POCATELLO, Idaho – Idaho State Athletics announced that track and field Head Coach Dave Nielsen is retiring after 33 seasons of coaching. The retirement is immediate and Assistant Coach Hillary Merkley has been named Interim Head Track and Field Coach while Nate Houle will continue to serve as an assistant.
“We appreciate Dave Nielsen‘s service to Idaho State University,” Idaho State Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey said. “Dave’s team’s not only succeeded on the field of competition but also in the classroom. Dave was an outstanding teacher, mentor and coach. We wish him the best of luck in his upcoming endeavors.”
Nielsen has coached 21 athletes to All-American status in his time at ISU. During his tenure, 403 athletes have earned all-conference honors, 172 athletes have won Big Sky titles and 45 athletes have advanced to the NCAA Championships under his tutelage. Nielsen led ISU’s men to indoor conference championships in 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2006. He coached the women to their first Big Sky Title during the 2007 outdoor season.
Nielsen is a nationally-acclaimed expert in the jumping disciplines of track and field and has had his works published in Track Coach, Coaches Review, Pole Vault Standard, and IAAF New Studies in Athletics. He was also the lead source for an article written by the American Institute of Physics.
In Aug. 2002 he was the feature of the Track and Field Coaches Review. Additionally, he was a member of the NCAA Track and Field Committee and the USTFCCCA Division I Executive Committee. Nielsen also held a position as the USA Track and Field women’s development chair for the pole vault.
“I’ve given my life to this program,” Nielsen said. “It’s almost 33 years that I’ve served as head coach for the women’s team, 31 as head men’s and women’s coach. I love the program. It has great athletes. Idaho State University has been a leader in gender equity concerns, not regionally, but nationally and worldly. From the pole vault, to the steeple chase, to weight and hammer throwing we have done it. I am very proud to have been part of that process. I am also very proud to be part of the legacy of Dubby Holt. Dubby Holt brought ISU and really me in this fold by presenting a national state for indoor track and field. Dubby did that and it was a leadership quality that nobody else, nobody else in the nation had. ISU, Idaho State University had a leadership role in the direction of athletics, track and field specifically, but ISU athletics has had a leadership role in the nation. We have done that.”
In 2000, Nielsen was named the USA Track and Field Nike Elite Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the United States Olympic Committee National Coach of the Year. He earned three-consecutive Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year awards from 2005 to 2007 (2005-06 for men’s indoor and 2007 for women’s outdoor). He was also the Big Sky Conference and Mountain Region Coach of the Year for men’s indoor track and field in 1997 and 1998.
In 1992 Nielsen helped Amber Welty win the high jump with a mark of 6 feet, 3.5 inches at the NCAA Championships to become the Bengals’ first NCAA Champion. She was also ISU’s first four-time NCAA All-American after finishing first, second, third and fourth in the NCAA Championships. Later, while coaching at ISU and still receiving training from Nielsen, she became the university’s first female track and field Olympian after punching a ticket to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Nielsen was at the forefront of women’s progression in track and field. He offered spots on the team for women in the hammer throw, weight throw and pole vault before they were recognized by the NCAA as collegiate events. In 1993 he had the women’s multi-event athletes perform some drills in the pole vault despite the event not being available to women at the time. In that group was Stacy Dragila. Nielsen hosted a women’s pole vault event in a home meet in 1993 and included it in all home meets the following season. Dragila graduated from ISU in 1995, but continued to work with Nielsen leading up to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia where she won the women’s inaugural pole vault gold after it was sanctioned by the Olympic Committee in 1999.
Nielsen also coached vaulter Mike Arnold who won six Big Sky pole vault championships and recently cleared 5.72m to meet the Olympic standard. In March, he took second at the USA indoor track and field championships to continue towards his Olympic dreams.
Nielsen’s Journey to ISU
Nielsen was a student and graduate assistant at Iowa before moving to Pocatello in 1980. He trained for an Olympic berth and completed his masters in physical education and administration at ISU. He took an assistant coaching position at the University of Wisconsin in 1982, but moved back to Pocatello in 1984 where he was named the women’s track coach before he was named head coach of the combined program in 1985.
Before coaching, Nielsen was one of the nation’s top pole vaulters. He was a Big Ten Champion and earned All-American honors before competing in the 1976 Olympic Trials.
“I’m just tired,” Nielsen said. “I’m tired and I’m sad but at the same time I look forward to helping out the program in any way, any way possible that I can.”