East Tennessee State cultivated a reputation for excellence in track and field, and cross country, over five decades under former coach Dave Walker.
George Watts now hopes to take the program and run a bit farther with it.
The longtime assistant at the University of Tennessee was Thursday named ETSU’s new director of track and field/cross country. Watts, 56, was introduced at a reception at One 12 Downtown.
“Having raced against coach Walker and his athletes for years, I know the success this program has had,” he said. “Trying to build on that success is an attractive opportunity.”
Watts has spent the last 26 years coaching at UT, his alma mater, beginning as an assistant in 1985 and working his way up to associate head coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams, and head coach of men’s cross country.
The Vols won NCAA outdoor championships in 1991 and 2001, and an indoor crown in 2002. They also claimed 11 Southeastern Conference titles during Watts’ tenure and produced 42 All-Americans.
At the Olympic level, Watts has coached athletes to berths in the last five Summer Games.
“We’re very fortunate to have someone of coach Watts’ experience and background to become the second director of ETSU track and field,” said athletic director Dave Mullins. “We have a great tradition in track and field and cross country, particularly with our distance runners. Coach Watts has coached distance runners at the highest level – SEC, nationally and several Olympians. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our program, and we feel very confident he will set a high standard and direct it in a first-class way.”
With the cross country season fast approaching, Watts said he would settle into his new job immediately. He’ll attend a tribute dinner for Walker tonight at the Millennium Center, and then be in the office Monday ready to go.
Walker served the university for 50 years before retiring this spring.
“He’s a legend, and I’m sure I’ll be calling up Dave once in a while and leaning on him,” said Watts. “I know I can rely on him.”
The new coach will have to hire a couple of assistants. Brandon Morton has been handling the program’s day-to-day affairs since Walker retired.
“One of the first things I need to accomplish is getting staff hired, with the new school year just around the corner,” said Watts. “I’m comfortable with Brandon Morton and look forward to working with him. There’s just a lot of basic stuff to prepare for with cross country coming up.”
A 1983 graduate of UT, Watts earned All-America honors in cross country and as a distance runner. He won SEC championships in the 3-mile and 6-mile runs in 1976, the 10,000-meter run in 1977 and the 3-mile again the next year.
He and his wife Karen have a daughter, Katie.