FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Legendary Arkansas head women’s cross country and track and field coach Lance Harter has announced he will retire following the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June 2023. Harter, a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, has won six NCAA Championships and 42 conference championships, including last week’s Southeastern Conference title at the 2021 SEC Cross Country Championship in Columbia, Missouri.
Longtime assistant and current Arkansas Associate Head Coach Chris Johnson will take over as head coach of the women’s cross country and track and field program on July 1, 2023, following Coach Harter’s retirement.
“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. “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.”
Currently in his 32nd season with the Razorbacks, Harter and his staff over those years have developed the women’s program into championship caliber teams which have accumulated six NCAA championships and 42 conference titles, including a national Triple Crown in 2019 and seven SEC Triple Crowns.
“The record is something I’m very proud of,” Harter stated. “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. When I was hired, Bev Lewis said she wanted to find somebody who would take the program up a notch. 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.”
“As he has done throughout his storied tenure at the University of Arkansas, Coach Lance Harter continues to focus on positioning his student-athletes and the Razorback women’s cross country and track and field program for success,” Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek said.
“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. 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 is in his 11th season with the Arkansas program and has earned three National Assistant Coach of the Year honors along with a dozen regional coaching honors.
“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,” said Johnson. “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.
The longevity of the Razorback women’s coaching staff pays dividends in the development of the staff as well as the progression and achievements of the student-athletes in the program, which eventually led to a Triple Crown with a set of three NCAA titles in 2019.
“The program has grown, and we’ve grown in a lot of ways,” noted Johnson. “We’ve grown in being better coaches, better recruiters, and developers of athletes. To be able to get a national Triple Crown is just phenomenal. When you’re able to do that, you’re basically firing on all cylinders in every facet of a true program.
“Being able to stay at the University of Arkansas means a lot. Obviously, it’s the best, if not one of the best, programs in the country as it pertains to track and field. So, to be able to be a head coach at the University of Arkansas is the pinnacle. To be entrusted with the program and continue to move the program forward, I couldn’t dream of anything better.”
“Chris Johnson has been an integral part of the success of our women’s cross country and track and field program for more than a decade,” Yurachek said. “Chris has been recognized on numerous occasions by his peers as one the nation’s top assistant coaches. His ability to coach and develop student-athletes has been instrumental to our tremendous run of championships. As we compete in the present and continue to build toward the future, I knew that we had the best candidate to carry on our championship legacy already on campus. Naming Coach Johnson to that post now, will position us for a more efficient transition in leadership in 2023.”
In his 32nd year with the Razorback program, Harter has claimed multiple championships in each season of the sport. His current tally includes six NCAA Championships and 42 SEC Championships.
The NCAA titles have occurred in each discipline, with three at NCAA Indoor, two at NCAA Outdoor and one NCAA Cross Country. Among SEC titles, there have been 22 in cross country, 11 indoor and nine outdoor. This past weekend Arkansas claimed a ninth consecutive league title in cross country, and the Razorbacks have also won the past seven SEC Indoor titles.
In 2019, Arkansas completed a sweep of all three NCAA Championships in a calendar year, becoming only the second women’s program to accomplish the feat and the first since 1986. During the 2020-21 season, the Razorbacks achieved a seventh SEC Triple Crown under Harter.
Harter was inducted into the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame on December 15, 2014, at the organization’s convention in Phoenix. He is also a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor, Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame and Cal Poly Hall of Fame. In November of 2020, Harter was selected to the 2021 induction class of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
In his 11th season with Arkansas, Johnson has been named NCAA Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year three times with one outdoor (2018) and two indoor accolades (2019, 2021). In addition, Johnson has accumulated a dozen Region Assistant Coach of the Year honors, six while at Penn State – four Mid-Atlantic Indoor (2008 to 2011), two Mid-Atlantic Outdoor (2008, 2010) – and six with the Razorbacks – three South Central Indoor (2016, 2018, 2021) and three South Central Outdoor (2013, 2017, 2019).
When Arkansas achieved its NCAA Triple Crown in 2019, Johnson’s athletes totaled 25 first-team All-America honors during the indoor and outdoor seasons. Highlighting those performances was NCAA Champion Janeek Brown, who posted the second-fastest time in collegiate history with a 12.40 in the 100m hurdles, which missed the collegiate record by one tenth of a second. Brown also achieved a world best single-day performance in the 100m hurdles and 200m with a combined time of 34.80 seconds, which bettered the previous mark set by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in her 1988 Olympic season.
In earning the 2021 NCAA Women’s Indoor Assistant Coach of the Year honor, the event groups coached by Johnson scored in seven events at the NCAA Indoor Championships and totaled 30 points. Three Arkansas school records were established during the national meet in the 60m, 800m, and 4×400 relay.