‘His heart was always with USD’

Jack Doyle (far right) joins coaches and players from South Dakota on the basketball court in Havana, Cuba during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” before the start of one of two historic games played by the South Dakotan and Cuban basketball squads in April 1977. (Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, USD)

Jack Doyle (far right) joins coaches and players from South Dakota on the basketball court in Havana, Cuba during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” before the start of one of two historic games played by the South Dakotan and Cuban basketball squads in April 1977. (Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, USD)

Former USD athletic director, coach Jack Doyle dies

By David Lias


Jack Doyle, a man whose pioneering efforts in University of South Dakota athletics are still being felt to this day, has died.

Doyle, 80, who served as the athletics director at USD for 15 years, passed away Friday morning at his home in Encinitas, CA, in the presence of his wife, Lois.

Jack Doyle

Jack Doyle

“This was a shock to us,” said Chris Doyle, of Rapid City, one of Jack and Lois Doyle’s sons in a phone conversation with the Vermillion Plain Talk. He called from an airport as he prepared to board a flight to California.

“We knew that Dad was ill. He has been suffering from Parkinson’s, and complications from Parkinson’s,” he said, adding that about two-and-a-half years ago, the disease, “really took a turn against him. It was just a slow and long process.”

His coaching career took him from the gymnasium at Faith, South Dakota, to, in the spring of 1977, the basketball court at Havana, Cuba in a game between South Dakotan and Cuban athletes that made diplomatic history.

Doyle’s tenure at the University of South Dakota began in 1971, when he was hired as men’s assistant basketball coach. He was named head coach in 1973.

“He started his coaching career in Faith, South Dakota in 1956,” Chris Doyle said. “He was a Faith Longhorn, and Faith is a very small community, and people still know his legacy there. And that’s where my mother grew up, so after they had both graduated from the University of Wyoming, they were married and they headed out to Faith to start their careers. Dad was a teacher and coach, and Mom was a nurse in Faith.”

In 1960, Doyle accepted the opportunity to coach the Lead Golddiggers high school basketball team. “Lead’s first trip to the state basketball tournament was under Dad’s tutelage,” Chris Doyle said, “I think in 1970.”

During his successful tenure in the high school ranks, Doyle compiled a 72-37 record at Lead (1966-71) after coaching Faith to a conference championship during his stay there (1957-60). Doyle’s teams at Lead won or shared the Black Hills Conference title five times in six seasons.

Doyle joined the USD athletic department in 1971 following 14 seasons in the South Dakota high school ranks.

“Bob Mulcahy convinced him to move to Vermillion, where he assumed the assistant men’s basketball coaching job in 1971,” Chris Doyle said. He was named Mulcahy’s successor in 1973.

“Bob Mulcahy left to go to, I believe, Western Kentucky, and Dad was tapped as the coach,” Chris Doyle said.

Doyle coached for nine seasons, leading the Coyotes to a 106-119 record. His 106 wins are the fourth-most in program history.

In 1977, he helped make diplomatic history when, in April of that year, five members of the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team joined five players from the South Dakota State University men’s squad and traveled to Havana, Cuba, to play a Cuban national team made up of college-aged players.

The trip to Cuba was the first by an American delegation after President Jimmy Carter lifted a 16-year-old travel ban to the country in March 1977. Gene Zulk of SDSU, and his assistant, Sam Milanovich, and USD’s Doyle, and his assistant, Doug Martin, shared the coaching.

In a United Press International report filed April 9, 1977, Doyle said, upon returning to the United States, that the team’s experience in Cuba was, “excellent, tremendous. From a historical point of view, it was an unbelievable opportunity for the players. The Cubans were an excellent team; they had the best in their whole country.”

Doyle resigned from his head coaching position in March of 1982 to become USD’s athletic director, a position he served in for 15 years before retiring in 1998. Under Doyle’s leadership, USD won 21 North Central Conference championships in various sports. In addition, he initiated numerous upgrades to the DakotaDome, including an eight-lane, 200-meter track, a new Daktronics custom scoreboard and artificial turf for football.

