Virginia Athletics announced Saturday that Gene Corrigan, a pivotal figure in collegiate athletics, died at the age of 91 Friday night in his Charlottesville home surrounded by family.
Corrigan, a U.S. Army veteran and former Duke lacrosse player, served in various roles throughout his 42-year career as a coach and administrator in collegiate athletics. From 1955 to 1997, Corrigan worked with five different organizations — Washington and Lee, Virginia, Notre Dame, the ACC and the NCAA.
“Gene’s leadership was transformational in how college sports were integrated as a significant part of the higher education experience and the building of ‘community’ across the country,” former Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage said.
Corrigan first joined Virginia in 1958 as the men’s lacrosse and soccer coach and assistant basketball coach. He left Virginia in 1967, but returned in 1971 for a 10-year period as Virginia athletics director.
Working closely with then-University President Frank Hereford, Corrigan rejuvenated Virginia sports and helped the struggling program become nationally competitive. Under his leadership, Virginia increased funding for the athletic department, hired several key figures in coaching positions and won multiple conference championships as well as the 1972 men’s lacrosse national title.
“Gene Corrigan created and realized an incredible life,” men’s lacrosse Coach Lars Tiffany said. “What an amazing ability he had with making the rest of us smile as he told his stories and shared his eternal optimism.”
In 1987, Corrigan, after leaving Virginia for the second time and serving as Notre Dame’s athletics director for several years, became the third-ever full-time ACC commissioner. During his time as commissioner, he oversaw the addition of Florida State to the conference, the creation of the Football Bowl Alliance and 27 national championships for ACC programs.
“His impact on the ACC and college athletics was profound and immeasurable, only surpassed by his impact on the individuals he positively affected — and there are a multitude of us,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “I will miss him immensely, but I am so grateful to have had him as a mentor, boss, friend and colleague for so many years.”
Corrigan served a two-year term as the NCAA president until his retirement in 1997.
In addition to his accomplishments in coaching and administration, Corrigan was known for his good nature and friendliness.
“Gene Corrigan first and foremost was a good human,” said Debbie Ryan, Corrigan’s niece and former Virginia women’s basketball coach. “Wherever he was employed he knew everyone’s name and always had time for a quick chat to bring a smile to someone’s face or talk about their family.”
Corrigan’s warm exuberant personality had a positive impact on everyone from young athletes to coaches and administrators.
Ryan recalled having several conversations with her uncle about coaching and athletics. Many individuals who have worked in collegiate athletics considered Corrigan to be an invaluable mentor in their lives.
“I remember so much about the advice he used to give me as a very young coach on how to handle your players,” Ryan said. “He said, ‘Always let them know you love them and never use sarcasm.’ That quote remains with me today.”
Current Virginia Athletics Director Carla Williams also shared a memory of Corrigan’s willingness to share wisdom and good conversation with all around him.
“Gene Corrigan was a giant in our industry," Williams said. "Coach Corrigan and I had a road trip not long after I arrived at U.Va. and we could have talked for hours. I learned a lot that day.”
Corrigan has received several recognitions from multiple organizations over the years. He received National Football Foundation’s Gold Medal — the organization’s highest honor — and has been inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
“Simply stated, Gene Corrigan was an icon in the world of college sports,” Littlepage said. “Few people have had as great a positive impact on college sports as Gene Corrigan.”
Corrigan is survived by his wife, seven children, 19 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.