CA Coaching Legends: Dennis McClanahan

As we transition from the just-completed cross country season, we will start to add track and field coaches (and many that coach both seasons) to our California coaching legend series. We have a lot of choices that cover the entire spectrum of events but as always, if you have coaches that you would like to nominate, please let us know on twitter @milesplitCA or you can email us at,, and

Simply put, Dennis McClanahan IS Mt. Carmel cross country and track. He has been at the helm of the Sundevil program since the school opened in 1974, although in 2006 he took a small break from coaching in the fall before resuming his year-round duties. During his tenure Mt. Carmel has been one of the San Diego Section's perennial powers, bringing home 21 section titles in cross country and another 5 on the track. His squads have collected numerous team and individual top-5 finishes at the cross country state meet, as well.

In his 44 years at the school, Coach McClanahan has built a reputation for preparing athletes mentally and physically to compete, and his program has served as a model for many other coaches in the SoCal area. Former El Capitan and Mt. Miguel coach Anthony Garcia, now an assistant at UCSD, was one opponent who observed, admired, and emulated his coaching. Garcia says, "As a rival coach I never found Dennis to be the intense over the top in your face rival, but rather a calm, collected coach, who let the athletes line it up and race for it without all of the often associated theatrics." By just about any metric - local success, number of collegiate athletes coming from the program, number of successful students and citizens graduated - McClanahan has been highly influential on an individual level with both athletes and fellow coaches. He has been recognized for his accomplishments many times, including a 2015 Coach of the Year award from the California Coaches Association.

However, there is another very important area where Dennis McClanahan has greatly impacted our sport, and it's one that only a handful of track and cross country coaches take on during their career: major meet hosting. Mt. Carmel will be holding its 29th track & field invitational this spring, and last fall marked their 37th cross country invitational. In addition, the school has been the host of the SDS track & field trials and finals for years, and his skill and experience as a director has helped these events run smoothly so that they can be the best possible experience for the athletes and coaches involved. Where would our sport be without competitive, well-organized meets in which to compete?

Garcia sums up the huge positive effect Coach McClanahan has had on San Diego track and cross country:

Dennis for decades has created opportunities for San Diego athletes to compete against some of the best, right here in San Diego at one of the premier venues (Morley Field, Mt Carmel with a dirt track and Mt Carmel on the all weather surface). Both his cross country and track and field events are the largest in size (frosh-soph in track rivals it at times) in San Diego and provide an unrivaled level of competition in San Diego and often one of the best in the state as well. As a meet director and at one time meet director of the second largest track and cross country events in San Diego I always tried to model my events after his. In addition to his home meets ... his time as meet director for the Foot Locker Championship and his continued integral role in that event have spread his influence across the entire nation. As an all around part of San Diego athletics, few if any have or will ever rival all that Dennis has brought to our sport. 

That's not the full extent of Coach McClanahan's impact on California track and cross country, either. Coach Ken Reeves, himself the subject of one of our Coaching Legends articles, describes the vital role Dennis has played in developing other coaches around the state. Reeves says, "For as long as I can remember, Dennis has been a key member in the track and field community in California.  He started the first state wide cross-country and track and field coaching association and has been instrumental in coaching education.  He directs some of the finest meets in the state and his professionalism and knowledge has helped mentor many of us."