Ferguson-McKenzie joins ‘Big Blue Nation’
After many battles as a collegiate athlete, Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie is returning to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) for the first time as a collegiate coach.
The Bahamian legendary athlete turned coach is moving on from the University of Houston where she spent the past four years and helped to transform that program into a national power. Now, she is headed to Lexington, Kentucky to join the University of Kentucky (UK) Wildcats. In college, she competed for the Georgia Bulldogs in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and now she returns to that conference as a coach.
Ferguson-McKenzie was brought in by Bahamian Head Coach at Kentucky Rolando ‘Lonnie’ Greene, and formally introduced to ‘Big Blue Nation’ on Tuesday. She joins UK Athletics about two months after Greene was hired as the school’s new track and field and cross country head coach, creating a strong Bahamian presence in the program. Junior sprint sensation Devine Parker is there as well, beginning her collegiate journey with the Wildcats as one of the incoming freshmen this season.
Coach Greene said: “I want to be one of the first to welcome Coach Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie to the University of Kentucky. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in this noble profession of ours. She will bridge the gap between Coach Tim Hall and myself. I am excited for her to get started on our staff.”
Ferguson-McKenzie expressed delight in joining the program.
“It’s an honor to be here, and it’s an honor to work with Coach Greene,” she said. “He is a great leader and he cares about his students. He is a Bahamian, and even more so a Bahamian with class. He loves what he does. To be able to work with him is a step in the right direction for me. I’m just honored. It’s a blessing.”
Ferguson-McKenzie joins a program that has produced a number of Olympians and world-class athletes in the past five years, more notably, in athletics, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, Sydney McLaughlin and world record holder Kendra Harrison.
Harrison graduated, and just recently, Camacho-Quinn and McLaughlin turned pro. Former Head Coach Edrick Floréal, who coached Harrison to the world record in the women’s 100m hurdles two years ago, has moved on to the University of Texas at Austin. Greene comes over from Purdue where he helped to transform that program.
Ferguson-McKenzie is just thankful for the opportunity – the third stop in her collegiate coaching career. She started at Southern Mississippi in 2013 before moving on to Houston a year later. Now, she is a part of a strong Bahamian connection at Kentucky.
“My mother said that [the] good Lord keeps blessing me. This is an upgrade and I’m just thankful for the opportunity. I’m thankful for the opportunity from the other schools as well. To be back in the SEC and competing against the other great schools is going to be a challenge. It’s going to be very exciting – just like competing at the Olympics. The work continues, so you just have to be ready to step your game up. I am ready to work and assist Coach Greene and Coach Tim Hall with whatever needs to be done. Basically, whatever I am able to assist with, I will do.”
The five-time Olympian and two-time World Champion joins a women’s program that finished fourth in the nation at the NCAA Championships in each of the past two years. Now she joins Greene who led the Purdue Boilermakers women’s team to an eighth-place finish at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships last season.
“Coach Greene had an excellent year and it’s a privilege to be here working with him. I still have a lot to learn so I’m just going to take in whatever knowledge I can and just continue to grow,” said Ferguson-McKenzie. “It’s not necessarily a Bahamian thing but to have one here to motivate and encourage me is a blessing.”
Ferguson-McKenzie was instrumental in the development of Bahamian sprinter Brianne Bethel at Houston last season, helping the youngster lower her personal best times by two tenths of a second in the 100 meters (m) and nearly three quarters of a second in the 200m. The Houston sophomore ran lifetime bests of 11.20 and 22.74 seconds in the short sprints, and finished the season as a two-time All-American second teamer. The previous year, Bethel won silver medals at the conference championships in the 100 and 200m events as a freshman. Ferguson-McKenzie is hoping to have just as much success, or even more, with Bahamian freshman Devine Parker and other UK athletes this upcoming season.
“I’m just glad that I was able to assist in Brianne’s development at Houston and hopefully I could do the same with Devine. Hopefully, I could help Devine to realize her dreams and just assist in whatever way I can,” said Ferguson McKenzie. The Bahamian collegiate coach said she knows she’s joining an awesome staff at UK and is looking forward to working with them and taking Kentucky to great heights.
“I feel as if the good Lord has been preparing me for this opportunity. I’m ecstatic with the move. This came at a time when I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m thankful to God and to Coach Greene and the UK administration. I’m still excited. It’s like a new crush that hasn’t gone away,” she said.
Prior to her coaching days, as an athlete, Ferguson-McKenzie won 52 medals in international competition, and was a 10-time Bahamian national champion in the 100 and 200m sprints. She is a three-time Olympic Games medalist, winning gold, silver and bronze, and is a four-time medalist at the world championships.
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. She has also served as a member of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Athletes Commission and was nominated as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Education: College of The Bahamas, Associates in Accounting