Not every school can claim a living legend on its campus, but the students and faculty of East Tennessee State University can. David E. Walker, who most often answers to "Coach," has been at ETSU for 45 years. During Walker's tenure as head coach at East Tennessee State, eight different men have served as president of the United States, while ETSU has seen six presidents and nine athletic directors.
Walker has been busy in his 45 years at the helm of the Buccaneer program, producing 30 All-Americans along with countless other track and cross country stars in the Atlantic Sun, Southern, and Ohio Valley conferences.
In 2006, Walker's squad made some noise in its first season in the Atlantic Sun Conference, claiming the inaugural A-Sun Conference Men's Indoor Track & Field Championship in Johnson City, Tenn. Five Buccaneers garnered conference titles at the indoor meet, with Walker adding to his hardware by receiving the Coach of the Year Award.
The success continued during the 2006 outdoor season, as the men finished third at the conference championships, earning five more conference titles and qualifying sprinter James Rainer for a spot in the NCAA Championships. High jumper Anna Marie Ricciardi and Rainer also competed in the NCAA Regional in Knoxville, Tenn.
The very next season ETSU repeated the task; however, this time Walker's Buccaneer squad did something that has never been accomplished in school history; which was make it a clean sweep in both the indoor and outdoor men's conference championships. The fun all started during the third weekend of February, when Walker's men's team earned back-to-back indoor conference titles for the first time in school history. At the meet, the Bucs tallied 127 points on the weekend, and bagged a total of 13 medals, including three individual first-place finishes. With the win, ETSU claimed the "Coach of the Year" honors, as Walker won the award for the second straight season.
Four months later the Bucs proved how strong they were on the outdoor track by winning their first outdoor crown. During the meet the men collected 20 medals, including seven gold as 17 different ETSU athletes scored points during the championship run. At the post-race ceremony Walker won his second Coach of the Year award on the season. With the outdoor title, ETSU won its eighth conference championship crown, marking the most titles won in one athletic year.
The fall of 2008 was a special one for Walker and his men's cross country team. On November 1, the Buccaneers ended Belmont's six-year run as conference champions, as junior Kenneth Rotich led ETSU across the finish line. The Bucs brought home ETSU's first conference crown since 1996 and its 21st overall cross country championship. Rotich -- who won the individual race -- was named Atlantic Sun Runner of the Year, while Walker also took home Coach of the Year honors. In total, five Buccaneer runners were named all-conference at the post-race ceremony. ETSU also enjoyed a South Regional ranking of sixth during the historic cross country season.
During his tenure, Walker has developed a number of world-class runners, including Kevin Johnson, a nine-time All-American; Seamus Power, a five-time All-American; and Robert Rovere a four-time All-American. Walker also coached Ray Flynn, who became one of the five top milers in the world; and Neil Cusack, the 1972 NCAA cross country national champion and the winner of the Boston Marathon in 1974.
Walker has recruited student-athletes from all over the globe, but perhaps is most famous for establishing a fine tradition of Irish runners at East Tennessee State. His most famous team, the "Irish Brigade," took second place at the 1972 NCAA Cross Country Championships. The squad, comprised of five Irishmen (Neil Cusack, Ed Leddy, P.J. Leddy, Ray McBride, and Kevin Breen) earned ETSU's highest national ranking in the sport.
Walker's 1975 squad finished fifth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and won the U.S. Track and Field Federation (USTAFF) Championship. Every member of the team earned All-America honors.
Since 1969, Walker's men's teams have won 22 conference championships, finished second seven times and third once. His squads have finished in the top-10 11 times.
Walker has groomed three Olympians (for Ireland) in Flynn, Ed Leddy, and Cusack. Leddy and Cusack both competed in the 1972 Olympics while Flynn competed in 1980 and 1984.
During Walker's illustrious career the ETSU's women's program has won three Southern Conference Championship titles. While he has been head coach, the ETSU program has produced All-American distance runners Kim Bird, Michelle Gregg, and Catherine Berry. Additionally, the program has seen the development of All-American Shelli Clendenon in the heptathlon and All-American Angie Barker, an Indoor NCAA Champion in the shot put. Walker has not only coached athletes with impressive track records, he has an outstanding record himself. Walker has earned some 20-plus Coach-of-the-Year honors and been named District Coach-of-the-Year 10 times.
Walker's squad has not only dominated the Southern Conference, but has made a name for ETSU in the NCAA district. He carried his cross country team to 14 consecutive national championship appearances from 1970 to 1983, an NCAA record for a coach at the time. ETSU has competed as a team at the event a total of 16 times.
Off the track, Walker served on the NCAA Track and Field Committee for seven years including a five-year term as chairman.
In honor of Walker's hard work and dedication to ETSU, the East Tennessee State University track in the Memorial Center was named the David E. Walker Track in January of 1995. Prior to the dedication, he was honored by his present and former athletes and colleagues at a roast. In the fall of 2003, Walker was honored with a certificate of appreciation from the NCAA Division I track and field coaches association for his outstanding contribution to track and field and was inducted into the U.S. Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
His first paid coaching job was at Chamblee High School in Atlanta, where he coached track and the offensive line in football. He returned to ETSU to finish a master's degree in 1962. In 1963, he accepted the head coaching job in track and field for the Buccaneers.