Black women pass the coaching baton at Ohio State

Karen Dennis
Photos courtesy of Ohio State

Another View

For only the second time this year, a Big Ten school hired a Black female coach to succeed a retiring Black coach: Rutgers this spring in women’s basketball (Coquese Washington for C. Vivian Stringer) and Ohio State in May in men’s and women’s track and field and cross country.  The MSR recently talked to Karen Dennis and Rosalind Joseph in separate phone interviews.

Karen Dennis retires on top

She originally went to college to earn a degree and help out farmers as an administrator, but instead Karen Dennis spent nearly a half-century as one of the most successful college track coaches.  

Not too many coaches can say that they retired on top. Dennis announced her retirement in early June after completing her 20th and final season at Ohio State, where her Buckeyes men and women tracksters won their respective Big Ten outdoor track championships this spring, and she saw 22 of her athletes compete in this year’s NCAAs.

“I just felt gratified that I could retire at a point where the program’s healthy,” said Dennis, who was hired at OSU in 2002 as a women’s assistant track coach, then promoted to head coach in 2006. She was later hired as director of the school’s men’s and women’s track and field and cross country programs.

Dennis retires with 12 conference titles, tops for an Ohio State female coach, and as a 12-time Big Ten coach of the year and six-time regional coach of the year. Her athletes won 118 Big Ten individual titles and 22 relay crowns—all total, Dennis has 140 league titles. She also was HC at Michigan State, her alma mater (11 seasons), and 10 years at UNLV.

“I’d love people to have degrees and have professional careers,” said Dennis of her athletes.

Now, Dennis hands her successful program over to Rosalind Joseph, who competed for her at Ohio State and later worked as an assistant coach for a decade before she became Southern Illinois head coach for five seasons.

“She’s prepared herself,” said Dennis of her successor. “I think that we have to really support each other and create opportunities for each other. That’s what I tried to do at Ohio State, and I’m gonna continue to try to do that in my retirement right now.”

Rosalind Joseph
Photos courtesy of Ohio State

Rosalind Joseph takes the reins

During her assistant coaching days at Ohio State, Rosalind Joseph actively asked her bosses what she needed to do to eventually become a head coach. “I was having those kinds of conversations,” she recalled. “I really was asking, ‘How do they hire? What are you looking for?’”

The simple answer came from Ohio State AD Gene Smith, who advised Joseph to get head coaching experience somewhere that would someday attract an athletic director to hire her for their HC vacancy. She went to Southern Illinois, a mid-major school, where she was hired in 2018. Nearly four years later, Smith hired her to succeed Karen Dennis as OSU track and field director.

A Black AD hiring a Black coach to succeed a Black coach.

“Initially you don’t want to be seen as the Black woman,” explained Joseph. “You want to be respected. Then I said that I really felt a responsibility to make sure that I do set a precedent, and that’s really what I understood.” She saw what Dennis was doing for her, and Smith undoubtedly saw that giving Joseph the reins was the right thing to do.

“I’m extremely excited to be in this room,” continued Joseph. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity.”

Joseph had an illustrious track career at Ohio State, where she won six Big Ten triple jump and long jump titles, twice winning All-American honors. But coaching for her was the next step: “I always liked being around young people…to be able to mold young lives.” 

After a stint at Auburn, her former coach Dennis brought Joseph back to campus as one of her assistant coaches, where she served for a decade. More importantly, she watched and learned from Dennis as well.

That is why Joseph is not at all afraid of succeeding a legendary coach such as Dennis. “I have a job to do, and I have a family,” she said. “I’m not doing this just for fun… This is my livelihood. 

“The administration was happy that I was ready,” concluded Joseph. “I think it’s important that I have to rely on that.”