Head Cross Country Coach Dick Clay, the longest-tenured head coach in the history of UND Athletics, announced on Tuesday his intention to retire at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.
Clay, who also serves as associate head coach of UND’s track and field program, is entering his 34th season at the helm of UND’s women’s cross country program in 2018-19, giving him the longest single-sport tenure of any coach in school history. Clay added men’s cross country head coaching duties in 2011-12 following the retirement of longtime men’s coach Mike Grandall. He also served as head women’s track and field coach from 1985 to 2011.
During his distinguished tenure, Clay has coached more than 80 individual all-America performers since arriving in Grand Forks while four of his former student-athletes and two of his teams have been inducted into the UND Athletics Letterwinners Association Hall of Fame.
“This decision was not easy,” said Clay. “It’s the right thing for me, but that doesn’t make it any easier, especially now that the season has started. My focus this year remains on coaching our student-athletes and the program. As time goes by, I’ll have the chance to reflect on the years I’ve been here. That will come in time and I have a year to do that.”
Clay will guide his program into its first year of membership in The Summit League in 2018-19, a transition that will reunite North Dakota with former North Central Conference rivals such as North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State.
“I look forward to being in the Summit League this year. A lot of those coaches are longtime colleagues of mine and it will be fun to compete with them one more time,” continued Clay. “This will be a very good job for the next person and announcing it now gives us a year to prepare for that. That’s what is best, in the long run, for the future of the program.”
Clay was named head coach of UND’s women’s track and field and cross country programs prior to the 1985-86 season and immediately set about transforming both teams into elite NCAA Division II programs. Under Clay’s leadership, North Dakota advanced to the NCAA DII Cross Country Championship 12 times and finished fifth or better on seven occasions, including a national runner-up showing in 2000. UND also captured five NCC titles and a 1994 regional championship in cross country at the DII level under Clay.
In track and field, Clay ushered the then-Fighting Sioux to consecutive top-six national finishes and 1993 and 1994 at the NCAA DII Indoor Championships. He also mentored Heidi Evans (outdoor 1,500 meters) and Marie Crep (indoor 800 meters) to individual national championships in 2008 and 1994, respectively.
Clay’s successes at the DII level were crystalized by his myriad coaching honors. He was recognized at the national level in 2000 when he was named NCAA DII Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year while earning regional coach of the year accolades that same season. Clay was also the NCAA North Central Region Cross Country Coach of the Year three times (1999, 1994, 1991).
At the conference level, Clay was a seven-time NCC Coach of the Year, capturing Cross Country Coach of the Year honors four times (2006, 2001, 1994, 1992), Outdoor Track and Field Coach of the Year accolades twice (2007, 1988) and Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year once (2000).
In 2008-09, Clay helped steer UND Athletics through Division I classification beginning with membership in the Great West Conference and, later, the Big Sky Conference. He has coached his student-athletes to significant achievements during his tenure as a Division I coach. In 2010, Lindsay Anderson won the 2010 Great West Cross Country Championship and earned GWC Most Valuable Runner honors. Later that spring, Anderson was named GWC Indoor Female Athlete of the Year after capturing conference titles in the mile, the 3,000 meters and the 5,000 meters, setting a conference record in the latter. On the men’s side, Josh LaBlanc broke the oldest record in school history when he toppled Arjan Gelling’s 10,000-meters standard that had stood since 1968.
Clay’s programs have been just as successful in the classroom as they have been in competition. His men’s and women’s cross country programs have earned multiple NCAA Public Recognition Awards for their multi-year Academic Progress Rates (APR) and his teams have led the nation in grade-point average in their respective sport a combined seven times.
Four of Clay’s runners earned academic All-America honors, including three-time honoree Steph Bruening (1992, 1993, 1994), and five received NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships.
Clay served on the NCAA Track and Field Subcommittee and the NCAA Track and Cross Country Rules Committee from 1999-2004. He is a past president of the NCAA Division II Track Coaches Association and served on the U.S. Track Coaches Association Board of Directors from 1995-1997. Clay was also the coordinator of the NCAA Division II Track and Field Hall of Fame from 1996-2003.
A certified USATF Level I Track and Field Coach, Clay was honored by his peers when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the NCAA Cross Country Coaches Association in 1992 and again in 2007. In 1996, Clay received the Distinguished Service Award from the NCAA Track Coaches Association.
Clay came to UND from Central Missouri State where he served two years as head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country team and the women’s track team. In 1984, Clay’s Central Missouri State track and field team claimed a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
A native of Dawson, Minn., Clay graduated from St. Cloud State in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. He went on to earn a master’s degree from St. Cloud State in 1983. A four-year track and cross country letterwinner and team captain for the Huskies, Clay qualified for the Division II cross country championships in 1978, 1979, and 1980.
“What an amazing career Coach Clay has had,” said UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves. “His contributions to the University of North Dakota will never be forgotten. His legacy, in my opinion, will no doubt be the positive impact that he has had on the countless number of student-athletes that he has coached for over three decades.”
Chaves continued: “We wish Dick all the best in retirement, but are still lucky to have him through this academic year. This will give us time to begin to identify and hire his replacement in 2019.”
Dick Clay at a glance
Birthdate: September 9, 1957
Hometown: Dawson, Minn.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Physical Education (St. Cloud State ‘82)
- Master’s Degree: Physical Education (St. Cloud State ’83)
- 1981-1983: Assistant track and cross country coach, St. Cloud State
- 1983-1984: Assistant track coach, Central Missouri State
- 1984-1985: Head cross country/women’s track coach, Central Missouri State
- 1985-2011: Head women’s track coach, North Dakota
- 1985-2019: Head women’s cross country coach, North Dakota
- 2011-2018: Head men’s cross country coach, North Dakota
- 2011-2019: Associate head track and field coach, North Dakota
- 1988: NCC Outdoor Track & Field Coach of the Year
- 1991: NCAA North Central Region Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 1992: NCC Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 1994: NCAA North Central Region Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 1994: NCC Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 1999: NCAA North Central Region Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 2000: NCAA DII Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year
- 2000: NCAA North Central Region Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year
- 2000: NCC Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year
- 2001: NCC Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 2006: NCC Cross Country Coach of the Year
- 2007: NCC Outdoor Track & Field Coach of the Year
- 1994: Marie Crep, 800 meters (indoor)
- 2008: Heidi Evans, 1,500 meters (outdoor)
UND Athletics Letterwinners Association Hall of Fame Inductees
- 2004: Marie (Crep) Suchy (1990-94)
- 2005: Steph (Bruening) Payne (1989-94)
- 2012: Louise Ronnerman (1991-94)
- 2013: 1991 women’s cross country team
- 2017: 1992 women’s cross country team
- 2018: Becky (Leppard) Erickson
- 1976-1980: St. Cloud State (NCAA Division II)