The University of Houston Track and Field coaching staff is excited to announce the hiring of Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie as the coach for women's sprints and hurdles.
"It feels like a fairy tale," McKenzie said. "Like something you read in a book. But it's real life. I'm looking forward to learning from the staff. I grew up watching Leroy and now I'm hired by him and he's my boss and colleague. It's a dream come true."
Ferguson-McKenzie, comes to the Cougars from Southern Miss and will take over for Seun Adigun who stepped down from the position to pursue other opportunities, but will stay on as a volunteer coach.
"When Seun Adigun stepped down to pursue other career opportunities, I felt we needed a person with the caliber of Olympic experience that already exists on our staff as a role model for our women," Burrell said. "Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie provides that and then some."
Including her Olympic and world championship medals, Ferguson-McKenzie has won 52 medals in international competition and was a 10-time Bahamas national champion in the 100- and 200-meter sprints. She is looking to bring the same hard work and persistence that earned her those medals to the Cougars.
"I want us to work hard, but also have fun," Ferguson-McKenzie said. "Our goal as a team is to be number one. It won't be easy, but we have to keep pushing."
Ferguson-McKenzie was a specialist at the 100- and 200-meter sprints, represented the Bahamas in five Olympic Games - Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 - and was a three-time Olympic medalist and four-time medalist at world championships.
"Debbie will be a tremendous asset to cougar track and field in her role not only as a coach and mentor to our female athletes but she brings a wealth of recruiting connections not only in the Caribbean, but throughout the world," Burrell said. "We plan to thoroughly capitalize on those connections that she has fostered to build our program to be among the elite programs in collegiate track and field."
In her time away from the track, Ferguson-McKenzie has built a charitable reputation while spending time as a motivational speaker, mentor and teen pregnancy counselor since 1994 and working with the Willamae Pratt Center for Girls, the Simpson Penn Center for Boys and the Bahamas Humane Society. She has also served as a member of the IAAF Athlete's Commission and was nominated as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
"We have a staff that has performed well at the highest level of the sport," Burrell said. "The Olympic games is the pinnacle of track & field. Our staff consists of three Olympians, two of whom medaled, over eight Olympiads."
The former NCAA Champion will continue the rich tradition of star-studded Olympians who will help lead the Cougars in the 2014-15 season.