Campus News

Humans of UK: Head coach of UK track and field Lonnie Greene

Lonnie Green.
Since taking over as the head coach of the UK track and field and cross country programs, Greene has brought elite accomplishments and unparalleled character to the program.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 17, 2023) ­— With origins dating back to 1915, today, Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions and legacy of Black Americans across U.S. history and society — from activists and civil rights pioneers to leaders in industry, politics, science and culture. 

At the University of Kentucky, that sentiment holds true. 

In celebrating Black History Month, throughout February UK’s social media channels are featuring Black students, faculty, staff and alumni who have shared their stories of what Black History Month means to them and why it is important. 

Today we are featuring Lonnie Greene. Greene has coached UK's track and field and cross country programs to sustained success, including school-record point finishes and two podium places at the 2022 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships. Since taking over as the head coach before the 2018-19 season, Greene has brought elite accomplishments and unparalleled character to the program. Under his guidance, his athletes have received more than 120 All-America honors and dozens of All-Academic honors. Greene has coached an Olympic finalist, three Tokyo 2020 Olympians, 10 SEC champions, a collegiate and American record holder, and a collegiate record relay team. He’s also led UK to two individual NCAA Championships and 14 NCAA medals.

Read about what inspires Greene and why he celebrates Black History Month below. 

"What does Black History Month mean to you and why is it important?"

Greene: Black History Months highlights those that created opportunity for Black professionals like me. There were a lot of patriarchs, and individuals who have gone before us whose shoulders I and other Black professionals stand on. They provided the opportunity for me to be a leader here at the University of Kentucky and any chance to celebrate them is immensely important. To be a leader, at one of the most prominent institutions in the United States, also means being a role model. Someone that these young minority students and others can look up to. I don’t care the race, creed or color, what is important is that they can say, “he motivated me to be better.” That’s what Black history means to me. When we talk about Black history, we’re talking about American history. At the end of the day, Black history really means opportunity and sacrifice. It means an opportunity to be a leader and to show that we have the leadership acumen to develop, promote and produce a good product when given the right opportunity.

"Who has been your biggest inspiration?"

Greene: If we’re talking about historical/public figures, my biggest inspiration would have to be Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph and Denzel Washington. Men and women like them who had to endure and sacrifice almost everything for us to get to this space that we are at today. I would even go further and say my mother and father. They are my biggest inspiration. But in terms of public figures, it would have to be the individuals mentioned above. I mentioned those individuals because of what they had to endure to create opportunities for those who came behind them. These individuals selflessly sacrificed so we can have these opportunities.

"What motivates you?"

Greene: What motivates me is not letting those inspirational figures down. Not making a mistake that others would say, “I told you so" — that’s what motivates me. Not letting down the young people who I preach to daily on how to always do all things the right way. Not letting my family down. That is what motivates me. Once you’ve been elevated to a place of leadership you have a responsibility to uphold the proper values of those who have gone before you.

"Are there any Black public figures who have spoken about mental health that inspire you?"

Greene: Mental health is real. There are so many Black figures who have spoken out about mental health. Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, my mentor Michael Holloway at the University of Florida (head track and field coach). These are just a few who have spoken out so eloquently about the need to care for the mental health of young students and people in general. People with mental health challenges walk among us. Even though some appear to have it all together. They inspire to me to always be sensitive to the needs of people. It doesn’t matter whether you are educated and/or successful you can still struggle with these issues. People with mental health issues inspire me to be better, to be sensitive and to listen, and to be more empathetic. They say “hearing is physical, listening is psychological.” I aspire to listen.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.