June 16, 2011
CHICAGO -- In track & field, whether it be at the Olympic Games, the BIG EAST Conference or a youth meet, success in relays is often determined by the hand-off. A smooth well-timed transition is essential to the team's success.
These hand-offs are an intricate piece of timing that teams spend a great deal of time perfecting. Often when completed smoothly, they go unnoticed. When completed poorly, the transition often costs a team a chance at winning.
DePaul's track & field head coaching transition from Pat Savage to Dave Dopek seems to be of championship caliber if the Savage-Dopek Dinner held on June 6 is any indication.
A capacity crowd jammed Chicago's Cliff Dwellers to recognize Savage's service as DePaul's head track and cross country coach for the past six years and to celebrate Dopek's ascendency to the track and cross country head coaching position.
The alumni, gathered on the balcony of the Cliff Dwellers which features stunning views of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago, shared stories from the past before adjourning into the dining room for the dinner.
The night was filled with nostalgia as track alumni ranged from Nate Blackman who graduated in 1951 to Terah Cheatham from the class of 2010.
It was an especially sweet night for Savage as many of his teammates from his time as a runner at DePaul were in attendance. Additionally, two of his runners at Oakton Community College who later attended DePaul, made it for the historic occasion.
The event had a distinctively younger feel than most alumni events as scores of alumni who ran with and for Dopek attended to celebrate his new role.
"The Savage-Dopek Dinner was an important night for our program," Director of Athletics Jean Lenti Ponsetto said. "For us to have a sell-out event to celebrate the service of Pat Savage and the new leadership of Coach Dopek is indicative of the incredible support that this program has as we move into the future."
Following dinner, Ponsetto kicked off an evening of speeches by gratefully thanking Savage for his incredible leadership of the Blue Demon thinclads. She focused much of Savage's praise on his incredible ability to motivate runners, both past and present.
"Pat has always played a huge part in motivating our runners, whether it be on the track, in the classroom or by participating in fundraising efforts," Ponsetto said.
"His work with our student-athletes the last six years has been phenomenal. He has been an incredible model for our student-athletes through his passion for running and their well being. How can you as a student-athlete short-change your workouts, when you know your coach runs six miles to work everyday all year round?"
Ponsetto also thanked Savage for his involvement in bolstering support from the DePaul track and field alumni community. His efforts spearheaded the work to complete the funding for the banked indoor track and was at the center of the creation of The Outdoor Track and Lane Stadium.
Of all those things, Ponsetto was most focused on Savage's commitment to the success of his student-athletes in the classroom.
"He quickly raised the bar for our program academically," Ponsetto said. "It was already a program that was in good academic standing, but his leadership elevated it to another level. During his tenure, our program didn't just lead the BIG EAST in grade point average, one season the men's track and field program led the entire country."
In a moving response, Savage spoke appreciatively of the unexpected opportunity that he received when he became head coach.
"Jean asked me to step in and provide stability for a little bit," Savage said. "Neither my wife, nor I, ever anticipated that it would be six years. It was a six years I will never forget."
Savage joked, as he often does, about the fact that he came to DePaul in 1962 and then became the head track coach at age 62.
Savage was quick to recognize the humility with which he accepted the coaching position.
"When Jean offered me the job, I thought, how could I measure up to the coaches that came before me," Savage said.
"Legend Tom Meahan rebuilt this program in the late fifties and recruited me. My coach Don Amidei had such a profound impact on me and all the runners that I competed with and Bill Leach coached up a young Dave Dopek into a national champion. How would I measure up to that?"
His performance has been a rousing success with DePaul's recent assault on its record books, its academic success and the expansion of facilities.
"Pat did a tremendous job mobilizing his staff, his team and the alumni," Ponsetto said. "For that we owe him a debt of gratitude."
Savage concluded his remarks saluting his assistant coach and successor Dave Dopek.
"I couldn't be prouder to pass the baton of leadership to Dave," Savage said. "Dave is DePaul through and through and is consumed by making DePaul a championship-level program."
As Ponsetto joined Savage behind the podium, she called up Dopek. She staged a symbolic pass of the baton of leadership from Savage to Dopek.
After some brief discussion about the technical merit of the baton pass, Dopek shared his great enthusiasm for his new role leading DePaul track & field and cross country.
"This has been a dream of mine for years," Dopek said. “I have had virtually every possible coaching role here at DePaul. I am so proud that I can now say I am the head coach at DePaul University."
Dopek traced his development from his recruitment by Coach Leach to his ultimate success as DePaul's only individual national champion in the 200-meters at the 1995 NCAA Indoor Championships.
"This is such a special night," Dopek said. "It is a culmination of so many people preparing me for this opportunity. Becoming the head coach of DePaul track and field, is a dream come true!"
Ponsetto concluded the night with final remarks about the future of the program.
"Tonight, we celebrated two real giants in DePaul Track and Field history," she said. "What makes this transition perfect is clear."
"Not only were both Dave and Pat great performers on the track, not only do they both share great technical knowledge, a fierce competitive nature and a special ability to motivate, but by far the biggest shared characteristic that is at the core of DePaul track and field is their passion for running and their love for DePaul University and what it represents."
The Cliff Dwellers, a social club located on the 22nd floor at 200 S. Michigan has long been intertwined into Blue Demon Track lore. Hall of Fame Track Coach Don Amidei would bring his track alumni together for an annual luncheon at the historic club each year on Columbus Day. The alumni events have fostered involvement in the club from a number of DePaul track & field alumni.