Richard Rokos and Colorado Skiing. Entering his 25th season as the University of Colorado head coach, you can’t think of one without the other, because for 24 years, the combination has been synonymous with success.
When he was promoted to head coach on July 3, 1990, the process to return a program that was eight years removed from an NCAA title back to national prominence took its first step. Twenty-three seasons, seven national team titles, 36 individual champions and 189 All-Americans later, it is once again the premier ski program in the nation.
Rokos, 63, is the 11th and longest tenured head coach in CU ski history, has guided Colorado to seven national championships, winning NCAA crowns in 1991, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2010 and 2013. In addition, his Buffaloes have won individual titles (36 total) in 16 different years. That first team title came in his first season as head coach, a unique accomplishment in any sport, and served as a bookend for the school as it came on the heels of CU’s first in football.
Only five coaches in CU history have coached their teams longer than Rokos has been at the reins of the ski team; all eight coached at least 24 seasons as Rokos became the ninth to coach a team for two decades. He will tie Frank Prentup for fifth on the list this winter, and with all of his teams qualifying for the NCAA Championships, his 24 trips to nationals are the second most by any coach in school history.
He has also coached the Buffs to 12 Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) titles, the last coming in 2013, events that also serve as the NCAA West Regional, as well as eight runner-up finishes.
His skiers, alpine and Nordic, have posted 277 top 10 finishes at the NCAA Championships; that total includes 121 first team All-Americans, with 34 earning two-time single-year All-American mention, and 70 second-team All-Americans.
Under Rokos, the Buffaloes have won 61 of 147 meets they have skied in, including the seven NCAA crowns and the 12 RMISA Championships/NCAA West Regionals (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013). On 47 other occasions, CU has finished as the runner-up.
Though he has been notified on seven different occasions that he was the selection for the RMISA coach of the year, the last time for 2011, Rokos declines the honor for personal reasons, mainly that he doesn’t believe in the philosophy and that the student-athletes deserve the credit. He has been named the United States Collegiate Ski Coaches Association National Coach of the Year on four occasions, last in 2013.
One of Rokos’ greatest accomplishments since taking over the program has been turning what was once essentially an individual sport, pulling divergent skiers—men and women, Nordic and Alpine, into a team event at CU. Prior to his arrival, the two units rarely saw each other prior to the national championships, as they trained and raced separately. But it was his philosophy, to be an educator as well as a coach, to understand the physical and psychological significance of a student-athlete and to introduce harmony and mutual support that has made it a more unified program. Credit Rokos himself for the strong camaraderie because there is very little that he asks of his skiers that he doesn’t do himself. That includes 6 a.m. ice hockey games, off-season dryland training, mountain bike rides from Boulder to Winter Park and back, hiking Pikes Peak, playing soccer and rollerblading through Boulder.
Rokos, who also coordinates all alpine aspects of the program, was already very familiar with the CU ski program upon his hiring, as he was promoted from alpine coordinator to the post. He served one season (1989-90) in that role under his predecessor as head coach, Tim LaVallee, and was the head coach of Colorado’s Alpine “B” Team for the two years prior to joining the varsity staff (1987-89). With Rokos tutoring the alpine skiers, the 1990 team finished third in both the West Regional and the NCAA championships, with one individual national champion in the latter.
Rokos brought to CU a great amount of racing and coaching experience. He competed in his native home of Czechoslovakia and internationally for 19 years before beginning his coaching career with the Czechoslovakian Junior National Team in 1977. The year prior to joining the junior national team, Rokos graduated from the University of Masaryk with a masters’ degree in physical education, his emphasis in his diploma work was the use of ski slopes with artificial surfaces for slalom and giant slalom practice. In 1969 he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Machiner. He has additional course work in Prague (Level II International Coaching License), ColoradoState (athletic training) and the University of Colorado (special education).
Leaving the Czech national team in 1980, Rokos went on to coach at several ski schools in Austria before finally coming to the United States to coach at the Grampian Mountain Ski School in Michigan the following year. He then spent four years (1984-87) working with the U.S. Pro Ski Tour before settling down in Boulder.
Rokos will once again head the alpine team at the 2013 World University Games in Granada, Spain. It will mark the eighth time he’s coached the team, having previously done so in 1995 (Jaca, Spain), 1997 (Mugu, Korea), 1999 (Zakopane, Poland), 2003 and 2007 (Tarvisio, Italy) and 2005 (Innsbruck, Austria), and 2011 in Ezerum, Turkey. Combined, his athletes have brought home four gold medals, one by CU skier Katie Hartman in the Super-G in 2011, along with four silver and several bronze including one by a former Buffalo, Erika Hogan, in 2003. He was also the head coach of the entire U.S. Team in the 1997 event in Korea.
In 2013, he was selected for induction into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in his two-plus decades as CU’s head coach. He joined several former Buffs in the Hall, in which he was the 200th person enshrined.
In 2006, he earned a “Top of the Rocky Award” as the region’s top college coach as selected by the writers and critics of the Rocky Mountain News. The honor made mention of CU being the first-ever shorthanded team to win an NCAA title, recording the biggest second-day comeback in the meet, and Rokos specifically being mentioned by President George W. Bush when the Buffs were one of 12 teams invited to the White House. Rokos was saluted by the president, who called him a “proud American” in reference to his defecting to the States for freedom, which he also privately had mentioned upon meeting him, “There’s nothing like freedom.”
He was also selected as the 2006 Coach of the Year in the state of Colorado by the Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame.
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 a communist-bound native homeland in 1980 for Austria where they spent a year preparing their visas, and defected from Czechoslovakia to the United States (Detroit) a year later before calling Colorado their permanent home beginning in 1982. He and Helena are the parents of two grown children Linda, now an alpine instructor at Eldora and Thomas, and one grandchild, Stella, who is also an avid skier.