Spartanburg, S.C. – After serving as the head coach of the Spartan men's and women's track & field and cross country programs for five seasons, leading the programs into NCAA Division I, starting the track & field program from scratch, and enjoying a tremendous amount of success, Jimmy Stephens has announced that he is stepping down as head coach of the programs at USC Upstate effective Sept. 5.
Mike Hall, Director of Athletics at Upstate, announced that current associate head coach Carson Blackwelder will take over the programs and be named as the interim head coach when Stephens steps down.
Stephens, a native of Roebuck, S.C. and a graduate of Dorman High School and the University of South Carolina, is stepping down primarily to spend more time with his family and to pursue other professional interests after establishing the track & field and cross country programs as leaders in the department in Upstate's early years in NCAA Division I.
"My time at Upstate has been the best time of my professional life," said Stephens. "I am sad to go, but I know it is the best thing for me, my family and the program. With heart and determination, the athletes and coaches in this program have pushed through the many obstacles of starting a program from scratch and achieved great success. We have all seen the vision of what this program can be and have worked tirelessly to achieve our goals. The athletes in this program are the reason for the success we have had. Their effort has made this program great. I am excited to watch Upstate track & field and cross country continue to move forward. I am very proud of all the coaches and athletes that have made this program a contender."
Stephens was hired in 2006 to start the track & field programs and reestablish the cross country programs as Upstate began its transition to NCAA Division I membership after competing for 14 years in NCAA Division II. The cross country programs were discontinued in 2004 and had not competed since the fall of 2003 when Stephens took the job as head coach. Upstate had never fielded a track & field team. Stephens took the job in 2006 and used the first year to recruit student-athletes to the programs and began competition in the fall of 2007.
Despite their infancy in Division I, the cross country programs thrived. Emily Tangwar (Eldoret, Kenya) claimed a second-place finish in the 2008 A-Sun Cross Country Championships and the programs steadily improved. Just last year, Gilbert Kemboi (Eldoret, Kenya) won the A-Sun Cross Country Championship by a 40-second margin and with the second-fastest time in school history. The men's team claimed a third-place finish and the women's team placed fourth behind all-conference performances from Joan Tangwar, Carolyne Chelulei and Jemeli Sang. All four runners return to their respective teams this season.
The track & field teams have brought the most success to the athletics department during the Division I era. Stephens has coached 14 conference champions between the indoor and outdoor championships conducted by the A-Sun. Just last year, Kemboi (5,000 meters) and Mike Meissner (400 meters) won individual titles at the 2011 A-Sun Indoor Championships, while Justin Crawford took home his second pole vault title in the last three years at the 2011 A-Sun Outdoor Championships.
"Jimmy has done a terrific job starting our track and field programs and in restarting the cross country programs in 2006," said Hall. "He has accomplished tremendous success with our student-athletes and has earned a great deal of respect from his coaching peers. He has also been a tremendous ambassador within the community in hosting events, such as the Eye Opener and other regional and national meets. We certainly wish him, his wife Pat, and his two sons the best of luck in the future. He will truly be missed, but will always be a part of our family at Upstate.