Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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The Kat in Two Hats
Coach and Athletic Director Charles Katsiaficas is a throwback to another era of college athletics

In this day and age of increasing specialization in the collegiate coaching ranks—when multi-tasking means talking on the phone to a prospective student as you walk out to practice, Charlie Katsiaficas is a throwback to another era.

“Coach Kat,” as he is known around campus, is both the Pomona-Pitzer head men’s basketball coach, as well as the athletic director (AD) and chair of the Physical Education Department—positions held by two people at most institutions. The dual coach/AD role used to be the norm among smaller institutions but has become rarer nationwide as the AD job description expands.

“I think there are some advantages to it,” says Katsiaficas. “I think sometimes coaches like to know that the AD understands what’s going on in their lives. In some ways, it really helps me stay grounded in the day-to-day struggles coaches go through.”

As coach, Katsiaficas teaches activity classes and oversees the men’s varsity basketball program in the Rains Center. As AD and department chair, he oversees a large department plus the extensive athletic facilities on campus, along with profuse NCAA and conference paperwork and club and intramural sports. Both jobs fill a day, and Coach Kat juggles both roles with aplomb. A typical day might see Katsiaficas teaching a morning golf class, meeting with the dean, phoning a conference colleague, filing paperwork and meeting with the tennis coach in the afternoon, then prowling the Voelkel Gym sidelines with his typical scowl during a Sagehen men’s basketball game in the evening.

A 1984 graduate of Tufts, Katsiaficas came to Claremont that same summer as an assistant to former Sagehen head coach Gregg Popovich. Katsiaficas worked for two years in that role until the fall of 1986 when Popovich took a sabbatical and Coach Kat agreed to be acting head coach. “As a third year guy at a pretty young age,” says Katsiaficas, “that was a thrill—to get a chance to run the team for a year.”

Popovich returned to coach one more year before heading to the NBA (he is now head coach of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs). Pomona hired Katsiaficas in 1988 for a one-year interim position. During that season, he coached the team to a SCIAC conference crown, applied for the faculty position and was picked to be the full-time coach.

After 18 seasons, Coach Kat has compiled a remarkable coaching record on the basketball court. His overall record is 280–171, while his record in SCIAC conference games is 172–68—a .717 winning percentage. Nine teams have won SCIAC titles and advanced to the NCAA III

national tournament. Six Sagehens have been selected as SCIAC players of the year, while 28 others have earned honors on All–SCIAC teams. Moreover, countless Sagehens have practiced and played under his leadership.

After the previous AD left in 2000, Katsiaficas was asked to serve as acting athletic director and department chair for one year. “I thought that would be a great opportunity,” said Katsiaficas, 44, a native of Ellsworth, Maine. “You know, just to grow and learn and find out more about yourself and the school and the department.” Katsiaficas applied for the full-time job and got that, too.

“It would be tough to write a job description,” explains Coach Kat about his roles. “The department chair is much more facilitating the college’s business and being a department liaison to the rest of the college and overseeing some of the administrative organizational duties that the department has to carry out to function as a department in the college, whereas the athletic director part is really overseeing all the athletic programs.

“You’re really here to help everyone within their athletic programs—in whatever comes up. Lord knows, everything comes up. That’s what I’ve enjoyed so much about it.”

Coach Kat’s SCIAC colleagues praise his philosophy and work ethic, recognizing his expertise given his dual hats. “During the basketball season, I fully expect him to be less focused on AD matters,” says Occidental College Athletic Director Dixon Farmer. “But as the intensity of the basketball season heats up, Charlie gets more focused in his AD role. He is sought out at our conference meetings for his insight. Charlie is awfully good at talking about what is best for the particular issue or sport being discussed.”

For Katsiaficas, who led his squad to conference crowns in 2004 and 2005, the mentoring is still of primary importance. “What I didn’t want to give up is the coaching,” he said. “I didn’t want to give up the interaction you have with students. We’ve been very fortunate to attract a lot of quality student-athletes. I wouldn’t want to understate the importance of coaching because I think it’s critical. However, as I always tell our team, what they bring to the equation is more important than what I bring to the equation. We’ve been fortunate to attract good people who are willing to buy into our system, believe in it, understand the commitment that it takes.”

Alex Lloyd ’06, the 2005 Men’s Basketball SCIAC Player of the Year, commends Coach Kat for doing a remarkable job at not allowing his AD duties to interfere with his basketball role. “This past year I had the privilege to sit in on a review trustee panel of the athletics program with Coach Kat,” says Lloyd, a 6’4” forward. “There were several meetings throughout the year, including during the season. The committee would meet in the morning, and he’d be able to present and discuss all the details of our athletic programs and facilities. However, by the time I got to practice at four o’clock that afternoon, practice would proceed just as it would any other day.”

Katsiaficas says two things at Pomona help his job immensely. First, he stresses that the college administration is highly supportive of athletic personnel and facilities in the campus community. Second, Coach Kat says the Physical Education Department members are “high-level professionals who don’t need someone looking over their shoulder every day.”
In the chair position, Coach Kat sees himself as much more of a department member who represents physical education to the College. The AD job differs somewhat, says Katsiaficas, “It’s a little more challenging in that regard because of the whole culture of sport—the growth and the ‘more’ phenomenon, and the societal emphasis on winning and staying competitive. And so there’s a greater challenge to provide a balance in the athletic director role, one that fits into the institutional goals and institutional mission and what’s best for the student athletes, balanced with the drive and competitiveness and desire from coaches to have what they see is best for their programs.

“I see myself more as a coach among equals,” sums up Coach Kat. “I was a department member—and not the chair and AD—for 10–12 years. So I’ve just tried to continue to be a department member who just happens to be the AD and chair.”
—Kirk Reynolds

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