Arizona Wildcats head cross country coach and associate head track and field coach Dr. James Li has retired after 18 years at the UA, the school announced Tuesday. He will be replaced in former coach Dave Murray for the 2020-21 season before a full-time replacement is found.
“I am profoundly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most dedicated and talented student-athletes here at the University of Arizona,” Dr. Li said in a statement. “I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the University and to the many colleagues who have supported me and our program. I am proud of the contributions I have been able to make to the program and the university community.”
Here is the rest of the press release courtesy of the UA athletic department.
During his time at Arizona, Dr. Li was named Pac-12 Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year two times and coached Lawi Lalang and Robert Cheseret to 10 NCAA individual national championships. He also helped guide Arizona student-athletes to over 50 All-America honors and 24 individual conference championships.
“I appreciate Coach Li’s years of service and commitment to the University of Arizona and its cross country program,” said Vice President and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke. “He has helped generations of elite distance runners achieve national and international success throughout their careers. I would like to thank him for his contributions to this University and its student-athletes.”
Dr. Li led seven cross country teams to the NCAA Championships, including the 2013 women’s team that finished second at the NCAA Championships and won Arizona’s first conference team title in the Pac-12 era.
The cross country programs have earned the highest semester team GPAs among all teams on numerous occasions; including eight times overall for the women and 17 times overall for the men.
“It has been my personal honor to work side by side with one of the best human beings I have ever been associated with,” said director of track and field and cross country Fred Harvey. “Working with Dr. Li made myself and everyone a better coach and person. His ability to identify and develop talent is unrivaled at any level as witnessed by his 24 Pac-12 Track and Field and Cross Country Champions and 10 NCAA Champions. Only three other current NCAA coaches have done more.”
An internationally known and respected fixture in collegiate cross country and distance running for over 30 years, Dr. Li also coached many professional runners, including Arizona greats Lawi Lalang, Robert Cheseret, Stephen Sambu, Jen Bergman, Elvin Kibet and Carlos Villarreal. In eight years as the head cross country coach at Washington State, he coached four NCAA individual and relay champions, six Pac-10 individual conference champions, and 16 NCAA First Team All-Americans.
Dr. Li also was the personal coach and played a crucial role in the career of United States distance running legend Bernard Lagat, who won a silver and bronze medal in five Olympic Games and was poised to compete in his sixth Olympics in the summer of 2020.