“My dad loved the University of South Dakota; he loved the student athletes,” Chris Doyle said, “and he was a guy who respected and honored the institution by following the dictates of whatever the president would say. He loved his family.”

That family includes Chris and his six siblings, and 13 grandchildren.

Five of Jack and Lois’ grown children live in the San Diego area.

“He had been surrounded by his children and grandchildren,” Chris Doyle said of his father. “My mom has taken care of him, which allowed him to stay at home. He died at home, which is what he wanted to do, but he always wanted to come back to Vermillion, because he loved Vermillion so much.

“He loved the Catholic Church, and the Vermillion Lions Club … his heart was always with USD,” he said. “He followed USD from a distance; he was keenly aware, through friends like Ken Beringer and Scott Fiedler and others who kept him in tune with what exactly was happening with the track program, the basketball team, the football team.”

Chris Doyle said his father was most proud of bringing Dave Boots to the University of South Dakota basketball program.

“Of course, Dave is now retiring after 25 years,” he said. “He was so proud of the accomplishments of each of the sports as they did things. He was so proud of those coaches and the players and the athletes.”

In May of 1999, Doyle received the NCC Honor Award. He was inducted into the Coyote Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the NACDA Hall of Fame in 2006.

Doyle grew up in New York City and graduated from Power Memorial High School, famous for the starting place of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He earned three letters in track at the University of Wyoming where he earned his B.S. in education in 1957. He also obtained his M.A. from Wyoming in 1966.

Chris Doyle said that, just as his father enjoyed seeing USD athletes’ successes, his family, in turn, was proud of what their father and grandfather accomplished during a very fruitful career.

“Plus, as a coach and a athletic director with his schedule and his focus on the student athletes, Mom really took care of the home front,” Chris Doyle said, “and he always knew that she had done more work than a wife should have to do, being married to a coach.”

He and his siblings, as of press time, had not worked out any funeral arrangements.

“My dad knew where he was going, and he knew who he was going to greet,” Chris Doyle said, “and he knew who was standing behind him. He had a very strong faith, he was a devoted Catholic, and so, we’re excited for him.”

Cards may be sent to Lois Doyle and her family at P.O. Box 372, Vermillion, SD  57069

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6 Responses to ‘His heart was always with USD’

  1. Donald Tencher says:

    Great article on an incredible human being. Our industry has lost giant who always got the job done with class, and professionalism. I was fortunate to spend some of the greatest days of my life once a year going with Jack to the Final Four. Our annual reunion will never be the same without him.

  2. Mary (Harris) Fortin says:

    RIP Jack and God Speed. To all of Jack’s family, you have my greatest condolences. My Aunt Leone Torre worked with your Dad for many years before she passed.

  3. Marie DeKnikker says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I had just heard a rumor that my classmate, Lois’ husband, Jack had passed away. Thanks to our modern technology, I was able to learn about Jack.
    My classmate Arla and I are wondering where we can send a sympathy card. We have their Vermillion address but not the one for CA.

  4. Tom Vogel says:

    Coach Doyle was a class act all the way. Many great memories of him while I was growing up in Vermillion and the several times I had the chance to run into him on visits home. Vermillion and USD has lost a great man but heaven is a much better place now that Coach Doyle has gone home. Rest in Peace Coach Doyle.

  5. Kevin Jensen says:

    Jack was my first basketball coach and baseball coach at Faith. He was a great family friend. My parents and Jack and Lois were very neighborly in Faith in those days. Jack really knew baseball and was a hardcore Yankees fan. He would bring me memorabilia from the Yankees after he would visit NYC. I remember listerning to the state B basketball finals at his house when Cheyenne Agency won the tourney with Freddie Knife. My sympathy to the family.

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