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Remembering Paul Roach: A Cowboy Football Legend

Paul Roach gives a thumbs up to the crowd.
UW Athletics Media Relations Department

Earlier this month, former University of Wyoming (UW) athletic director and head football coach Paul Roach died at the age of 95. Roach had a big impact on the UW athletic community starting in the mid-80s. Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska spoke with a couple of people who remembered Roach.

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kamila Kudelska: In 1987, Paul Roach made UW history by becoming the only person to be the athletic director and head football coach at the same time.

Randy Welniak, who is now the senior associate athletic director at UW, was a quarterback for the Pokes. He was coached by Roach for two years.

Randy Welniak: Paul Roach had called a meeting of the football team to let us know that our head coach at the time had just taken another job at Washington State… Dennis Erickson. And he assured us in that meeting, he said, ‘I'm going to tell you this much, I guarantee I'm gonna find and hire the best coach I possibly can.’

He called another meeting, and we all came in there anticipating he was going to introduce the new head coach that might be coming in through the side door or whatever. And he said, ‘After a long search process and evaluating several candidates around the country, I felt it was in the best interest of this program to hire me as your next head coach.’ And we didn't know for sure if he was joking, or if he was serious. And I mean, he had a serious look on his face. And we're kind of looking at each other in the room going, ‘Is this legit?’ And he said,’ Yeah,’ he goes, ‘I am. I'm going to be your next head coach.’

Paul Roach is picked up by a group of Wyoming Football players in front of a packed stadium.
UW Athletics Media Relations Department

KK: Turned out he had a lot of experience…

RW: He coached with John Madden, with the Oakland Raiders, and with the Denver Broncos, and was also an assistant coach at the University of Wyoming earlier in his career. We're like, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea that that's the type of experience he had in the coaching world.’

KK: Kevin McMkinney has been involved with the University of Wyoming athletic department for 57 years. In 1987 he was the sports information director.

Kevin McKinney: So all media requests went through me in that role, and of course, his first two years, he was the darling of national media because he was a 58 year old guy taking the head coaching job as well as athletic director duties.

So I think the remarkable part was he was 58 when he took both jobs. That's when a lot of people are starting to think about retirement. But Paul took on both jobs at that age, that was pretty much unheard of at that time, not only the dual role, but becoming a head coach at that age. And so then add to that, he did not lose a conference game his first two years. We went through the league undefeated during his first two years, and that was kind of icing on the cake for the national media.

KK: Roach brought Wyoming to two straight league championships and three bowl game appearances during his four season tenure as head coach.

RW: The more that we had success, the more trust we had in him as the offensive coordinator. We knew that we were going to be the most prepared team that we possibly could be every Saturday.

One story I always like to tell is, every week we had a special play, and he would call it the Aztec Special, or Cougar Special, or Falcon Special, Rams Special whatever it was. And it was usually a variation of one of the plays that we had. And he goes, ‘We've been watching film, and we know this is going to work.’ And sure as heck, we'd practice it, you know, five, six, seven times during the course of the week, and I swear it worked every single game. It was amazing.

KM: The Mountain West, well it was the WAC at that time, Western Athletic Conference, they didn't know exactly how to stop him. And so the Cowboys scored in the 60s a couple times, in the 50s, a number of times. He had an unbelievable passing game, which he mixed in [with] the run. And he was just very creative in the way he deployed his team offensively.

I think that the one thing that people really enjoyed about him, and me especially, in a couple of positions, athletics director and head coach, there's tremendous egos involved. And he didn't have an ego, he was just doing a job. He didn't have any air about him. He was just kind of a normal guy, really. And I think that's why he clicked with the state of Wyoming so much, he had no airs about him. He loved Wyoming, he loved its people. And he was one of them. And so he was easy to talk to. He didn't say the wrong things. He just said direct things.

KK: Roach retired from the head coach position in 1990 but kept being athletic director until 1996. He became widely known as a legend in Wyoming sports history for his success with the team. But his good humor and nature were also remembered.

RW: We were on the sideline and the defense was out on the field and it was like a turnover or something. And we got the ball. And I'm looking for Coach Roach because, you know, he's the one that's calling the plays. Paul's nowhere to be found. We're like, ‘Hey, where's coach?’ And it was Maddog or someone who said, ‘Oh, he had to go to the bathroom… nature was calling.’ So he actually went behind the stands into the restrooms, where all the fans were, he didn't go to the locker room or anything. And I heard some fans talk about him coming into the restroom like, ‘Oh my God our coach is in the restroom.’ And he eventually came back out. We had called a couple plays and kept moving on but that was a pretty funny one.

KM: He may not know your name, I never know how he did this, but he'd know where you were from. So he would say, he may not remember your name, honestly, but he'd say ‘Cheyenne, how are you doing?’ That was remarkable to me. I don't know anybody that ever did it that way. But he had a heck of a mind. And I think deep down he knew your name. But he wanted to make you think he didn't. So that's why he used your hometowns. But I enjoyed that. And everybody enjoyed that about him.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. She has won a regional Murrow award for her reporting on mental health and firearm owners. During her time leading the Wyoming Public Media newsroom, reporters have won multiple PMJA, Murrow and Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism Awards. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.

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