Grand Forks' Dallas Kopp remembered as a legendary character by friends and colleagues
Kopp, 86, died Thursday. He was Red River's first football coach and spent his retirement years as UND football's equipment manager.
GRAND FORKS — Dallas Kopp had a story and a smile for everyone.
And everyone has a story about Kopp that makes them smile.
"He's a legendary character," friend and former colleague Terry Dunphy said.
Kopp, a longtime Grand Forks coach, official and UND football equipment manager, died Thursday in Grand Forks. He was 86.
"You didn't go anywhere where he didn't know three-fourths of the people, but you never knew if he didn't know someone because he talked to strangers like he knew them," said Tim Delmore, a veteran Grand Forks Red River coach. "I think he got along with everybody. That was Dallas' biggest asset. It didn't matter who you are or what your background was. He wasn't impressed by high status or put off by low status. He was fair to everybody."
Kopp, a North Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame member, was Grand Forks Red River's first head football coach when the program started in 1967. He coached in that role until 1979.
In 1980, Kopp led the girls golf team at Red River for the next 20 years, winning eight Eastern Dakota Conference championships, six East Region runner-up titles and state championships in 1988 and 1990. He was the sport's coach of the year three times in that span.
From 1983-1990, Kopp served as Red River girls track and field coach.
Kopp graduated from Lisbon High School in 1954.
He spent one year as a scholarship football player at North Dakota State before moving with his wife Beth to the West Coast, where he spent a year as a truck driver.
After one more stint at NDSU and a job at 3M in Minneapolis, Kopp was recruited by Mayville State, where he played football, basketball, baseball and track. He graduated in 1960 with a double major in business and physical education.
Kopp, who the Comets inducted into the athletics hall of fame in 1995, was an all-conference baseball player in 1959. His 1958 Mayville State baseball team was the first college baseball team in North Dakota to make the NAIA Championships.
After graduating from Mayville State, Kopp went to Larimore, where he was head football and baseball coach and assistant basketball coach. In 1962, he was hired at Grand Forks Central, where he spent five years as an assistant to coach Ken Rio.
Ron Bergh was a senior at Central in 1963 before going on to star in both UND football and baseball in college.
"He was a playful type," Bergh said. "He wasn't as serious as the other coaches. He was young. The other players really related to that and got along with him well. He was easy-going."
Kopp and Bergh crossed paths for years after that. When Kopp was coaching Red River football, Bergh was head coach at Central.
"When we'd have a home game and they'd have an away game, there were many Friday nights he was waiting for me in the Valley parking lot to talk football," Bergh said. "Whether he was joyful how his team played or mad, we had a lot of good conversation."
Kopp taught physical education at Red River, as well as driver's education for more than 40 years.
A veteran driver's education teacher, Kopp was ironically a wildcard as a bus driver.
"We used to go bowling in gym class, and we'd have 80 kids on the bus and the ride to the alley was usually eventful," Delmore said.
Steve Westereng, a UND football athletic trainer during Kopp's time with the program, recalled the fear of Kopp getting behind the wheel.
One time, the team couldn't find a player's equipment after a road game and Kopp went searching.
"He retraces his steps from the airport to UND," Westereng said. "He had been going so fast on Highway 2, the equipment fell out and went in the ditch and was still there two days later."
UND head football coach Bubba Schweigert remembers how his first conversation with Kopp led to Kopp's next line of work after retiring from high school teaching and coaching in 2000.
"He would always ride his bike by Memorial Stadium and come by practice," Schweigert said. "He was riding by one summer day and goes 'I just need something to do. This retirement isn't good for me. I heard your equipment manager left.'"
So Schweigert, the defensive coordinator at the time, sent Kopp to chat with then-head coach Dale Lennon, who gave Kopp the job.
"He was hilarious," Schweigert said. "The guys loved being in there with him. He had a good sense of humor."
Westereng remembers some bumps along the way as Kopp learned the ropes.
"There was nobody around to mentor him," Westereng said. "Our first road trip, he brought 90 winter jackets to Greeley, Colo., with a game-time temperature of 86 degrees."
Kopp dealt with failing health for years, although friends say he never let it show.
Kopp took a tumble once at Memorial Stadium during football practice when he was equipment manager.
"A QB throws an out in Dallas' area, and the cornerback comes up tackling and hit Dallas and he goes down like a ton of bricks," Westereng said. "I run across the field, thinking they killed him. We get him to the ER, and I don't know how many dozen stitches he had but he didn't miss a day. Funny, too, because a few days later, he went to the lake and put his boat in and fell off the dock and split his other leg wide open. Still didn't miss a day of work."
The tales of Kopp's toughness are plentiful.
"I know he wasn't a cat because he had more than nine lives," said Dunphy, who coached Red River football with Kopp for nine seasons and the two were friends for about 50 years. "He was the toughest S.O.B."