The list of accomplishments is lengthy. Five Big Ten titles in the last 10 years and seven in the last 14. Twenty-six consecutive top-four finishes at the Big Ten Championships. Over 100 different All-Americans. As Dennis Dale completes his 29th year as the head men's coach at the University of Minnesota, his leadership has taken Minnesota from a bottom level Big Ten program to one of the nation's elite and most respected.
Perhaps the most impressive mark of Dale's tenure has been its consistency. Minnesota has finished in the top four in the Big Ten each of the last 26 years and 18 of which were either championship or runner-up teams.
Consistency at the NCAA Championships has been a staple, including five straight top 10 NCAA finishes from 2000-04.
Dale's teams have been a force during the regular season as well. He owns a 180-28 overall dual meet record in his tenure including a 93-6 mark over the last 14 years. He hasn't lost more than one dual since the 1990-91 season when the Gophers were 11-2.
Making Dale's progression to a national power even more impressive is the state of the program that he inherited in 1985-86. The program which has over 100 different All-Americans in the last 20 years, hadn't made a top-five Big Ten finish since 1967 and hadn't posted a top-15 NCAA finish since 1972. When he guided Minnesota to the Big Ten crown in 1996, it broke a 70-year conference title drought. Dale is the dean of Big Ten coaches in his 26th season. He is the only active coach with more than one conference title under his belt and has entered elite waters for his tenure. With seven career titles, he ranks fifth all-time in Big Ten history behind only James `Doc' Counsilman of Indiana (23), Michigan's Matt Mann (16) and Jon Urbanchek (13) and Ohio State's Mike Peppe (12).
A six-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, Dale guided the Gophers to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2004 and 2005, bringing Minnesota's run to four in five years. Terry Silkaitis grabbed conference crowns in the 100 and 200 free, running his career total to five individual wins, the most of any Gopher under Dale's tutelage. Silkaitis also walked away from the Twin Cities armed with 23 All-America certificates over his career. Minnesota finished 11th at the NCAA Championships, held at University Aquatic Center. Justin Mortimer, who finished his illustrious career with 13 All-America awards, finished in the top eight three times, including a third place finish in the 500 free. Mortimer went on to win three medals at the World University Games over the summer.
After taking second at the Big Ten Championships in 2006, Minnesota returned to the top in 2007, edging Michigan in the meet's final event to take the conference crown. Dale's team demonstrated amazing depth, winning only the meet's final event en route to the championship. The Gophers also returned to the top 10 at the NCAA Championships. Igor Cerensek ended his career as one of the Gophers' greatest sprinters of all-time, finishing with 13 All-America honors and finaling in all 12 of his Big Ten individual events.
The 2007 title marked the fifth in seven years. The run is tied for the fourth-best over a seven-year period in Big Ten history behind just Indiana's amazing 20-title run from 1961-80, Michigan's 10-title streak from 1986-95 and an early run of nine in a row by Ohio State from 1949-56. Dale's Gophers have been the most dominant Big Ten program since the mid-1990s. The Gophers have secured seven titles since 1996 while only Michigan has won multiple conference crowns in that period with four.
Although Minnesota took third at the 2008 Big Ten meet, the Gophers still managed to post 12 All-Americans and an NCAA 11th-place finish. David Plummer ended an illustrious career with four All-America certificates, running his career total to 14. The Gophers matched the 11th place finish at the 2009 NCAA Championships and his team won two conference titles en route to a third place finish at the Big Ten Championships.
The Gophers extended their NCAA top-15 finish streak to 19 with a 14th-place showing at the 2010 NCAA Championships. Minnesota finished with nine All-Americans.
Dale also received a variety of accolades following the 2008-09 season. He was inducted into the "M" Club Hall of Fame for his coaching and athletic prowess at Minnesota and was also inducted into the Burnsville High School Athletic Hall of Fame for his coaching career prior to arriving at the U of M.
Minnesota finished 11th at the NCAA meet and second at Big Tens in 2006 and posted plenty of accomplishments. Adam Mitchell became the Gophers' first Big Ten 200 individual medley champ since Paul Nelsen in 1994 and earned five All-America certificates, bringing his career haul to 11 under Dale's guidance. All five of Minnesota's relays reached All-America honors for the second straight year. The Gophers also had an outstanding year in the classroom with 19 athletes earning Academic All-Big Ten honors while eight more earned CSCAA First Team Academic All-America honors.
Dale has stressed academics throughout his career. In the last seven years, 87 Gophers have been named Academic All-Big Ten, an average of 13 per year. In addition, 31 of his student-athletes have earned Academic All-America honors. John Cahoy, was named the GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year in 1999 while Bernie Zeruhn earned the accolade in 1996. Travis Beckerle was impressively awarded an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 2006.
