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Sep 13, 2019

Longtime Monmouth University Coach Retires after Decades of Success

By Tim Morris

Photos courtesy of Monmouth University Athletics

Joe Compagni wasn’t a standout runner in high school, by his own admission.

However, that didn’t stop him from becoming a dependable scorer for the University of Delaware’s men’s cross country and track teams. Through sheer will, dedication and passion for running, he excelled.

“I was not a star in high school,” Compagni admitted. “I worked my way up. I always appreciated that I was given an opportunity [to run in college].”

Compagni never forgot his humble beginnings in the sport. When he became the new head coach of Monmouth University’s men’s and women’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams in 1995, his roots guided him when it came to recruiting and building his programs. He looked for athletes similar to himself, maybe not high school standouts but those who had a passion for the sport, commitment to the team and willingness to work hard. These are the qualities that could take them to the next level in college if given the opportunity. These diamonds in the rough helped Compagni build a conference powerhouse and a program that brought national recognition to the West Long Branch campus.

After 24 years and a trophy case full of championships, Compagni stepped down as the head coach of all three programs, effective Aug. 19.

“I still love [coaching], but it was time for a change, time for someone else to take over,” he said. “I want to leave when things are good. I’m excited to see someone else come in. I’ll miss the students, my teams and the other coaches at Monmouth. I’m going to stay close to Monmouth University.”

Joe Compagni monmouth university delaware

Compagni is leaving when things aren’t just good, but great. This year, the Hawks captured both the men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championships. Several Monmouth athletes qualified for the NCAA Division I championships, with one, runner Allie Wilson, gaining First Team All-American honors at both the NCAA Division I indoor and outdoor championships.

Compagni’s success at Monmouth has been staggering. Throughout his 24 years at the West Long Branch campus, his Hawk cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams have won a combined 58 conference championship whether it was the Northeast Conference or the MAAC. His teams also secured IC4A and ECAC crowns. In all, 25 Hawks were All-Americans during his tenure. Compagni was named Conference Coach of the Year 58 times as well as Division I NCAA Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year eight times.

“We have a good culture on the team,” he said. “There are expectations, and the student-athletes know what is expected of them.”

Although he pointed out that recruiting isn’t an “exact science,” he looked for athletes who would fit the program and, far more often than not, ended up helping the program succeed.

When Compagni first visited the West Long Branch campus, he saw potential. He saw something others might not have and turned that vision into a reality.

“When I first came to the campus, I loved it,” he said. “It was pretty clear that it could take great steps forward. Monmouth is unique. It’s Division I, has a beautiful campus with small classes and student support.”

Compagni added that the work of Athletic Director Marilyn McNeil has also been important.

“She has been huge,” Compagni said. “Her support gave me the opportunity to build the program.”

That support helped Compagni go from having one assistant coach to a full staff of four assistants and facilities that make the program attractive to student-athletes.

Compagni was coaching at California University in Pennsylvania when he interviewed for the head position at Monmouth. A New York native, he was not familiar with the college but knew something about New Jersey track and field that was another reason for his seeing potential for success at Monmouth.

“I did not know the area, but I knew there was a clear interest in track and field in the state,” Compagni said. “That first summer I was here, I made connections with the [high school] coaches and track people.”

New Jersey has a history for having a wealth of top track and field talent, and the Shore Conference itself has been a hotbed.

Throughout his career, Compagni was a familiar figure at all the county and state meets, recruiting Shore area and state athletes, many who went on to great careers.

There was something else Compagni brought to Monmouth other than a good recruiting eye: a philosophy of not focusing on just one area of track and field. Some colleges are known for sprinting, others middle- or long-distance running, while others are more field-oriented (events like the jumps and throws) – but not the Hawks.

“I really love the concept of a full track and field team,” Compagni said. “Field events can be overlooked. I always wanted to cover all events.”

That approach is the biggest reason why his teams have dominated conference championship meets. By having scorers up and down the lineup in all the events, they are a tough team to beat.

Those Hawks who have excelled on the national stage have been jumpers, throwers, sprinters, middle- and long-distance runners.

Compagni will be a tough act to follow, but he has put things in place for continued success.

After 24 years and 58 conference championships, Monmouth University’s track and field and cross country Head Coach Joe Compagni retired on Aug. 19.