Steve Dolan experienced his first Penn Relays in 1993 after taking over as the head track and field coach of the College of New Jersey. He never missed one from that time through 2019 coaching at TCNJ, and later at Princeton and Penn.
That is why Dolan says he is “very honored and very humbled” upon being announced Thursday as the new director of the Penn Relays. He also will retain his role in his 10th year as Penn’s director of track and field and cross country.
Dolan, 51, succeeds Dave Johnson, who announced his retirement in September 2020 after 26 years as carnival director, but remained on the job until July to help the meet through the pandemic.
In an interview Thursday, Dolan said he sought the director job as a way to help young people have experiences to grow and to enjoy and be a part of a diverse sport like track and field.
“I think there’s a part of me that sees the next phase of my coaching and sort of track and field career as, can I be part of helping that?” he said. “Can I be a part of making the Penn Relays and continue on with the history and tradition to make it that great event it is and build on it?
“One of the things that sort of motivated me when I first took the director of job at Penn was the place that Philadelphia and Franklin Field and Penn play in the world for track and field, and kind of inspired me to say, ‘What can we do?’ I think we can do some pretty special things to build on this Penn Relays tradition to really make Penn and Philadelphia a central opportunity for people for years to come for track and field.”
Established in 1895, the Penn Relays has expanded over the last 25 years, with events added for Masters contestants all the way into their 90s and the USA vs. the World competition featuring Olympic athletes that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, the last year carnival events were contested.
The meet was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The carnival sponsored two low-profile competitions earlier this year – the Philadelphia Metropolitan Collegiate Invitational in April and an all-comers meet in July.
Dolan is the second Penn track coach in the last six decades to also head the Relays, joining the late Jim Tuppeny, who spent nine years doing both jobs before focusing solely on the carnival from 1979 through 1987. He sees a similar synergy with his program and the carnival.
“The success of the Penn Relays is really a team, so I think we’ve got a really good team to do that,” he said. “In fact, it’s the same team that did a great job with the Penn track and field program. We have great people that can be effective in both.”
Dolan congratulated Johnson for his leadership of the Penn Relays and said he would continue to rely on his experience and his knowledge of the history of the carnival.
Dolan has coached five college Championship of America relay teams at the Penn Relays, two with the Quakers and three in his previous position at Princeton.
He has led Penn to seven Ivy League team championships – two men’s cross country, three women’s indoor track, and field and two women’s outdoor track and field. He has coached a total of 33 All-Americans and 190 All-Ivy honorees.