BOZEMAN — Dale Kennedy, who has been part of the Montana State track and field program for almost four decades and held the reins of both the men’s and women’s teams since 2000, announced his retirement as the Bobcats’ head coach on Monday afternoon. Kennedy’s last day at MSU will be Oct. 1.
Kennedy began his tenure with Montana State on July 27, 1981, and has been a key to MSU’s consistent presence in the Big Sky Conference for a total of 37 years.
Kennedy originally started his career with the Bobcats as the cross country and women’s track and field head coach. He held the top post for the cross country team until former student-athlete and current coach Lyle Weese took over in 2014, while he is the MSU women’s program’s only coach during its NCAA Division I era.
“I would like to thank Dale for his commitment, dedication and passion for Montana State University and Bobcat Athletics for the past 37 years,” said Leon Costello, Montana State Director of Athletics. “He has had a tremendous impact on not only the department and Bobcat community, but also all of the student-athletes he coached. He is a great ambassador for the Bobcats and we wish him, his wife Terry and their entire family nothing but the best during his retirement.”
Hired originally by legendary MSU women’s athletic director Dr. Ginny Hunt, Kennedy built a squad that contended on an annual basis at Big Sky meets. Before his arrival in Bozeman, Kennedy led the Spokane Community College women’s track and field squad to three straight conference titles and its cross-country team to four consecutive conference championships.
“First of all, I’m so grateful to Ginny Hunt for the opportunity,” Kennedy said. “I really wanted the job. I had been through nine years of high school coaching and finishing a fourth year up at Spokane Community College. It was a great opportunity for me, but I wanted to coach kids for four years.”
Kennedy’s first championship team came in the form of the women’s 1983 indoor track team that captured the Mountain West Conference crown. He’d eventually win nine conference championships between cross country and track and field, with most coming in the Big Sky Conference as the league began to sponsor the sports.
It was following his first championship as a head coach that Dale and his wife, Terry, decided to make Bozeman their permanent home.
“When we first came here, I wasn’t sure that this was going to be the stopping point,” Kennedy said. “But after a couple years, we realized this was a great place to live. It’s changed a lot since 1981, but a couple years in, we decided we weren’t going to look. We weren’t going to leave unless I got run out. I’ve been fortunate to have a great coaching staff. I had coaches that came and were in the same position as I was in. This was going to be our home. I think that was a blessing for me.
“I need to recognize that without Terry, and her support for this, my career wouldn’t have been possible. I really got into track and field coaching because of my wife. Her coach, Ken Foreman, has been my mentor all the way through my career. You have to have somebody that will live with and put up with the type of hours that you put into coaching. Kim, Pat and Terry all made a pretty big sacrifice for their dad and husband to do something that he really loved. I’ve really cherished the opportunity to coach this team.”
Kennedy’s career has been one that will be remembered in Montana State Athletics history.
Kennedy has seen 115 champions during the outdoor season claim gold medals and another 92 finish atop the Big Sky during the indoor season under his direction. That success has been just as consistent of late.
Since the turn of the century, over 20 Bobcat men have appeared at an NCAA Championship meet, including two this past year with Diego Leon qualifying during the indoor campaign and Kyle Douglass recently representing Montana State at Hayward Field. Ten women have also made it to the national stage during that time, including two-time national champion pole vaulter Ellie Rudy who competed for the Bobcats while Kennedy was in charge of the program.
“I’ve always felt that wherever you are is the greatest place you can be,” Kennedy said. “It’s a platform for success. You can achieve All-American honors, Olympic team honors, whatever you can think of, at Montana State. We’ve told kids that in the recruiting process. We go back to (Lance) Deal and his accolades, we’ve had kids rise to the top. We don’t have as many numbers as those at the Power Five, but any place is a launching pad for success. That includes Montana State.
“We’re certainly excited for the kids that move on to highest levels of our sport, but I’ll say I’ve always been equally excited about the kid that just makes our travel team to a Big Sky Conference Championship.”
The teams that Kennedy has helped produce have kept Montana State competitive year-in and year-out in conversation at the conference level.
Combining his 37 indoor and outdoor seasons in charge of the Montana State women’s track and field program, Kennedy’s teams completed top-three showings at the Big Sky meet on 22 occasions.
His men’s teams have been equally impressive. Leading the men’s team for 18 years and a combined 36 indoor and outdoor seasons, Kennedy’s squads placed among the top three in the standings 14 times.
Kennedy said he believes MSU’s sustained team success in Big Sky competition can be attributed to the culture and family approach the Bobcats possess.
“We have a team-oriented atmosphere here,” Kennedy said. “Cooperation with the event coaches has been great and that has filtered down to the kids supporting kids in other event groups they don’t train with. That’s a challenge with our sport because it’s often perceived as an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. Our program focuses on team/individual. The continued connection (after kids graduate) has been an experience student-athletes have had here at Montana State over the years.”
MSU’s track and field and cross country programs are well-regarded within the department for their work in the classroom and the community. The Bobcats’ track and field teams have achieved at least 3.0 GPAs on a regular basis. Multiple student-athletes have been named USTFCCCA All-Academic Team selections for both the men’s and women’s squads each year over the past decade.
“We tell kids we’re about whole-person development when we recruit,” Kennedy said. “We need to develop all spokes of the wheel. That brings in a different kid into the program. Somebody that understands the whole concept. We’re not trying to say developing your abilities on the track isn’t important, but having some balance in your life is important. We’re taking a whole person to the start line, and if anything is off in life, it’s going to affect their physical performance.
“I think it’s important for the student-athlete experience that they have an opportunity to excel in the classroom. That they have a social life and a lot of that comes with their teammates. There’s an opportunity for a spiritual development and there’s an opportunity for physical development during their career here.”
Kennedy said the growing support for the Montana State track and field teams over the years has been a benefit for continued success for he and his coaching staff. He pointed out past and current administration that positively affected the teams he led, as well as the Bobcat Track and Field Association’s impact on the program.
“The Bobcat Track and Field Association has been a huge driving force behind our track and field program,” Kennedy said. This group came in and has been a driving force for our kids to know that they have support. We’re grateful for their backing.”
Kennedy leaves a tremendous legacy of success that features athletic and academic feats under his direction. The longtime Bobcat coach mainly hopes he’s left a positive impression on the student-athletes that have made their way through the program he’s led.
“We were very fortunate to have this experience,” Kennedy said. “I always say that ‘you really hope that you’re a difference-maker.’ That I and our staff has been a difference-maker in the lives of the student-athletes that we’ve coached. Because they’ve affected us. They’ve made a huge impact on our lives. It’s a two-way street.”
A nationwide search for a new head coach will begin immediately.
— MSU Sports Information