In 2003-04, Dale not only earned his fifth Big Ten championship at Minnesota's helm, but nine swimmers earned 22 All-America certificates. The Gophers were remarkably consistent at the Big Ten Championships, scoring in every event en route to a third Big Ten title in a five-year span.
His squads finished seventh at the 2000 and 2003 NCAA Championships, eighth at the 2002 NCAA Championships, ninth at the 2001 NCAA Championships, 15th at the 1999 NCAA Championships, 14th at the 1998 NCAA Championships and 12th at both the 1997 and 1996 NCAA Championships. The team also took ninth (1995), seventh (1994), 11th (1993) and sixth (1992) the previous four seasons.
Minnesota ended the 2002-03 season second in the Big Ten, ending the Gophers' two-year reign as conference champions. Dale earned his sixth Big Ten Coach of the Year, while Terry Silkaitis was named the Big Ten Swimmer of the Year after winning the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events. Minnesota had 14 swimmers participate at nationals, while 12 earned All-America certificates.
The 2001-02 season was tremendous for Minnesota. They scored 711.50 points en route to the Big Ten title. The Gophers claimed seven conference titles in the process, including three of the five relay crowns. En route to an eighth place finish at the NCAA Championships, 13 Golden Gophers earned 31 All-America certificates, including 14 of the first team variety. In addition, Dale led Minnesota to back-to-back Big Ten titles for the first time in school history. It was his fourth Big Ten title at the helm. Minnesota won the Big Ten title as well in 2000-01 and took ninth at the NCAAs. Dale earned his fourth Big Ten Swimming Coach of the Year award.
The 1999-2000 season was full of successes for Minnesota. The Golden Gophers finished with a perfect 7-0 dual meet record. They finished second in the Big Ten and had their highest NCAA finish (7th) since the 1993-94 season. The 1998-99 season saw the Golden Gophers finish 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten season. During the '97-98 season, the Golden Gophers went 7-1 in dual meets and 3-1 in the Big Ten. In 1997, Minnesota went 8-0, giving Dale his first undefeated season in 12 years.
At the '99 Big Ten Championships, Minnesota placed just behind Penn State with 588 points. The Golden Gophers clinched four relay titles and had a fifth relay team disqualified in the first day of competition, which prevented Minnesota a possible sweep of the relay titles and another conference crown.
The Gophers' big breakthrough came in 1996 when they broke a 70-year Big Ten title dry spell. The Gophers posted 620.5 points to beat Michigan by 75 points and end the Wolverines' 10-year stranglehold on the Big Ten crown. Bernie Zeruhn won three individual titles at the meet, including the 500 freestyle. He remains the only Gopher to ever win that event at the conference meet.
Dale also directed the Gophers to conference titles in 1996 and 1998. Prior to winning the title in 1996, Minnesota had not won the conference title since 1926.
Dale established Minnesota on the national scene in 1989 when his team finished 11th at the NCAA Championships, marking its first top 20 placing at the national meet since 1970. Four relays earned All-America honors in 1989 and six individuals earned All-America accolades, including Bengt Zikarsky, who finished fourth in the 100 free. In 1991, Sean Quackenbush finished third in the 200 butterfly. He went on to earn seven individual All-America honors.
The 1992 season was Dale's best season to date. His team was the runner-up at the Big Ten Championships and made a huge splash at the NCAA Championships, finishing sixth, Minnesota's best prior NCAA mark since 1964. All five relays earned All-America honors and Paul Nelsen was the runner-up in the 200 individual medley.
Dale added to his distinguished list of international coaching experience in 2006 when USA Swimming named him the head men's coach for the 2007 World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand. His team earned 16 medals overall, including six golds. He also had the opportunity to coach his own student-athlete, David Plummer, who swam the 50 and 100-meter back at the Games. It was the third time Dale represented the United States at the World University Games and the first as a head coach.
Dale, who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1967 with bachelor's degrees in business administration and physical education, was a senior on the `67 Golden Gopher squad that finished 10th at the national meet. He placed seventh in the 100 backstroke and led off the ninth-place 400 medley relay unit en route to garnering All-America honors.
Before taking over the reins of the Golden Gopher program in '85, he had an outstanding 13-year career as head boys' and girls' coach at Burnsville (Minn.) High School, where he built the Blaze into a perennial state powerhouse. His teams won four Minnesota state championships, and he was honored as the state Coach of the Year in each of his final four seasons. While there, he coached more than 20 prep All-Americans and a number of Junior Olympic finalists.
Under Dale's direction, Minnesota also clinched the USA National Championship in April of '98 at the Aquatic Center, as well as leading the Gopher Swim Club to a second-place finish at the 1991 Long Course Senior Nationals, where former U of M swimmer and All-American Del Cerney won Minnesota's first national title in more than 20 years in the 50 freestyle.