Former U sports icon Paul Giel dies

Dylan Thomas

Gophers sports legend and former University athletics director Paul Giel died Wednesday, ending a lifetime involved in University athletics. He was 69.

During Giel’s 18 years as University athletics director, beginning in 1972, he was a tireless promoter and fund-raiser for University athletics.

“He was popular and he brought that popularity with him to the University athletics department,” said Dennis Dale, men’s swimming and diving coach. Dale echoed the sentiments of many who remembered Giel as “a genuinely nice guy.”

Current University athletics director Tom Moe remembered the success Giel brought to the sports program.

“The most significant thing that an athletics director can do to build a program is to hire the right coach,” Moe said. “If you look at the coaches he hired, it’s like a who’s who of college athletics.”

Within his first six years as athletics director, Moe said, Giel’s hires led to eight titles between the gymnastics, hockey and baseball teams and two second-place finishes by the basketball team.

Giel’s childhood ambitions were fulfilled when he became a Gophers football and baseball star in the 1950s, said Paul Giel Jr., Giel’s son.

“Living and dying with the Gophers on the radio Ö his dream was to play for the University,” said Giel Jr.

Giel was a Big Ten Most Valuable Player for the Gophers football team and a two-time All-American as a halfback. In 1953, he came in second for the Heismann Award after Notre Dame’s Johnny Lattner.

After graduating from the University in 1953, Giel pitched for four major league baseball teams, including the Twins, until 1961. He was the business manager for the Minnesota Vikings for two years in the 1960s and the sports director for WCCO radio for eight years.

Giel was returning to his home in Minnetonka after a Twins game at the Metrodome when he collapsed and died in his car, said his wife Nancy. The official cause of death has not been determined, but family members said they believe it was heart-related.

Visitation will be held Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel in Edina. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

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