|Alma Mater:||Masaryk '76|
Richard Rokos and Colorado Skiing. Now in his 26th season as the University of Colorado’s head coach and his 30th overall at the school, you can’t think of one without the other, not to mention that 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-five seasons, eight national championships, 36 individual champions and 196 All-Americans later, it is once again the premier ski program in the nation.
Rokos, 65, is the 11th and longest tenured head coach in CU ski history, has guided Colorado to eight NCAA titles, claiming the crowns in 1991, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2015. 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 four coaches in CU history coached their teams longer than Rokos has been at the reins of the ski team: Frank Potts (41 seasons, cross country and track); Charles Vavra (32 seasons, men’s gymnastics), and Les Fowler and Mark Simpson, both of whom coached the men’s golf team 29 seasons. Rokos’ teams have qualified for the NCAA Championships 26 times, the second most by any coach in school history.
He has also coached the Buffs to 13 Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association (RMISA) titles, events that also serve as the NCAA West Regional, as well as seven runner-up finishes.
His skiers, alpine and Nordic, have posted 285 top 10 finishes at the NCAA Championships; that total includes 122 first-team All-Americans, with 36 earning two-time single-year All-American mention, and 74 second-team All-Americans. Academically, the 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 teams have placed 241 student-athletes on the NCAA Skiing All-Academic Team, the equivalent of Academic All-America.
Under Rokos, the Buffaloes have won 65 of 153 meets they have skied in, including the seven NCAA crowns and the 13 RMISA Championships/NCAA West Regionals (1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015). On 47 other occasions, CU has finished as the runner-up. That’s an amazing 73 percent of the time CU has finished in the top two.
Though he has been notified on nine different occasions that he was the selection for the RMISA coach of the year, the last time for 2015, 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 five occasions, last in 2015.
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), Colorado State (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.
Dating back to 1995, Rokos has served as the Chief of the U.S. Alpine delegation for the World University Games (WUG) on nine occasions. He has handled what are essentially the head coaching duties for the alpine team in 1995 (Jaca, Spain), 1997 (Mugu, South Korea), 2001 (Zakopane, Poland), 2003 (Tarvisio, Italy), 2005 (Innsbruck, Austria), 2007 (Turin, Italy), 2011 (Erzurum, Turkey), 2013 (Trentino, Italy) and 2015 (Granada, Spain). The U.S. athletes have brought home several medals (gold, silver and bronze) under his direction, including four by CU skiers: gold medals by Thea Grosvold (slalom, 2015), Erika Ghent (combined classification, 2011) and Katie Hartman (Super-G, 2011) and a bronze by Erika Hogan (slalom, 2003). He was also the head coach of the entire U.S. Team in the 1997 event in South Korea.
In 2013, he was inducted 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.