Joe Walker Jr. considered retirement but instead joined his son at the University of Louisville. Walker Jr., who spent the past 24 years as Mississippi’s track and field coach, is in his first season as U of L’s jumps coach. The 65-year-old is reunited with his son Joe Walker, who is the Cardinals’ assistant coach in charge of cross country and distance.
Last weekend, Walker Jr. was honored at the Olympic Games recognition ceremony with the Order of Ikkos, which is given to coaches whose athletes medal at the Olympics. (His athlete, Brittney Reese, won the gold in the long jump and is a three-time World Champion.)
Last Friday, U of L’s Michelle Theophille broke the school record in the high jump (6 feet, 0.75 inches) and ranks first in the country with that mark.
Walker Jr. coaches the high jump, long jump, triple jump and pole vault. He spoke recently with The Courier-Journal’s Michael Grant.
The Courier-Journal: Why did you come to U of L?
In many ways it was a family situation. My oldest son coaches here, and I was reaching an age where I was contemplating retiring. The job came open. It seemed like a perfect combination for me to finish my career and be near my grandkids and my son. It’s a lifetime dream.
How has it been being close to your son and grandchildren?
It’s been fantastic. It is everything I hoped it would be and probably a little bit more. You’re always hoping you’re making a right move. This time, I know I did.
What attributes do you bring to U of L?
I’m not young anymore, but I’m certainly not old. I think I bring someone who has four decades in their database. There’s not much that I haven’t seen. I’ve coached a variety of different personalities. I always bring passion and excitement. I’m fired up about what I do.
What did it mean to get the Order of Ikkos?
There was a packed house. It was really nice. This is something they haven’t done much in the past, recognizing personal coaches. It was kind of neat.
What is it like watching an athlete you coach win a gold medal?
It’s an indescribable moment. When you get there you get caught up in the Olympic experience. It was a highlight of my life.
How is Michelle Theophille’s development going?
That’s one of the things I was excited about: getting a chance to work with Michelle Theophille. She’s a blossoming, young high jumper. She had a really good fall of workouts. She’s very focused and dedicated. She and I are beginning to bond, and it’s been an exciting time. I have high expectations.