Paul Olsen Retiring From Augustana College

May 14, 2018

After 50 years of coaching, Paul Olsen will retire from Augustana College athletics. 

Mike Poletto reports the professor of English and head track and cross country coach will start a new leg of his journey.


The professor of English and head track and cross country coach will start a new leg of his journey.

Paul Olsen never imagined being a head coach when he was growing up in a small town in Minnesota. He played high school football and knew nothing about track and cross country.

"One of the assistant coaches was the head track coach. He said, 'you should come out for track,' and I did. I can remember him saying, 'you would be a good quarter-miler.' I said how far is that? I didn't know what that meant."

He immediately fell in love with track and for the rest of high school and college he competed for both football and track. When he graduated from Luther College, a friend suggested he apply for assistant track coach at Augustana.

"When I interviewed here, I said my goal was to be a football coach and not do cross country after a while. The Athletic Director said we can do that, let's just get this cross country program going. They had one, but it wasn't really energized and to help get it going. Well one day of cross country coaching made me say, 'this is what I want to do.'"

After two years, Olsen became the head Track and Cross Country coach. At that point, he decided to learn all he could to improve his coaching skills. And his philosophy changed to emphasize mental and emotional strength.

"Way more important is doing what it takes to help athletes see the positive and keep the negatives that come battering at our door all the time at bay. To also help navigate the college experience."

One of Coach Olsen's most enduring memories is from the Civil Rights movement.

I've watched a couple of black, young men weep 50 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. He's assassinated and I'm this white guy from Minnesota and I thought, 'wow.' I have always been fair and haven't stereotyped i think, but I was awaken into a while new racial justice consciousness, to watch young men weep when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed."

Moments like this helped shape Olsen's understanding of personal development. He started using quotes on team t-shirts to keep students on track.

"Celebration of life, inspiration is contagious, and the goal is the journey. So, if you can be an All-American, and you're good enough to do that, then that's the goal. But the journey to get there is what everybody remembers."

The quotes are posted in his office and around the locker room. Relationships with students are a big part of the job he'll miss. 

But now the Augustana coach plans to concentrate on his next journey, which will include being a part time professor.

"I get up in the morning and I can't wait to get to work. I know when I get up in the morning next year, I can't wait to get going on some project and part of that might be go see my grandkids too."

Over his 52 year tenure, Olsen has collected many stories, and he plans to write a book.

Here is a link to Augustana College's article about Paul Olsen's career as the head Track and Cross Country Coach.

http://athletics.augustana.edu/news/2017/11/14/mens-cross-country-legendary-cross-country-track-field-coach-paul-olsen-announces-retirement.aspx