STORRS — Last weekend at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, one of those events that has faded from the national sports calendar but still means so much to old-school track folks, UConn’s Greg Roy had a few full circle moments.
His assistant, Selwyn Maxwell Jr., came over and told him that a former student and athlete wanted to say hello. He looked across the track, but had to move closer to identify his man.
“Bilal Motley was going to make me a star as a coach,” Roy recalled.
Long story short, Motley was a talented but raw athlete that Roy recruited in the 1990s. His track career didn’t work out and he dropped out of school. But then he returned to UConn, graduated with honors, went on to a successful career, and is now a filmmaker. They had not seen each other for over 20 years.
“I said, ‘Well, Bilal Motleysaid Roy. “And he told me he was embarrassed by the way he was, but we gave him an opportunity and it didn’t pay off the way I would have liked, probably him too, where he and I are on the cover of Track and Field News where he’s on the Olympic 400m team, where I thought he had that kind of potential. But he’s got a degree from UConn, he’s very successful in life. C was very moving. He hugged me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Coach, I’m so glad to see you.’
“As a track coach, that’s what you get into.”
Roy also cherishes the big round plate that UConn won in the medley relay in 2000, when the Huskies ended Arkansas’ 11-game winning streak.
“And you know what? We almost did it again this weekend,” Roy said. “Eric Van Der Els took the lead on the last lap and he fought the freaking world.”
The Huskies were crushed over the final 50 yards, but Joseph Pearl, Wellington Ventura, Mahamed Sharif and Van Der Els set a school record with a time of 9:33.02. Junior Travis Snyder won the pole vault, UConn’s first-ever individual champion.
The 2022 Penn Relays were Roy’s last as Director of Cross Country and Athletics at UConn; he resigns after 37 years. The Big East Championships, at UConn on May 13-14, will be his last days in the sun on campus.
“You owe it to the kids to bring the juice day in and day out,” Roy said, as he nears his 66th birthday. “Who knew when this day would end?”
UConn athletics, no matter what its troubles, has never lacked dedicated coaches who have stayed, rooted and left their mark. Greg Roy, a Jersey guy who raced middle distance in Rochester, was teaching earth science when he caught the training bug. An assistant at UMass, where he received his master’s degree, Roy was one of the illustrious groups hired by AD John Toner, a group that includes Joe Morrone, Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma. Roy, Auriemma and Chris Dailey arrived that same fall of 1985.
It was when the dusty old field next to Roy’s office housed everyone, track and field, basketball, baseball all training there, separated by curtains, athletes trying to avoid each other. The building looks much the same today; any renovation will be the work of Roy’s successor.
Roy, who has coached every track and field event at one time or another, will also carry on a legacy any coach would envy. It includes 16 conference titles and 36 All-Americans. He has 23 New England championship plaques on his wall, a long string of Big East trophies on a shelf and another group of IC4As, another one of those traditional encounters that mean a lot to him. UConn won it in 2022.
The Huskies also won the Big East Championship last spring, with 12 individual winners and a record 294 points.
As Roy rounded the corner from his desk, there was another plaque and another keepsake. He remembers seeing one of his athletes, a senior walker, at the bottom of the deep end of a swimming pool, weighted down by a backpack. Kyle Milliken then told Roy about his dream of being a Navy Seal and offered to give up his spot on the team because his training might be the best thing for a track athlete.
Roy told him to do whatever he had to do. Senior Chief Petty Officer Milliken died while serving in U.S. operations in Somalia in 2017. Tom Brady, developed a friendship with Milliken after the Patriots hosted him at a practice, which sent a video for the services noting whom Roy had called Milliken “a glue guy”. .. and I know exactly what that means.
Roy had decided in 2019 that the spring of 2022 would be his time, but he didn’t negotiate what the last three years of his career would present: the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out much of 2020 and 21, his own health issues and the UConn athletics budget crisis that nearly made its program a casualty.
Alumni rallied to save athletics, one by one they appeared at the board hearing to express all that Roy and his program had done for the times, and eventually raised some 1, $6 million. Danny Wilson, who took the win in the 2000 Penn Relays, got the financial ball rolling. The men’s cross-county program was axed, putting Roy in charge of the women’s team, and the program suffered cuts.
“It was a desperate time,” Roy said. “It was an emotional moment for me. Our men’s program is very badly injured and remains so to this day. But we’re alive. Danny was awesome, he himself is a two-time All-American in cross country, says: “Well, that’s a win.” I said, ‘yes, we’re alive.’
Roy has no plans for retirement, he just wants to spend more time with his wife, Natalie, after so many years away on weekends, and their grandchildren in Connecticut and the New Shore. Jersey. After the Big East Championships, Roy will coach UConn competitors in the NCAAs. “I’m going to get paid for six weeks to clean my office,” he joked.
Roy can take the plaques and trophies with him, or he can leave them behind, cleat marks on the time track for his successors to try to match. He got into coaching to give back, he said, to coach people – people like Bilal Motley, like Danny Williams, like Kyle Milliken.
“I mean then he cared about the whole person,” Roy said. “That’s it. If the whole person is taken care of, the athletic part is going to be easy as hell. My hope is that they say, ‘he cared about me as a person.’
Dom Amore can be reached at [email protected]