MINNEAPOLIS (GopherSports.com) - An icon in the sport and a leader at the University of Minnesota for more than five decades, legendary Gophers cross country and track & field coach Roy Griak passed away on Thursday evening at the age of 91.
A former letter winner for the Gophers, Griak served the University of Minnesota for more than 50 years as a member of the men's track & field and cross country coaching staff and remained devoted to his alma mater for his entire life.
"Today, we have lost a true legend in Roy Griak," said Minnesota Director of Athletics Norwood Teague. "Roy went to Minnesota, coached here for more than 30 years, worked here for more than 50 years and impacted more lives than almost anybody in the history of the athletic department. Though he retired from coaching in 1996, he never left the sport or the University of Minnesota. Roy was in the office as recently as a few months ago and still pored over results and times of our student-athletes while bringing his signature friendliness to conversations with colleagues. He was a Gopher until the very end. His dedication and his commitment to our university and our student-athletes will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones."
Griak served as head coach of the men's cross country and track & field programs for 33 years from 1963-1996 and guided the Gophers to Big Ten cross country titles in 1964 and 1969 while his 1968 cross country squad finished second in the conference and fourth at the NCAA championships. Griak added a Big Ten track & field title to his resume in 1968. As head coach of the Maroon & Gold, Griak coached a total of three national champions, 47 All-Americans and 60 Big Ten champions.
"Roy Griak was an icon in the running community and a legend among the Gopher family," Minnesota Director of Men's Track & Field and Cross Country Steve Plasencia, who became an All-American under Griak, said. "His devotion to the University of Minnesota touched immeasurable lives, and he will be sorely missed by each and every one of them. I was lucky enough to know Roy for most of my life, and I don't think I've ever met someone who was as dedicated or genuine as he was. Roy was a great, great man -- he will be missed dearly and remembered fondly."
Raised in Duluth, Minn., Griak came to the University of Minnesota after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He lettered in both cross country and track & field and graduated with a bachelor's degree in education in 1949 before adding a master's degree in 1950. Griak went on to teach at Nicolett High School and Mankato Public Schools before he began teaching and coaching at St. Louis Park High School in 1953.
Griak returned to Minnesota in 1963 as head coach of the track & field and cross country programs, taking over for his former coach, Jim Kelly. He remained at his alma mater for the rest of his life, transitioning to an administrative role with the programs following his tenure as head coach. When he stepped down as head coach, the University of Minnesota honored him by renaming its annual cross country meet in his honor. One of the largest and most competitive meets in the nation, the Roy Griak Invitational will celebrate its 30th year in 2015.
In addition to his three national champions and three Big Ten titles as a head coach, Griak guided three more Gophers to NCAA titles in his supporting role. In a testament to his coaching ability, Griak boasted a national champion in five different decades (Garry Bjorklund in 1971, Ron Backes in 1986, Martin Erickson in 1993, Vesa Rantanen in 1998, Adam Steele in 2003 and Luca Wieland in 2015). Griak was also on staff for nine Big Ten track & field championships for Minnesota as an administrator including indoor and outdoor conference title sweeps in 1998, 2009 and 2010.
Along with his success at the collegiate level, Griak served on coaching staffs for more than 10 U.S. international teams, most notably as head manager of the 1984 U.S. Olympic track & field team. He was inducted into the Drake Relays Coaches Hall of Fame in 1993, the University of Minnesota `M' Club Hall of Fame in 1996 and the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2001.
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