Virginia Tech director of track and field and cross country Dave Cianelli announced Thursday his intention to retire upon the conclusion of the 2024 outdoor season, marking the end of one of the most illustrious careers in school history.
“I would like to thank Jim Weaver and Tom Gabbard for giving me the opportunity to come to Virginia Tech back in 2001,” Cianelli said. “Thank you to Whit Babcock and Chris Helms for supporting our program during the past nine years. Our program would not have attained the level of success it has enjoyed without these four individuals.
“A huge debt of gratitude to all of the coaches and staff who worked so hard throughout the past 22 years and contributed so much of themselves to this program. To our Virginia Tech alumni and donors, thank you for your loyalty, financial gifts and faith in our program as we move forward. Most of all, thank you to the hundreds of student-athletes who chose to attend Virginia Tech and help build this program.
“To my family, Ellen, Mariah and Sebastain, thank you for your love and patience during this journey.”
Cianelli’s legacy as one of the sport’s most influential coaches is marked by his 74 NCAA Champions, 490 All-America honors, 373 individual conference champions, 32 World Championship qualifiers, and 22 Olympic qualifiers. At Tech alone, Cianelli has overseen the success of 20 NCAA individual champions, 13 top-10 team finishes at the NCAA Championships, 242 ACC individual champions, and 21 ACC team titles. The 19-time ACC Coach of the Year and 18-time USTFCCCA Southeast Region Coach of the Year enters his 23rd season directing the Hokies.
“Coach Cianelli is one of the most successful coaches in the history of Virginia Tech Athletics,” director of athletics Whit Babcock noted. “He is the consummate professional and his leadership ushered in an era of sustained excellence for our track and field programs. Dave’s illustrious career is filled with championships and national honors. However, he would be the first to tell you the relationships he builds with his student-athletes and coaches is what he cherishes the most.
“Dave is a model leader, who managed his programs the right way. He was also a great resource to our other head coaches, mentoring them along the way. We look forward to celebrating Coach Cianelli and our programs as he takes a final lap over the 2023-24 seasons.”
In 2007, Cianelli claimed the program’s first-ever ACC indoor championship title. Nearly two months later, the Hokies’ captured their first outdoor title proving Tech was a force to be reckoned with in track and field. The men’s team won their first ACC title at the 2011 indoor championships becoming the first host school since 1979 to win the conference title.
The Hokies backed their indoor success with an outdoor conference title in 2012. Flash forward, a few months later, and the Virginia Tech cross country team brought home their first-ever ACC title in a 55-49 defeat of second-place Virginia at Tech’s Buford Meredith Cross Country Course in Blacksburg.
By 2016, Cianelli was already reaching new heights after racking up 10 conference championships. Tech went on to win six additional team titles before the success was shortly paused during the pandemic-riddled 2020-21 season. The next season, the Hokies came back stronger than ever winning the 2021 ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships with the largest margin of victory in the modern era of the ACC 136-81 over second-place North Carolina.
Coming back from a second-place finish at the 2022 ACC Outdoor Championships, the Hokies were ready to continue their indoor dominance by winning the 2022 ACC Indoor Championships 105-72 over second-place Florida State. The women’s team tied for first with Duke scoring 86 points.
The Virginia Tech dynasty continued in 2023 with the men’s and women’s teams winning both ACC Indoor Track and Field Championship titles. The men’s team picked up their third-straight team title with 110.5 points, and the women claimed their second-straight title with 93 points.
In 2018, Cianelli led the charge in the $18 million renovation of Rector Field House – the home of the Virginia Tech track and field program. With the addition of the new east wing, Rector created increased storage for track along with other further enhancements such as a new roof, new lighting and a new surface for the track. Altogether, the enhancements to Rector added approximately 32,000 square feet to the structure.
At the end of the 2024 outdoor track and field season, Cianelli will hand the program over to the Hokies’ new head track and field coach Ben Thomas.
“Coach Dave Cianelli has written one of the greatest rags to riches stories in NCAA track and field history in his 22 years at Virginia Tech,” said Thomas. “I was fortunate to be on his first staff at Tech. We had a few scholarships, not many resources, and some young talented assistant coaches. To be part of the program’s 21 ACC Championship team titles, countless ACC individual titles, national champions, and All-American performances, has been one of the greatest joys of my professional career.
“To take the reins from Coach Cianelli, I will truly be walking in the shadows of a giant in the history of track and field coaching. I am grateful for Virginia Tech’s trust in me to be the next director of track and field and cross country.”
Thomas returns to Blacksburg as a three-time USTFCCCA National Assistant Coach of the Year, having most recently won back-to-back indoor honors for the Oregon Ducks’ incredible success during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He earned his first national award during his time at Virginia Tech following the 2017 season, becoming the first ACC assistant to ever win the award. Thomas is also a 10-time USTFCCCA Regional Assistant Coach of the Year.
Thomas graduated from Virginia Tech (’92) with a bachelor’s degree in English. He and his wife, Ann, have three children: Reilly, Seamus and Roisin.
Virginia Tech Athletics