Track and Field
Matt Sparks promoted to head coach
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, July 6, 2018
Matt Sparks will take over the head coaching role of both the Irish cross country and track and field teams. Sparks will take the role from Alan Turner, whose contract was not renewed at the end of the season.
Sparks has plenty of experience with the Irish, as he has served as the teams’ associate head coach for the past four years.
“Matt’s leadership of our very successful women’s distance program during the past four years, the compelling endorsements given to us by his students and his passion for Notre Dame’s mission make Matt the perfect choice to lead our program forward into what we believe can be an era of unprecedented success,” Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said in a statement.
As a student-athlete at the University of Indiana, Sparks competed in cross country and ran the 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000-meter events as well as the marathon. He served as the Hoosier team captain in cross country as both a junior and senior in 1995 and 1996, as well as in track and field as a senior in 1997, and was selected as Indiana’s 1996 cross country MVP.
Before coming to Notre Dame, Sparks coached at Southern Illinois University for 12 years. He spent his first two seasons as the women’s cross country coach and women’s distance coach in track until the men’s and women’s programs combined in 2004. After the merger he served as cross country coach and distance coach for both the men and women.
Sparks left Southern Illinois as its winningest cross country coach, with six Missouri Valley Conference crowns — men’s titles in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013 and a women’s title in 2013, which was the first for the Saluki women in 21 seasons. He coached 51 MVC event champions, 127 MVC scholar-athletes and 10 NCAA event finals qualifiers. Sparks was named the MVC cross country coach of the year in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013. He coached eight teams to NCAA championship top-25 finishes, including the 2010 Saluki women’s team that claimed ninth place at the outdoor track and field national championships.
At Notre Dame, Sparks has helped coach his team to both standout individual and team success. In his first season in 2014-2015, Sparks helped coach Molly Seidel to a national championship in the 10,000-meter race at the 2015 NCAA outdoor track and field meet, where the women’s team had its highest finish in program history at the NCAA outdoor championships, placing 13th overall.
Sparks also oversaw an Irish women’s distance squad that finished 11th overall at the 2016 NCAA cross country championship. Sparks led the Irish women to six ACC individual titles in 2016-2017, including four by senior Anna Rohrer, which came in cross country, the indoor 5,000 meters, the outdoor 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. Rohrer highlighted Notre Dame’s season with a third-place finish overall in the cross country national final.
“Growing up in Indiana, I have long felt that Notre Dame has always been a place of storied tradition,” Sparks said in the statement. “Having now spent four years at Notre Dame, this place is even more special to me. I now fully understand the tremendous pride felt for Notre Dame by students and the alumni of this University.
“It is with the utmost respect for this University that I look forward to leading the track and cross country program. I would like to thank the search committee led by Claire Leatherwood Slebonick and Reggie Brooks, as well as [director of athletics] Jack Swarbrick and University president Fr. John Jenkins for believing in my vision for the program.”