STORRS, Conn. -- Former University of Connecticut Director of Athletics John L. Toner, a major figure regionally and nationally in the world of collegiate athletics for more than five decades, died Tuesday morning at the age of 91 in Savannah, Georgia.
Toner was named head football coach in 1966, a position he held at UConn for five seasons until 1970. Toner’s teams won Yankee Conference championships in 1967 and 1970 and had a five-year conference record of 17-6-2.
Toner was named director of athletics in 1969 and held the dual role of head coach and AD until 1970.
As director of athletics, Toner served until he stepped away from the post in June 1987. He continued with the university as a professor in the school of education, department of sport and leisure studies until his official retirement from university service in 1988. He continued to hold the title of athletics director emeritus.
During his nearly 20 years as UConn’s director of athletics, Toner was the prime architect in the development of the intercollegiate athletic program. He added women’s varsity sports to the intercollegiate offerings at Connecticut in 1974, steered UConn from its days as a Yankee Conference member into the Big East Conference as a charter member in 1979, vaulted UConn football into the Division I-AA ranks and hired women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma (1985) and men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun (1986). Those two coaches would go on to become Hall of Fame head coaches, winning a total of 12 combined NCAA national championships.
In addition, in his final years as director of athletics, Toner personally directed the planning, funding and design for Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, which opened three years after his retirement in January 1990 and has become one of the country’s most famous on-campus arenas.
In addition to his numerous accomplishments at UConn, Toner was one of the most respected and influential figures in the nation on all subject matters related to intercollegiate athletics.
Toner’s numerous national activities were highlighted in January 1983 when he was elected to a two-year term as president of NCAA membership. In other NCAA duties, Toner was appointed to the NCAA council in 1977 and served with that steering group until being elected NCAA secretary-treasurer in 1981. He also chaired several NCAA committees, and, after stepping down as NCAA president in 1985, he was chairman of the NCAA committee for the development of a national drug testing policy.