Dennis Dale as respected as NCAA coaches come

by Nick Gerhardt

In Dennis Dale’s office sits a domed case with two Big Ten championship rings inside.

The case has room for three more rings and Dale has enough rings to fill it, but the fact that he doesn’t display his three other rings symbolizes his modesty.

In his 23rd year of coaching the Minnesota swim team Dale would rather have attention focused on his athletes instead of his accomplishments.

His achievements glimmer: five Big Ten championships in seven years, six Big Ten coach of the year awards, 17 consecutive years of finishing first or second in the Big Ten and 16 straight top 15 finishes at the NCAA championships.

He has compiled a 164-28 overall record and has gone 77-6 over the last 11 years. His teams have not lost more than one dual meet in over 17 years.

The success, however, did not come immediately when Dale began coaching the Gophers in 1985. That season the team finished with a 5-7 record and placed ninth at the conference championship.

“My first year at Minnesota the Big Ten meet was really discouraging,” Dale said. “I was used to experiencing more success as a coach.”

Dale spent 13 years as the Burnsville boys and girls swimming coach prior to coaching the Gophers. While there, he led his teams to four state titles and he became the state coach of the year four times.

His solid standing in the coaching community aided Dale in building the Minnesota program to where it is now.

“I think I was fortunate that I had a good reputation among the high school coaches. That helped us in recruiting the better Minnesota swimmers,” Dale said. “You get a couple of good athletes from Minnesota who break through and become Big Ten swimmers; they can carry the team on their back to move up.”

Dale spent his first 10 years working on improving the team when the unthinkable happened. The Gophers won the Big Ten championship in 1996.

“When we won the Big Ten title in 1996 I was as shocked as anybody,” Dale said. “I didn’t envision us winning the Big Ten championship.”

Dale was so convinced the team didn’t have a chance that he told a colleague he would shave his head if his team won.

He never kept up his end of the deal but he has continued to follow through on his promise to improve the athletes he coaches.

“A lot of our program is based on technical skills,” assistant coach Bill Tramel said. “Dennis definitely focuses on those aspects, be it relay take offs or stroke technique. Every detail counts. I’m not sure a lot of coaches in our sport take the time to do that.”

Dale and his staff have built the program by taking local swimmers and grooming them into top conference athletes.

“We have to make our own talent. Dennis has taken guys that weren’t recruited and he makes them All-Americans,” Tramel said.

Senior Tyler Schmidt is one of those athletes Dale has helped transform into an All-American.

“When he first came here he was as green as could be,” Tramel said. “It took him a year to get to a point where he could contribute at the Big Ten level.”

Dale has elevated the status of the Minnesota program to one of national prominence and with that came greater expectations of athletes.

“He knows what he wants out of his swimmers,” Schmidt said. “He knows where each swimmer should be since he’s been around for so long.”