NEW YORK – Jack Riley, the Army coach who in 1960 guided the U.S. to its first Olympic gold medal in hockey, has died. He was 95.
Riley died Wednesday on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the U.S. Military Academy said Thursday. He regularly attended Army home games into his early 90s.
“He lived a great life, and although he is known as a hockey coach to many people, he was a great husband, father, grandfather and friend to all,” said son Brian Riley, the current Army hockey coach.
Jack Riley compiled a 542-343-20 record at West Point during a 36-year college coaching career that started in 1950, transforming the Black Knights into an Eastern power. He led the Black Knights to 29 winning seasons, including a school-record 28 victories during the 1983-84 season.
He was the NCAA coach of the year in 1957 and 1960. When he retired in 1986, Riley was second all-time in NCAA victories and currently ranks 18th.
“He did have a little bit of an Irish temper at the rink and on the golf course,” Brian Riley said. “He was a fierce competitor. He did not like to lose, but at home he was a softie.”
In 1986 and 2002, Jack Riley won the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to U.S. hockey. He was elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 and was inducted into the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998. He also was a member of the Army Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2004.
“Jack’s imprint on the game was enormous,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said in a statement. “While to many he is best known as the head coach of the 1960 gold medal team, he devoted his entire career and life to coaching and developing young men.”
Riley was born in Boston, played left wing on the hockey team at Dartmouth and was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.
Twelve years later, he coached the U.S. team to the gold medal, with the Americans upsetting the Soviet Union and going undefeated at the 1960 Squaw Valley Games in California.
It was a startling victory that came 20 years before coach Herb Brooks, the last player cut by Riley in 1960, led the “Miracle on Ice” triumph by the U.S. at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. The Squaw Valley gold medal was dubbed “The Forgotten Miracle” in a documentary.
“He pushed his guys,” Brian Riley said. “For the 1960 Olympics he brought his team back to West Point to train. He knew on paper they probably weren’t the favorites, but he was going to have the best-conditioned team and kind of skated the guys into the ice to make sure they were going to be in great shape. Obviously, they were.”
Riley kept a reminder of that moment — his gold medal — in a dresser drawer buried under T-shirts, Brian said.
The West Point men’s hockey team has been coached by a member of the Riley family since Jack took the job in 1950. His son Rob succeeded him for 18 seasons and Brian became coach in 2004-05.
Jack Riley said of all his accomplishments he was perhaps proudest of being a Navy pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
“People always talk about my dad and the Olympics, but if you wanted to see a real gleam in my father’s eyes, let him talk to you about serving in the Navy and being a Navy pilot,” Brian said. “He took immense pride in serving his country.”
Riley is survived by four sons, a daughter, a brother and nine grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Maureen, in 1989.
A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday on Cape Cod.