BOULDER, Colo. — Richard Rokos, the University of Colorado head ski coach for the last 30 seasons, who has led the Buffaloes to eight NCAA championships, has announced that the 2021 season will be last at the reins of the program.
Hired on July 3, 1990 after three years as an assistant coach, his first CU team won the 1991 national title, the school’s first since the sport went coed in 1983. During this span, the Buffaloes have also won 14 Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association titles, while his athletes have won 43 NCAA individual titles while being afforded 239 All-American honors, including 146 earning first-team accolades.
His teams have qualified for the NCAA championships all 30 seasons, second-most in school history to current head cross country coach Mark Wetmore. This year’s championship was canceled at the midway point when the NCAA suspended all championship events on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rokos, who turned 70 this past May, said this is the right time.
“It’s hard to say when is the right time, but I thought it would be unnoticed right now because everything is so crazy and turbulent out there. But I am glad that I can keep doing this for one more season, to be around the team one more time, and I can help in any way I am asked to with the transition to a new head coach,” Rokos said.
How humble is the man who has coached CU skiers longer than any other person in the program’s 74-year history? Though he has been named the United States Collegiate Ski Coaches Association National Coach of the Year on five occasions and notified on nine occasions that he was the selection for the RMISA honor, he has always declined the honor for personal reasons, mainly that he doesn’t believe in the philosophy and that the student-athletes deserve the credit.
When asked what he enjoyed the most over the course of his three-plus decades at CU, he didn’t need to pause to give it a second thought.
“Every single day of doing this,” he said. “I do not regret for one minute what I have been doing. It was an exceptional privilege to have had this opportunity. I was fortunate that it came along for me, and because of it I’ve met the most amazing people in my life. I love my kids dearly. I’m not on Facebook, but I have a couple of hundred phone numbers and we call each other, we visit each other. Once a year, we take a trip around the country and visit some here and there, and when I am in Europe recruiting, I do the same. These have been long-lasting relationships, and we really are a family. This is what has made this job so exceptionally unique.”
Family might be an understatement. There have been 37 marriages between members of his ski teams; an ordained minister (he took the appropriate courses), Rokos himself has performed many of those ceremonies, along with other members who “married outside of the team.”
“I’m not considering it that I am retiring, I’m going into retirement. Two different terms,” Rokos joked. “I’ll have a new boss (my wife Helena), and she’ll give me the money I need. I just won’t get it from the athletic department anymore.”
Academically, his skiers have boasted grade point averages that are always at or near the top of all of CU’s 17 varsity sports programs, often in excess of 3.5. His student-athletes have been honored 308 times on the NCAA Skiing All-Academic Team, the equivalent of Academic All-America.
Under Rokos, the Buffaloes have won 73 of 181 meets they have skied in, including the eight NCAA crowns in 1991, 1995, 1999, 1999, 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2015. On 61 other occasions, CU has finished in second, with eight of those as the NCAA runner-up. That’s an amazing 74 percent of the time CU has finished in the top two under Rokos (with just four finishes outside of the top four).
“Richie has been devoted to his sport, his team and the university as much as anyone who has ever graced the athletic department,” CU athletic director Rick George said. “He’s not only a championship coach, but a champion as a person. To accomplish what he did in his lifetime, especially after having the determination to flee a communist country that put his life at risk, admiration is not a strong enough word when talking about Richard Rokos.”
Stefan Hughes, CU’s assistant alpine coach for the last three seasons who was also a two-time All-American as Buffalo under Rokos during his collegiate career (2007-10), is appreciative of the chances and what he has learned under his mentor.
“Richie has given so many opportunities to athletes and coaches over the over the years than most any coach could probably ever say,” Hughes said. “The legacy he has created is when I go out into the small community of skiing, to meet people that he coached 20 and 30 years ago and the CU family that he has built, has really meant so much to me. And from that group of athletes that have become coaches, what he instilled in them is a level of passion and commitment to the sport. There are so many of us, we might have more alumni coaching on the collegiate or club level than any other program.”
“Before coming to Colorado, I had never had a coach that cared about more than just what I had to offer as an athlete,” said Stef Fleckenstein, a junior alpine skier on the team. “Richie goes above and beyond what I could have ever hoped for in a coach and joining this team has been the best decision of my life. He’s the most dedicated coach and is an inspiration to everybody. I know even after he’s done coaching, he will be a big part of my life and I feel blessed to say that. I can’t wait to race for him one more season.”
Rokos was born May 25, 1950 in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He and his wife, the former Helena Konecny, and then-18-month-old daughter Linda, left their communist native homeland in 1980 for Austria where they spent a year preparing their visas, and then defected from Czechoslovakia to the United States (Detroit) a year later before calling Colorado their permanent home beginning in 1982.
Rokos is the third coach to lead a CU program for three decades or longer, as he trails only Frank Potts, who coached CU’s men’s cross country and track teams for 41 years (1927-68) and Charles Vavra, who was the gymnastics coach for 32 years (1930-61). Including his time as an assistant, his 34 years in the CU athletic department is the seventh-longest tenure of any employee, coach or administrator.
George announced that former CU athletic director and ski coach Bill Marolt and former skier Bruce Gamble will co-chair the search committee to select Rokos’ successor. Both are members of CU’s Athletic Hall of Fame; Marolt had hired Rokos as the school’s 11th full-time head coach in 1990.
Release courtesy of David Plati/University of Colorado. Have some thoughts on this? Send a letter to the editor. If it’s good, we’ll publish it.