Aug. 26, 2014 NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Matt Sparks, the highly-successful head cross country coach, assistant track and field coach, and middle-distance and distance specialist the last 12 years at Southern Illinois University, joins the University of Notre Dame track and field and cross country programs as associate head coach.
Sparks’ area of concentration with the Irish will be both the men’s and women’s cross country programs and then the Notre Dame distance runners throughout the indoor and outdoor track seasons.
Sparks leaves 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 (the first for the Saluki women in 21 seasons). He coached in Carbondale, Ill., from 2002-03 through the 2013-14 campaign.
Across both cross country and track he coached 51 MVC event champions, 140 all-MVC performers, 127 MVC scholar-athletes and 10 NCAA event finals qualifiers. The MVC named Sparks its 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 national championships.
Sparks tutored five MVC most valuable track athletes and four MVC cross country athletes of the year. He has seen at least one Southern Illinois athlete in every distance event qualify for the NCAA regional meet. In addition to working with two cross country All-Americans, he coached two outdoor track second-team All-Americans and 10 USA Track & Field Junior All-Americans. He produced one USATF Junior National Champion, a World Junior competitor and a Pan American Junior competitor.
Sparks coached 11 cross country teams that earned national academic honors. His 2003 Saluki women’s squad (3.61) and his 2010 men’s squad (3.6) had the second-highest grade-point averages in the nation.
“Matt gets the most out of his athletes. He’s proven that year after year,” says first-year Irish track and field head coach Alan Turner. “He is going to be great one on one with his athletes, both personally and as far as putting together great training programs. Whatever is ailing them, physically or mentally, he’s going to solve it to get the most out of them. In addition, he has proven himself to be a tireless recruiter.
“Matt very much wants to be here at Notre Dame. I’m confident people down the line are going to say, ‘He was a great addition to the staff.'”
Turner and Sparks are hardly strangers. They spent five years together (2005-06 to 2009-10) as assistant coaches on the Southern Illinois staff.
With the 2014 Irish cross country season only three weeks away, Sparks is eager to get his Notre Dame squads running. He inherits Irish cross country teams that finished 23rd (men’s) and 29th (women’s) in 2013 in the NCAA Championships.
At Southern Illinois, Sparks 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. Since that time, he has served as cross country coach and distance coach for both the men and women.
Prior to his tenure at Southern Illinois, Sparks spent two years (2000-01 and 2001-02) as an assistant track and field coach at Ohio State where he handled women’s cross country and women’s distance runners.
He previously served three years (1997-98 to 1999-2000) on the Indiana University track and field staff, working as a volunteer assistant, graduate assistant and then an assistant coach-while also handling duties as executive director of the Indiana Track Club, the largest track club in the state.
A standout student-athlete at 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. Indiana selected him as its 1996 cross country MVP, and he helped the Hoosier distance-medley relay squad finish as the 1994 Big Ten Conference runner-up.
At the high school level, Sparks six times won all-state recognition in cross country and track and field at Noblesville (Ind.) High School. Three times he claimed top-five finishes in the Indiana state high school cross country meet.
Originally from Noblesville, Sparks is a 1997 Indiana graduate with a degree in science education. He also earned a master’s degree from Indiana in 1999 in applied sports sciences.
Sparks and his wife Emily are parents of a son, Samuel, and a daughter, Eliza.
–Lauren Chval, Media Relations Assistant