Former SRJC track coach Pat Ryan dies at 95
Pat Ryan, a highly decorated track and field and cross country coach at Santa Rosa Junior College for decades, died Monday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital after a long illness. He was 95.
Revered by athletes and fellow coaches alike, Ryan was remembered for his kindness and unflappable coaching style, as well as for his nearly encyclopedic memory of his athletes’ achievements both on and off the field.
Ryan was twice honored as California Community College Track and Field Coach of the Year. Under Ryan, the Bear Cubs won 11 men’s conference championship titles in the 13 seasons between 1975 and 1987. His women’s squads won four championships. His men’s and women’s cross country teams combined for 12 championships.
He was inducted into the SRJC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
“He was an institution,” said Ron Whitney, a former Olympian and Ryan’s assistant coach for about two decades before reversing roles and becoming head coach to Ryan’s assistant coach for another 18 years. Ryan coached until he was 85.
“He had a lot of great talent and he had a lot of kids in transition,” he said. “He dug out a lot of gems. He was able to mine the field.”
And he did it with a quiet, steady grace.
“When he spoke, you just did what he said,” said Rick Call, a former SRJC trustee who ran for Ryan in his first year as head coach. “He didn’t do it from a powerful, yelling and screaming kind of way. It just demanded respect. Everybody knew he knew what he was talking about.”
Even his peers admired his style.
“I don’t know that I have ever seen him get angry,” said Ron Myers, the longtime Bear Cubs baseball coach who worked beside Ryan for decades.
“His athletes love him, I know that,” Myers said. “He’s a hard guy not to like.”
Ryan was an immensely popular figure on campus. If he had offered either of his children a ride home from Santa Rosa High next door, they knew a wait was likely involved.
“We’d wait there for an hour or two hours,” his daughter, Kristina Ryan of Berkeley, said. Her dad always had a crowd in his office.
It’s not an exaggeration, Whitney said.
“When I first knew him, if you went into his office, you had to step over bodies,” he said. “I don’t know why they congregated there, they just wanted to be in his presence.”
And that interest in student-athletes lasted a lifetime.
“He really took a lot of pride in what his athletes did after they graduated, whether it was the business they went into or where they were,” said his son, John Ryan of Santa Rosa. “He just really followed his athletes afterward and was really proud, and most of the time it was for what they did off the field. I think that was one of his great joys.”
And Ryan never forgot a face — or a track time. He was legendary for remembering race times, paces, split times and scores — sometimes going back decades.
“He was very low-key but had an absolutely brilliant mind when it came to sports,” Whitney said.