Jack Pyrah’s name is synonymous with Villanova University’s track & field and cross country programs. With Pyrah assisting Jumbo Elliott, a member of the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame, Villanova’s men captured eight NCAA championships in cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field.
Pyrah grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and graduated from Germantown High in 1937. He began his coaching career at Philadelphia’s Shanahan Catholic Club in 1942 in Philadelphia. Pyrah was the track & field chairman of the Mid-Atlantic AAU when Elliott hired him at Villanova.
In 1966, Elliott and Pyrah were on the same flight to an indoor track meet in Cleveland. Elliott walked to the back of the plane and asked Pyrah if he’d be interested in a job. Elliott needed someone to run the cross country program and assist with track & field in the spring.
The Wildcats won three straight NCAA Division I cross-country titles in 1966, 1967 and 1968. Pyrah coached the Wildcats to another national championship in 1970 and guided Villanova to eight IC4A cross country titles, including six straight beginning in 1966.
Pyrah’s cross country team achieved an unprecedented “triple crown” in 1968 when it won the IC4A, AAU, and NCAA championships.
Over the course of his career, Pyrah worked with such Villanova greats as Marty Liquori, Eamonn Coughlan, Sydney Maree, and current Villanova coach Marcus O’Sullivan.
During his years as head coach, Villanova won three Penn Relays titles and the school’s first Big East Conference Championship. When former Olympian and Villanova alum Charlie Jenkins was hired at the end of the season, Pyrah went back to his previous coaching duties of head cross-country and assistant track coach.
Pyrah retired from Villanova in 1991, and from that time until his death in 2007, he was considered Villanova “coach emeritus.” Upon his retirement, Villanova presented Pyrah a unique gift – the offer to accompany the Villanova track or cross-country teams to any meet in the country. Jack was inducted into the Villanova Wall of Fame in 2001.