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Former SRJC track coach Pat Ryan dies at 95

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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.

He also kept meticulous records, although those who knew him said that wasn’t really necessary — he remembered everything.

“Not only could he pull out people’s split times from a meet, he could pull out people’s split times from practice,” John Ryan said.

Ryan was the go-to resource for all community college coaches in Northern California because of his record keeping. He tracked all athletes, all best marks and was the institutional knowledge for the sport for decades.

“Young and old, I never met a coach who didn’t have the utmost respect for Pat Ryan,” Whitney said.

As a coach, he took all comers. And he was a tough guy to walk away from.

“He’d have a kid who might say, ‘I’m joining the Army on Tuesday,’ or ‘I have an F and I’m thinking of dropping track,’” Whitney said. “And he’d say, ‘Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk.’ He’d never shut the door on anyone.”

Ryan was the perfect coach for junior college athletes, former Bear Cub Greg Fogg said.

Fogg, who is the longtime track and cross country coach at Maria Carrillo High School, said Ryan’s temperament was just right for the student-athletes who sometimes found themselves in transition in a junior college setting.

“He was a perfect match for those kids like myself, still trying to figure out my path and my journey,” he said. “He was much more of a father figure than a mentor or coach.”

His belief in his athletes was the key to his success. And if an athlete had a willingness to work, he’d invest just as much in the kid at the bottom of the roster as he would the athlete at the top.

“Man, he got a lot out of people and it was just because of his belief,” Fogg said.

“Calling him a wonderful, selfless man is an understatement,” he said. “I’d run until my heart burst for him.”

John Corbett “Pat” Ryan Jr. was born Jan. 3, 1925, the only child of Florence and John Ryan. The family moved frequently when Ryan was a child but by his teen years they had settled in the East Bay and Ryan went to Albany High School, where he played football for his dad.

Ryan was an Army medic who served in Germany in World War II who then used the G.I. Bill to attend college — first at the University of Oregon, where he was on the football team, and later transferring to San Jose State. He earned a master’s degree from Stanford University, John Ryan said.

He took a job coaching track at Arroyo High School, where he met Berkeley High teacher Ann Teel. The pair were married more than six decades. Ryan coached at Arroyo High for about 10 years before a one-year stint as a coach at Cal State East Bay which was then Cal State Hayward. In 1968 he took a job as the track and cross country coach at SRJC.

He was a head coach at the college until 1992, after which he was an assistant until 2010. He was active in The Bear Cub Athletic Trust and Athletic Hall of Fame.

Ryan is survived by his wife, Ann Ryan of Santa Rosa; his son and daughter; and three grandchildren. A public service is planned for the coming months. Donations in Ryan’s name may be made to The Bear Cub Athletic Trust at Santa Rosa Junior College.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at Kerry.benefield @pressemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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