exciting and gives me a lot of confidence that they believe in me as much as I believe in my skills and what I can do. I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Johnson said Arkansas’ staff, which also includes field events coach Bryan Compton, has grown into better coaches, recruiters and developers of athletes.

“Being able to stay at the University of Arkansas means a lot,” Johnson said. “To be entrusted with the program and continue to move the program forward, I couldn’t dream of anything better.”

Yurachek said he knew Johnson was the best candidate to replace Harter.

“Naming Coach Johnson to that post now will position us for a more efficient transition in leadership in 2023,” Yurachek said.

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