Chris Bucknam enters his 10th season as the head coach of the nationally dominant Arkansas men’s cross country and track and field program. A veteran in the coaching ranks, Bucknam took the Razorback head coaching position on June 27, 2008, after a 25-year stint at Northern Iowa.
Since assuming the head coaching position at Arkansas, Bucknam has enjoyed tremendous success in the form of 19 Southeastern Conference championships, seven NCAA regional titles, and 279 All-Americans, guiding the Razorbacks to 65 individual SEC event titles.
Nationally, Bucknam’s guidance has led the Razorbacks to 20 top 10 finishes since his arrival in Fayetteville. His cross country squads have placed in the top 10, four times in his tenure while track and field has 16 top 10s including four national runner-up finishes and a national title.
The 2015-16 season brought the program’s 15th SEC Triple Crown as Bucknam masterfully guided the Razorbacks to decisive conference victories during the cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons. Arkansas’ dominance didn’t end at the league level, exceeding expectations at the national ranks as well with three top-six NCAA finishes – two of which were national runner-up performances.
Known for his development of elite distance runners Bucknam kicked off 2015 with a phenomenal cross country campaign which saw an unprecedented five different student-athletes take the lead for Arkansas during the season. Steamrolling through SECs and Regionals Bucknam’s crew surprised the polls placing just two spots shy of the podium – the program’s best NCAA finish since 2006 – off the heels of first-year All-Americans Jack Bruce and Frankline Tonui.
The Razorbacks success carried though to track season with Bucknam relying on a combined effort from all event groups to lead Arkansas to postseason titles. Arkansas’ tremendous versatility and depth were on full display as several newcomers forged their paths at the most different league championships in the country. His squad rose to the occasion as over 90 percent of the Razorbacks’ conference roster contributed at the SEC Championships and further delivering two NCAA national runner-up performances making the Razorback men the most complete team in the SEC.
One of the most phenomenal performances in the history of NCAA track and field came in 2016 from one of Bucknam’s Razorback leaders Jarrion Lawson. In an incredulous feat of athleticism Lawson captured three NCAA individual titles for the Razorbacks, completing the Jesse Owens triple with victories in the 100, 200 and long jump at the outdoor championship.
Last season’s success was a continuation of Arkansas long-standing tradition of excellence including the 2013 indoor track squad who captured Bucknam’s first and Arkansas’ 41st NCAA title.
Entering the competition as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, the Razorbacks did not disappoint the hometown crowd at the Randal Tyson Track Center as Arkansas scored 74 points and racked up 25 All-America honors at the meet. Two individuals captured NCAA titles and a collegiate record in the 4×400 relay added a third to the Razorbacks’ dominating performance.
Along with the indoor title, Arkansas placed 10th at the NCAA Cross Country Championship and third at the outdoor meet allowing the program to claim its first John McDonnell Program of the Year award, named after the legendary Arkansas coach whom Bucknam took over for following his retirement.
The national recognition as the best program in the nation was no fluke as Bucknam and his staff have been building to that for several years. In 2011-12, Arkansas won the program’s 13th SEC Triple Crown and the first with Bucknam at the helm. The Razorbacks duplicated the effort in 2012-13 giving them 11 league championships over the past five years. No other SEC school has more than two in that same time frame. For his part Bucknam has been named the SEC Coach of the Year 15 times and national coach of the year one time.
As the head coach, Bucknam’s charge is to look at the big picture and lead his team to championships, but that doesn’t deter him from his work with the Razorback distance crew. He has led the program to 142 marks that have etched themselves on Arkansas’ prestigious all-time top 10 lists including 12 school records since his arrival in 2008.
During his first season distance medley relay squad of Alex McClary, Ben Skidmore, Chris Bilbrew and Dorian Ulrey eclipsed an 11-year-old record, which had not even been close to being broken since it was set in 1998, at the UW Invitational when it ran 9:28.35. The outdoor school record was set by Shawn Forrest, when he shattered the 10,000-meter mark with a time of 27:52.10 at the Payton Jordan Invitational.
Ulrey’s three-year Arkansas career was one of the more celebrated in Razorback history as the Port Byron, Ill. native earned eight All-America honors, one NCAA Championship, seven SEC titles, two SEC Athlete of the Year awards and the league’s sportsmanship award. The lessons that Ulrey picked up in Fayetteville have served him well since he completed his eligibility as he continues to perform well professionally.
Along with the success of his student-athletes in the competition arena, Razorbacks have been equally as good in the classroom. Arkansas has placed six student-athletes on the Capital One Academic All-America squads over the past eight years, including three this past season and had more than 75 named to the SEC Academic Honor Rolls. The Razorbacks were named the USTFCCCA Indoor and Outdoor Scholar Team of the Year in 2015 in recognition of the program’s excellent cumulative gpa and athletic performance.
Prior to taking over the Arkansas program, Bucknam was a well-respected head coach at Northern Iowa where he led his teams to 35 conference championships, two top-10 and six top-20 finishes at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships. He was named conference coach of the year 33 times while in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and coached three individual national champions and 34 All-Americans who earned a total of 85 honors.
His time with the Panthers saw him lead the men’s program for 25 seasons and a combined track and field operation for the final 11 years. Bucknam’s career at Northern Iowa began as an assistant in 1979 before he assumed the head coaching job prior to the 1984 campaign. Along with his various conference coach of the year awards, Bucknam was also honored regionally for his acumen with nine USTFCCCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year honors.
Under Bucknam’s tutelage, Northern Iowa product Joey Woody was a three-time All-American and the 1997 national champion in the 400-meter hurdles. Woody placed second in the 400-meter hurdles at 2003 World Championships and was a member of the 1999 World Champion 4×400-meter relay team.
A native of Beverly, Mass., Bucknam attended Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, where he was a cross country and track letterman. He was elected cross country co-captain his senior year and is a member of the Norwich Athletic Hall of Fame. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1978. He earned his master’s degree in physical education from Northern Iowa in 1982.
He and his wife, Cindy, are the parents of a son, Eric, and a daughter, Kate.