Growing up in County Mayo, on the rainy west coast of Ireland, in the 1950s, John McDonnell was a reluctant helper on his parents' dairy farm. He loathed cows and the selfish demands they made. "I hated getting up early in the morning to milk them," he says. "You've got to milk those cows twice a day, seven days a week. There's no getting away from them."
Cows he despised, but cowboys fascinated him. He became an ardent student of the Old West, devouring movie westerns and Zane Grey novels. Like many ambitious young Irishmen of his generation, McDonnell set his sights on America, hoping to find his fortune and perhaps a few cowboys, too. In 1964, after taking a few television courses at a technical college in Ireland, he moved to New York City and took a job as a cameraman for WOR-TV, shooting Mets games and comedies like the Soupy Sales Show. Too many graveyard shifts persuaded him to go back to school in 1965. Having won the Irish Olympic trial at three miles in 1960—an injury kept him from the Games—he had no trouble getting a track scholarship to Southwestern Louisiana State, where he majored in education and became a coach.
McDonnell went to Arkansas in 1972 as an assistant coach specializing in the distances. He was paid $2,500 a year, which he supplemented by teaching shop at Greenland High, in Fayetteville. He became the Razorbacks' head coach in 1977 and soon turned the program around. "My first year  we finished seventh in the Southwest Conference, with something like 12 points," recalls former Arkansas distance runner Frank O'Mara, whom McDonnell recruited from the old sod. "By the time I graduated, we were second in the NCAAs." McDonnell won his first national title at the 1984 indoor championships and since then has added an amazing 32 titles in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track—more in that span than the rest of the nation's track coaches combined. Indeed, Arkansas's 33 titles under McDonnell are more than all but four schools have ever won in all sports combined.
"He motivates you in such a way that you will not let him down," says former Razorbacks jumper Mike Conley. "You compete more for him than you do for yourself. When you leave Arkansas, you really understand that track is a team sport."
McDonnell must have felt right at home last weekend in Boise's Bronco Stadium, into which the foothills of the Boise Front Mountains seem to spill. His Razorbacks were favored to win their eighth straight outdoor title, but it was clear from the start that it would not come easily. For the second year in a row Stanford jumped out to a lead on the first day of competition by going 1-2-3 in the 10,000 meters for 24 points. The Cardinal added 13 in the 5,000, but McDonnell, cool as any gunslinger, dismissed the idea that he felt nervous. "I used to put a lot of emphasis on this meet," he said. "We talked about how many points we needed here, how many there. It put too much pressure on guys. It tied them up in knots. So I don't worry anymore. What will happen, will happen."
That is what the Irish call blarney. The Razorbacks were counting on racking up points in the jumps, in which assistant coach Dick Booth has built a dynasty within a dynasty. Who says pigs can't fly? Starting with Conley, who won the long and triple jumps at the 1984 NCAA meet before going on to win the triple jump at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Razorbacks jumpers have won that double six times at this meet and have claimed 16 of 30 possible titles. It doesn't hurt Booth's recruiting that three of those world-class Arkansas jumpers—Robert Howard, Erick Walder and Brian Wellman—still train in Fayetteville.
The latest in this line of jumping Hogs is Melvin Lister, a junior college transfer who arrived at Arkansas six months ago with tremendous, unpolished talent. "He came to us with as little formal training as anybody ever," says Booth. "We spent January trying to cram in a semester's worth of learning."
Lister grew up in Leavenworth, Kans., just two blocks from the famous prison, where both his parents work as corrections officers. The somber lesson in that stark cluster of buildings was not lost on Lister, a soft-spoken straight arrow who claims never to have had a beer or a cigarette. It's on the runway that he needs more discipline. He is so raw and impetuous that he has had trouble hitting the takeoff board all year. "This year he has never had better than his second-best jump measured [due to fouls]," says Booth. "Usually it's his third or fourth."
After four jumps in blustery, cold conditions last Thursday night, Lister stood third with a mark of 26'3", behind Frankie Young of Indiana State and the wonderfully named Savante Stringfellow of Ole Miss. With the boisterous encouragement of some 30 Razorbacks fans, who stood each time he went to the top of the runway and gave him a rousing whoooo, pig, sooey cheer, Lister flew 26'10" on his fifth jump to match Young's first-place mark. Ties are broken using jumpers' next-best efforts, and Young had the better second jump, 26'3�" to 26'3". On his final leap Lister went 26'9" to give Arkansas its first 10 points. "I'm a Razorback," he said. "That's what we expect: You've got to win."
Though it sometimes seems as if Arkansas has hogged all the best talent, it isn't so. Male Athlete of the Meet honors went deservedly to Florida freshman John Capel, who is attending school on a football scholarship. Returning kickoffs for the Gators last fall, Capel averaged just under 30 yards. Astonishingly, with the blessing of Steve Spurrier he was excused from spring football to run track. Less than an hour after finishing second to Leonard Myles-Mills of BYU in the 100 (10.03 seconds), Capel blistered the turn in the 200 and, despite easing up at the end, finished in 19.87, tied for fastest in the world this year. "That's pretty scary," said former 100 world-record holder Leroy Burrell, now the coach at Houston. Track fans can only hope that Spurrier will continue his largesse and allow this great talent to develop.