Born: July 1, 1945
Coaching Years: 1975-2003
Advocate for Equality
Heinonen played an influential role in the development of women’s athletics at Oregon during his 28-year tenure. To date, he has been the University’s only full-time women’s track and field and cross country coach.
An All-American at the University of Minnesota, Heinonen joined the Oregon coaching staff in 1975. He served as an assistant while attending graduate school and then became the women’s head cross country and track and field coach the following year. He was promoted to full-time status in 1977.
Instrumental in the development of women’s athletics at Oregon, Heinonen helped break the gender barrier in 1977. He fought to make the Oregon Twilight Meet co-ed, and after much resistance, he was successful. Heinonen continued to be an advocate of women’s sports throughout his tenure at Oregon, helping to inspire and lead 134 All-Americans, ten Olympians, ten Academic All-Americans, and 14 individual national title winners. His portfolio of athletes includes Oregon standouts Kelly Blair, Annette (Hand) Peters, Lisa Martin, and Liz Wilson.
Heinonen’s coaching strategies were rooted in his belief that runners needed to be committed to their own training regimes. He held formal “hard” workouts three times a week, leaving the remainder of training up to the athlete. A firm believer in alternating tough and easy days, Heinonen’s approach proved successful, as he was named PAC 10 Coach of the Year eight times.
After a successful term at Oregon, Heinonen retired from his post in 2003, tired of the recruiting wars and politics of today’s athletic landscape. However, his coaching days are certainly not over. He now volunteers as the head mentor for the University of Oregon running club.
Heinonen and his wife served in the Peace Corps for one year (1973-74).
Heinonen is the only NCAA women’s coach to win multiple national titles in outdoor track and field (1985) and cross country (1983, 1987).
Heinonen adopted his coaching philosophies from Roy Griak, his mentor at Minnesota and from Oregon’s Kenny Moore. He met Moore while in the Navy.
After leaving the Navy in 1972, Heinonen aspired to be a cartographer. Heinonen ran on three U.S. World Cross Country Championship Teams and was the 1969 AAU marathon winner.
Heinonen’s wife, Janet (Newman), also has ties to the University of Oregon. She ran for Oregon’s intramural team when she was a student (Oregon didn’t have a women’s intercollegiate team yet).