BOZEMAN — A sheepish Dale Kennedy approached the podium at his retirement press conference, smiling, but not comfortable with the spectacle or the attention.
“I didn’t know we’d make such a big deal,” he said. “I thought I could just walk away and it would be no big deal.”
Kennedy, who you’ll hardly ever find at a loss for words, is stepping down from the Montana State track program after 37 years with the Bobcats and 50 years in coaching. Kennedy had to take a moment before diving into his parting thoughts. He smiled at his wife, Terry, who was standing in the back of the room, and who was instrumental in his career and his decision.
“Two years ago we were talking about retirement, and she consented to two more years,” he laughed. “She said, “Go and get your 50. And I promised her that this would be it.”
But how can you measure the impact Kennedy had on athletics in 37 years at Montana State? You can start with the accolades and successes, of which there were many. Kennedy points to 2002, when the Bobcat men’s cross country team finished 11th at the NCAA championships, led by captain Lyle Weese.
“Those guys won a Big Sky (Conference) title, and they weren’t even supposed to do that,” Kennedy said. “They went on to regionals and qualified, went to the NCAA’s and finished 11th. And I think we were the surprise of the meet. I think people were taken aback by how good we did.”
Or how about when Ellie Rudy captured back to back indoor pole vault championships in 2007 and 2008? Kennedy had tears in his eyes thinking about the moment.
“We got to Bozeman and a young lady hung a banner up where all the championship teams are,” Kennedy said. “And it was just a white piece of paper that said ‘reserved for Rudy’. Those ones you don’t forget.”
But to truly understand his impact – ask the athletes he mentored. Like Weese, who starred on the track for Kennedy’s team and now serves a head coach for the Bobcat cross country team and an assistant on the track.
“He’s impacted my life in so many different ways,” said Weese. “I learned so much of what it takes to be a leader. So many times I’ve seen him take the blame for someone else’s mistake. He’s just kind of always had that presence about him — he’s going to do everything he can for those who are working for him as student athletes and the other people in the athletic department.”
And then ask his boss what Kennedy meant to MSU.
“He’s served as a mentor to me,” said Bobcat athletic director Leon Costello. “When you look at the academics, and the amount of community service projects, and the amount of hours of community service his athletes put in. It’s rare to find someone that instills those values in student athletes. That’s what our entire athletic program is about, and Dale has been kind of a driving force for that.”
And though he’s moving on, Kennedy is not done with the program.
“I joke with my wife that the only difference will be that I won’t be receiving a paycheck,” Kennedy said. “I hope to do something around Montana State University. And if nothing else, I’ll just hang out and rake the long jump pit, or do something like that. I just hope that we can hang on to the culture that we’ve developed — a blue collar ethic, let’s roll up our sleeves up and go to work.”
Because for Kennedy, there’s always more work to be done.