Greeno: One of a kindAs the new sports editor at the Jamestown Sun in the early 1980s, one of my first duties was to go and meet Rollie Greeno — already an icon at Jamestown College.
By: Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
As the new sports editor at the Jamestown Sun in the early 1980s, one of my first duties was to go and meet Rollie Greeno — already an icon at Jamestown College.
I patiently waited for Rollie outside his office. As he approached, he was still dressed in a cap and gown as he was leaving an official Jamestown College function.
Before he reached his office, however, he stopped, dropped to his hands and knees and pulled a pop can from underneath a parked car. With his boot, he stomped the can, picked it up and continued on to his office. Another can for recycling.
It was quite the first impression. For the next 15 years, every day, it seemed, mirrored my first encounter with Rollie. You just never knew what to expect from Rollie — a cantankerous, warm-hearted, funny, colorful, competitive and dedicated coach who died Tuesday at the age of 83 after a series of strokes.
Today’s polished college coaches are nothing like Rollie, who was a product of the Depression years in South Dakota.
Rollie didn’t offer coach-speak. Nor did he dress like today’s coaches. He once showed up for a football game wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat and buckle overshoes. A lot of the time, he wore a hounds tooth hat. He told things like they were, rarely worrying what others would think.
He guided Jamestown College to more than 80 conference championships in football, track and field, cross country and wrestling. More important, his insatiable recruiting largely was responsible for keeping the doors to Jamestown College open in the early 1980s.
With an enrollment of approximately 300 at the time, the college seriously thought about closing its doors for good. Of the 300 enrolled students, Rollie perhaps recruited 100 of them — all connected somehow to athletics.
That was one of his biggest legacies at Jamestown College, the one that often goes unnoticed.
The public, however, saw the spirited and entertaining side of Rollie as he coached football, track, cross country and wrestling for 37 years at the private liberal arts college.
Among the many classic Rollie stories:
r During a game against Dickinson State, a Blue Hawks’ running back was streaking down the sideline for a touchdown at Taylor Stadium. Rollie took a white hankie out of his back pocket and waved it in the air so DSU coach Hank Biesiot — one of his closest friends — could see what basically amounted to a surrender. After the game, Rollie was asked if he waved the hankie. “If you saw it, I probably did it,” he said.
r Rollie stubbornly ran the run-oriented wing-T offense. He didn’t invent the antiquated offense, but there is no proof he didn’t, either. He was always asked why he didn’t pass the ball more. His standard response: “Three things happen when you pass the ball, and two of them are bad.”
r A younger sports editor wrote one time that Rollie’s offense resembled a dance line routine — one, two, three, kick. His response to someone who thought he was clever in print: “Funny. Real funny. Just remember the world is full of unemployed comedians.”
r During an NAIA district track and field meet in Aberdeen, S.D., the last event of the day was the 10,000-meter run. As the daylight faded, there were only two runners on the track. One was from JC and another from Northern State, an older-than-average student-athlete who held a sizeable lead. Rollie was in the infield, shouting words of encouragement to his runner. His encouraging words: “See that guy ahead of you? If he gets injured, he qualifies for Medicaid.”
r Before a road game at Dickinson State, Rollie exited his office with a bag full of home-grown squash. He was asked why he was taking the squash to Dickinson. “This is for Hank,” Rollie said. “Maybe he won’t beat me so bad this time.”
r In the twilight of his career, Rollie’s staff at Jamestown College was a considerably younger group. One of his assistants was Bubba Schweigert, who also played for Rollie before moving on to UND and Southern Illinois. “I have a Pepsi Generation coaching staff,” Rollie would often say. But he always said it with a smile.
And he had a major impact on virtually every athlete he coached in college and high school, including Schweigert.
“Think of the number of lives he affected,” Schweigert said. “It’s unbelievable.
“I thought I was going to be an accountant. He asked me one day if I really wanted to do that. He said, ‘You should be a coach.’
“I said I’d think about. I still got my accounting degree. But then he gave me an opportunity to coach.”
Bubba became a coach and it was the right decision.
College athletics are much different today than they were when Rollie coached.
But these days certainly aren’t as entertaining as they were when Rollie was around.
The Grand Forks Herald and Jamestown Sun are owned by Forum Communications Co.