Karen Dennis left her mark on the track & field world, retiring from coaching this past summer after 20 seasons at Ohio State and 45 years of collegiate coaching. With 13 Big Ten team championships (12 at Ohio State within the past 12 seasons), 12 Big Ten Coach of the Year accolades, coaching eight Olympians and eight national champions and six USTFCCCA Regional Coach of the Year nods, it’s safe to say that Dennis is a legend within the sport. Dennis became the first coach in conference history to be named coach of the year on both the men’s and women’s side at the same outdoor championships, doing so just weeks before her retirement.
Dennis served as the director of both the men’s and women’s programs at Ohio State for eight seasons. She arrived in Columbus in 2002 as an assistant coach for the women’s team and in 2006 she was named women’s head coach. In 2014 she was promoted to director of the men’s and women’s track & field and cross country programs. Dennis’ coaching and leadership positioned Ohio State as one of the top programs in the Big Ten Conference and nationally. Her Buckeyes captured 12 Big Ten Conference championships, including women’s indoor (2011, 2015, 2019, 2020) and outdoor (2011, 2012, 2019, 2021, 2022) crowns as well as men’s indoor and outdoor championships in 2018, their first in 25 years, and an outdoor crown in 2022.
Her 12 Big Ten championships are No. 1 all-time for an Ohio State female coach and rank in a tie for third with the great Mike Peppe (men’s swimming) among all Ohio State coaches. Only Jim Brown (17 men’s golf titles) and Ty Tucker (16 men’s tennis crowns) have led Ohio State teams to more Big Ten championships than Dennis. Therese Hession, recently retired women’s golf coach, rounds out the Top 5 with 11 Big Ten team titles.
This final season under Dennis’ direction has cemented her legacy. This is the first time Ohio State has won both a men’s and women’s outdoor Big Ten team championship in the same season, and this is the first time in 25 years for a Big Ten team to accomplish the feat. Her women’s team set a new championship record for points scored at the Big Ten outdoor championships with 185.5, and went on to finish 12th at the NCAA Championships. Her last Big Ten titles came just months after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where five current or former Dennis athletes competed, including shot putter Adelaide Aquilla, who defended her outdoor NCAA shot put title this summer.
140 Individual/Relay Big Ten Champions
Dennis’ student-athletes have – remarkably – won 118 Big Ten Conference individual titles plus an additional 22 relay crowns for a total of 140 Big Ten champions as head coach at Ohio State and Michigan State.
Dennis’ coaching leadership on the national and international track and field circuit is highlighted by an appointment as the head coach of the U.S. women’s track and field team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Prior to her Olympic coaching duties with Team USA, Dennis was an assistant coach of U.S. national teams at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenberg, Sweden; the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba; and the 1989 World University Championships in Duisburg, Germany.
Dennis is a member of the USA Track & Field International Competition Committee and a past president of the Athletic Congress Women’s Track Coaches Association. She has also served as a member of the NCAA Women’s Track and Field Committee and the NCAA Track Coaches Association.
Dennis has been enshrined in three Halls of Fame: she was named to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018, to the Michigan State Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 and to the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020.
Dennis is a 1977 graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in public affairs management, and she received her master’s degree in sports administration in 1979. She helped the Spartans’ track and field team to a fourth-place finish at the AIAW national championships in 1975.
The 45-year coaching career for Dennis includes 37 years as a head coach: 16 years at Ohio State, 10 years at UNLV and 11 seasons at Michigan State. She guided 39 indoor/outdoor teams to the NCAA championships.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Dennis is the proud mother of Dr. Ebony Dennis, a practicing clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst with a private practice in Washington, D.C.
Karen Dennis’ Coaching Career
2014-15 to 2022 – Director of Men’s and Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country, Ohio State
2006-07 to 2014 – Women’s Track & Field/Cross Country Head Coach, Ohio State
2003-04 to 2006 – Assistant Coach, Ohio State
1992-93 to 2002 – Head Women’s Coach, UNLV
1981-82 to 1992 – Head Women’s Coach, Michigan State
1977-78 to 1981 – Assistant Coach, Michigan State
Dennis’ National Coaching Appointments
2000 – Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, 2000 Sydney Olympic Games
1995 – Assistant Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, 1995 World Championships in Gothenberg, Sweden
1991 – Assistant Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba
1989 – Assistant Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, World University Championships in Duisburg, Germany