Gophers legend Roy Griak passes away

by Emily Polglaze

Roy Griak, a University of Minnesota legend, has crossed the final finish line. Griak, a Gophers coach and administrative assistant since 1963, passed away July 9 at the age of 91. âÄúRoy 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,âÄù athletics director Norwood Teague said in a July 9 statement. âÄúHis dedication and his commitment to our university and our student-athletes will be sorely missed.âÄù Griak grew up in Duluth, Minn., and attended the University of Minnesota after serving in the U.S. Army in World War II. Griak was a letter-winner in cross country and track as an athlete, and he returned as head coach of the menâÄôs track and field and cross country programs in 1963. Griak coached a number of successful athletes in his 33-year career, including Ron Backes, an NCAA indoor shot put champion in 1986 and participant in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. âÄúAt the end of the day, [Griak] wanted guys to give it their all,âÄù Backes said. âÄúHe called it âÄòsnotty-nose tough.âÄô Blood, sweat, tears and snot coming out of your nose âÄî that was his indication you were giving your best. He emphasized this mental toughness, and it wasnâÄôt about winning or losing.âÄù Griak molded his athletes to be competitors, evident by the three team Big Ten titles, three individual NCAA championships, 47 All-Americans and 60 individual Big Ten Conference titles earned during his coaching tenure at Minnesota. Griak also coached at the international level, serving on the staff of 10 U.S. international teams. He was the head manager of the 1984 U.S. Olympic track and field team for the games held in Los Angeles, Calif. Griak retired from coaching at the University in 1996, but he didnâÄôt go very far. He became an administrative assistant for the programs and was active in their proceedings, even in his last months. Steve Plasencia, MinnesotaâÄôs director of menâÄôs track and field and cross country, was coached by Griak when he was an athlete at Minnesota but spent most of his time with him as a colleague and mentor. âÄúWhen I started, I was a rookie coach, and he helped make my transition into the role smooth,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúHe was always there for guidance and advice, but he wasnâÄôt over your shoulder second-guessing, and thatâÄôs what made the situation work well.âÄù One way Plasencia and his athletes will be able to continue GriakâÄôs legacy is through the Roy Griak Invitational, MinnesotaâÄôs annual cross country invitational. This yearâÄôs invitational will be the 30th and the first Griak will not be present for. âÄúWeâÄôll all remember Roy up until last year riding on a cart out on the course, being a part of it. IâÄôll definitely miss that figure there,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúOur ability to keep young people who come through the program informed of what Roy represents and who he was is important.âÄù In addition to GriakâÄôs notable coaching achievements, those who knew him will also remember him for his kind-hearted and happy demeanor. âÄúHe really demonstrated that he cared about you,âÄù Backes said. âÄúAfter you graduated, he was always happy to see you and help you in any way he could with life after track.âÄù Plasencia said heâÄôll miss the little things about Griak, particularly how he would pack a lunch every day with Plasencia in mind. âÄúIâÄôd be sitting at my desk and hear, âÄòSteve, Steve, come over here,âÄôâÄù Plasencia said. âÄúAnd IâÄôd walk over to his office, and heâÄôd have a chocolate cookie for me. He got a lot of joy out of making people happy, even in small ways.âÄù GriakâÄôs name will also be remembered as an inductee of the Drake Relays Coaches Hall of Fame, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs âÄúMâÄù Club Hall of Fame and the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Though GriakâÄôs absence will be hard to ignore, the mark he made is already apparent. âÄúHe brought in and surrounded himself with great people had a great work ethic and cared about kids,âÄù Backes said. âÄúWhen you think of Minnesota track and field, Roy Griak has to be in that thought process.âÄù