Photo by Hillary Ehlen
Head track and field coach Kevin Galbraith prepares for his final season in Grand Forks.
Leaving a school and job you love is never an easy decision. For Fighting Hawks head track and field coach Kevin Galbraith, the decision was made even more challenging thanks to the success his teams have brought him. School records have been shattered and Galbraith has broken new ground in Grand Forks, lifting UND track and field to unforeseen heights.
However, Galbraith decided to step down as head coach earlier this year. Citing that he would like to spend more time with family, who live in Oregon, Galbraith will now embark on his final season in Grand Forks. But he is not approaching it as such, Galbraith treats it as just another season as he gives us the details of a possible date change for UND’s first meet when we meet up with him.
Galbraith, who was hired in 2011, was previously the head coach at Northern Colorado, a fellow Big Sky opponent. When he took the job in Grand Forks, North Dakota was still in the Great West Conference. In his eight-year tenure, Galbraith has since guided UND into the Big Sky Conference and will now enter his first season in the Summit League.
“Being the head coach at UND for track and field is the best job I’ve ever had in my life.” – Kevin Galbraith
He was at a loss for words when trying to explain his decision to depart Grand Forks this spring. While family comes first, it is clear that his time at UND has meant a lot to him. “It’s always tough to walk away from something you feel so passionately about,” Galbraith said. “Being the head coach at UND for track and field is the best job I’ve ever had in my life. So, how do you leave that? All I can tell you is that at some point, you come across a time in your life and you sort of just know. It’s like a lot of things in life, you can’t describe it, you know it when you see it.”
It is clear that Galbraith doesn’t have his eyes set on that final day in Grand Forks, but he is able to recall some of his favorite memories. Most of which entail his studentathletes breaking records. “We had a couple of things. I look back on some of our time before we even had the High Performance Center and some athletes that, despite the limitations of training in the Hyslop, we still had a lot of school records go on the books before we even had this facility and we’ve had a lot more since then,” he said. “Obviously, building the HPC is a huge milestone to my time here at UND and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have the chance to coach in a facility like this and also have a little bit of input on how it’s put together. Most coaches will never have a building like this, let alone be able to have a little bit of input into what they’re looking for.”
Galbraith was one of the few North Dakota coaches who was on the ground floor in planning what would become the High Performance Center. Due to the harsh winter conditions in Grand Forks, it was vital for track and field to have a worldclass facility to train in. Therefore, Galbraith was able to choose the type of track that was installed inside the High Performance Center. While he says the track he picked was a little more expensive, it has been able to last longer, especially with prolonged usage during the winter months.
UND’s track and field teams break, on average, 10 school records per year.
While he has only been at the helm of North Dakota’s track program for eight years, Galbraith’s athletes have broken more than 75 school records during his tenure. If you break that down, UND’s track and field teams break, on average, roughly 10 school records per year. That number alone is fairly remarkable.
In his final season, Galbraith will face a new challenge, the Summit League. While the Big Sky Conference was competitive in certain areas, Galbraith has a simple analogy to quantify UND’s conference transition. “Every time you change a conference, it’s like people. They have personalities, they have strengths and weaknesses and you go out of the Big Sky Conference, that was one of the best conferences in the nation for distance,” he said. “The Summit League is also good, it’s just not as deep as the Big Sky was. So we’ll have different parts of our team, some of our strongest areas before, maybe they won’t score as well. Maybe in some areas where we weren’t as strong, we’ll become instantly better. Some of that is just guessing too. It will be a fun challenge to kind of see that, it’s a nice way to end up here. We got the building, first year in a new conference, we’ll try that, new challenges are fun.”
Part of what comes along with being in the Summit League is facing familiar opponents on a meet-to-meet basis. While Galbraith was not the coach when North Dakota was a member of the North Central Conference, he understands the importance of the rivalries within the Summit League. “We see all those teams in the regular season anyway. What I’m excited about is it makes all the sports, having all the Dakota schools, those traditional rivalries mean a lot,” he said. “It really brings a certain amount of energy that maybe you don’t get. If we’re going up against the other three Dakotas, chances are our athletes are going to know people on those teams, and it means more. Those traditional rivalries, it makes the whole process more exciting for the athletes and the fans.”
Though his time has been relatively short at UND, Galbraith has left as big of an impact as any coach in the school’s history. He looks back to what he wants his lasting legacy to be and what he has left behind for the next coach. “I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that because time will tell,” he said, laughing. “I feel really good about all the great performances we’ve had here. We’re leaving with the school records and the top ten lists significantly altered. Not only in events that I coach but all the events. We’ve improved and gotten better and that’s been exciting.”
Lastly, he reflects on what he might miss the most after he departs the school that has brought him so much. His answer is simple enough. “This is a great place because the people are so amazing. You get such a great support from the community, the fans, for every sport,” he said. “That isn’t always the case. I’ve been at a lot of different universities, but the level of support and appreciation and affection that you get from the city of Grand Forks. It’s amazing and you just don’t get that at every place. I’ll miss the athletes and it’s the personal relationships that will stick with you over time. That’s what I’m sure I’ll miss.”
Kevin Galbraith still has one more season left to coach. Though the thought of leaving Grand Forks is present, it does not consume him. He is striving to succeed as a coach and as a mentor to some phenomenal North Dakota studentathletes. That alone may be his lasting legacy in Grand Forks.
- Hired as UND head men’s and women’s track and field coach in 2011.
- Spent the previous seven years as head men’s and women’s track and field coach at Northern Colorado.
- Five seasons as assistant head coach at Long Beach State from 1999-2003.
- Two seasons as head coach at Los Angeles Valley College
- Had stints with Track West, a USA Track and Field (USATF) national club program based out of Santa Monica, California.
- Volunteer cross country coach at Loyola Marymount from 1986-1993.
- Student-athlete at Loyola Marymount, most valuable cross country runner at the school his senior season.