MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The old saying goes that if you find something you love to do, you will never work a day in your life.

Once coaching got into Gary Wilson’s blood, it never let go.

If you go to a track and field meet in Minnesota, odds are, you’ll see Wilson. If you don’t see him, you’ll definitely hear him.

The very definition of a coaching lifer, Wilson has been doing this for decades, including at the highest level — leading the Gophers. At 72 years old, he’s still going strong. Why?

“Kids. The kids. Because they’re great. Parents? Meh. Administrators? Meh. But the kids are great,” Wilson said. “I’m a little old school though, you know, so I get in their grill and they start crying, and I go, ‘You cry all you want, but when you’re done you better come over here because I’m gonna chew you more.’ And they go, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Wilson coached the Gophers track and cross country teams for nearly 20 years, taking them to the national championships 15 times and placing top-12 five years in a row. He retired in 2013.

“I left before they kicked me out [laughs]! But they couldn’t kick me out because I knew where the bodies are buried,” he said.

Gary Wilson (credit: CBS)

But he couldn’t stay away. He started volunteering as an assistant coach at White Bear Lake for girls track and boys freshman cross country in 2016.

“I tell the kids this. I said, ‘Listen, I’m a volunteer.’ I said, ‘I’m spending your Social Security, so I really don’t care what your opinion is.’ And they go, ‘Oh, OK,’ which is true!” Wilson said.

All these years later, it’s still as fun as ever.

“Kids really haven’t changed. Adults have changed. Adults are goofy now,” Wilson said.

He could just retire and ride off into the sunset. He bought a boat he likes to spend time on.

“I got two boats!” Wilson said.

But he can’t walk away from this thing he loves doing. He says his wife wouldn’t let him.

“She told me the other day, she says, ‘You can’t quit coaching. First of all, you’ll drive me nuts at home. And you love it,’” he said.

So he’ll keep doing it, as long as he can.

“But I don’t want to be like walking around senile, and somebody going, ‘Hey, the meet’s over here,’ you know,” Wilson said. “Because that’s not fair to the kids, either.”

David McCoy

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