The Long Run: NC State’s Rollie Geiger

The longtime Wolfpack track coach reflects on four decades of recruiting and training runners to be their best athletically and academically.
by A.J. Carr | photography by Alex Boerner

Rollie Geiger might have enjoyed living in balmy Bradenton, Florida,  teaching health education and coaching high school track. But when his friend, North Carolina State University track coach Tom Jones, offered him an assistant’s job in 1979, he was soon on the road to Raleigh.

The starting salary was a modest $3,000, income he supplemented by working in the campus mail room. A few years later, Jones took another job and Geiger was promoted to head coach.

“Tom is the best coach I’ve been around in my life,” says Geiger, who praised his predecessor for leaving the NC State program on a solid foundation. And across more than four decades, he’s elevated the Wolfpack to national prominence.  

Growing up in Bedford, Ohio — where Geiger set the 880-yard run record at his high school — and even while on the track team at Kent State University, coaching wasn’t in his dreams. After graduating and moving to Florida, he got a real-estate license, but didn’t pursue that profession. One day, he discovered a job opening that did pique his interest: teacher and track coach at his local Bayshore High. He applied, was hired and spent several successful years at the school, setting himself up for that call from Jones. 

In 42 years as a head coach — sometimes for both men and women — Geiger has been part of 40 Atlantic Coast Conference team titles (32 for cross-country, eight for track & field), 258 individual ACC titles and five national championships. That glossy record, along with election to six Halls of Fame, hasn’t expanded Geiger’s cap size or altered his personality.

“Coaches don’t win championships, players do,” Geiger says, modestly shifting attention to the collection of swift, strong athletes he brought to NC State.

Geiger’s recruiting success could be traced to his days at Kent State. While pursuing a degree, running track and winning “some races,” he also worked as a pots and pans salesman, which required making in-home presentations to prospective buyers. “That’s how I learned to recruit,” says Geiger, who was so successful he got a promotion.

Among the long list of his prized recruits was Betty Springs, a runner whom Geiger coached at Bayshore High, again at State and throughout her professional career with Athletics West. In 1986, Betty and Rollie married. Together they have a son, Trey, and daughter, Rachel, who are both NC State graduates.

Undefeated in high school, Betty’s college career was even more sensational. She won four national titles (two for cross-country, two for track), earned 10 All-American honors (four for cross-country, six for track) and set NC State records in the 3,000-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. In 1983, she posted No. 1 U.S. and No. 3 World cross-country rankings, accomplishments that led to her inductions in the NC State and North Carolina Sports Halls of Fame.

  Natural speed, “efficient” running form and grit are characteristics Geiger looks for in prospects — Betty checked all those boxes. “She was very gifted. I may not have coached another runner as mentally tough as she was,” Geiger says.

These days, Betty is happiest in the background, but cheers for the Pack and fervently supports her husband, who is still fueled with competitive spark without a hint of retiring at age 76. “I enjoy it,” says Geiger, who thrives in a power conference that has expanded from eight teams to 15 — and next year to 18. 

As a respite from the increasing coaching challenges, he treasures time with Betty and doing the daily workouts that have helped keep him sprinter-fit.

Geiger’s coaching responsibility lightened earlier this year, when former assistant and State All-American Laurie Henes took over the women’s cross-country team, which has won three straight national championships. “I am very fortunate to have Laurie,” says Geiger, noting that the team’s many specialized assistant coaches are crucial to their success. Geiger continues coaching men’s cross-country and oversees the program as senior associate director of cross-
country and track and field. 

While winning has always been a high priority, it’s not all about championships or setting records. There have been some disappointments along the way, but nothing has clouded his purpose for coaching.

“The pressure is to help the athletes be successful,’’ he says. “They have goals. We are here to help them reach them, to lend a hand athletically and academically. The athletes commit to us and we are committed to them.”

Geiger stresses there’s life after track, after college. He encourages the athletes on his watch to go “make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

Geiger has made a difference. “He’s changed a lot of people’s lives over the years — he changed mine,” said Alvis Whitted, a former two-sport Wolfpack athlete. “He believed in me, a little scrawny kid, he took care of me and everybody.”

A sprinter on the track team, Whitted helped the Pack win a conference title in 1996. He also played wide receiver on the football team, spent nine years in the NFL and currently coaches wide receivers at the University of Utah. On the track, Whitted saw Geiger as a “great motivator” who coached and helped each athlete individually, refining a sprinter’s mechanics or a high jumper’s style. “He was a vision of consistency and stability that came from a position of love,” Whitted says. 

Whitted wants to have the kind of impact on his own players Geiger had on him, “to help them be better people.”

In an expression of appreciation, Whitted gave Geiger his No. 87 Oakland Raiders football jersey with “Thank you for everything you did for me” written on the back. Other former athletes have expressed a similar gratitude. “That’s what it’s about,” says Geiger, who still keeps Whitted’s jersey in his office. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.