College coach doesn’t long for the spotlight

Tampa, Fla., Mar 2, 2013 / 01:04 pm (CNA).- Chris Catanach has been the head volleyball coach at the University of Tampa for 29 seasons now.  And he’s okay with the fact that you probably don’t know of him.

Working at the same school that he graduated from, he is an example of the type of humility that Christians are called to, in exemplifying that it’s not about us, it’s about God.

Consider his response when asked about college coaches in sports like football and basketball being household names in a lot of cities and in the world of ESPN and social media, but volleyball coaches getting nowhere near that recognition level. 

“From my standpoint I’m totally okay with that. I wouldn’t trade my life to be a superstar. If you look at what’s happening with (South African runner) Oscar Pistorius, if he was Joe Schmo his life wouldn’t be in the papers. I get to live under the radar and do good things and do things right and not be in the newspaper. Those other (basketball and football coaches) are getting paid millions but have the scrutiny that comes with it.”

Ironically, despite being among the winningest active NCAA Division II coaches, and even though he’d “played volleyball extensively in high school,” Catanach never really planned to have a long career as the university’s top man in volleyball.

“I got my undergrad in Phys. Ed. and really wanted to be a teacher,” he explains, “but when I graduated I applied for a P.E. job at St. Paul’s School in Clearwater and an admissions job with UT. So I took the UT job and (after having volunteered when he first got there) continued to work with the volleyball team. Midway through that first year the coach resigned, so I came back and convinced them to give me a shot, which was rare because I wasn’t qualified. At first I thought I’d only do this for a few years and thought I’d go do something else. But around the four-year mark I thought I’d keep going for maybe four more. I’ll probably put in 40 years before I can think of finally retiring.

"The first ten years I just said I worked at UT because I was a little embarrassed (about saying he was the volleyball coach), but the last 19 years I’ve been really proud and work with tremendous players and the university is a great place to work. You can’t walk away from a job like that.”

Certainly the Lord called this devout Catholic to the job because it has enabled him to help shape student-athletes into young women, not just to coach volleyball players.

“I don’t cut corners to win,” Catanach states, “because my longevity will be from the successes of the kids. If I have good academics who are good athletes, I’m going to win. If they don’t leave here without a degree, that’s a major failure in my opinion.  It doesn’t matter how many championships you win then.  That degree is what it’s all about. If it’s winning at all costs, you’ll cut corners and not be the role model that these kids need.”

The players are just as hands-on as their leader, though.

“This year we’ve got a project going with St. Peter Claver School in Ybor City,” Catanach explains. “The School is 119 years old and was for African American kids that want a Catholic education. It’s more mixed now with Latinos too. These are inner city, elementary age kids, mostly fifth grade and below, from low-income families. A large number of kids there, the only meal they get is the one at school.

“At Mass, at Christ the King, the pastor from St. Peter Claver spoke and said he can only go speak to two parishes a year and ask for assistance. So I left Mass and decided I had a group of kids that would love to help. So, every Tuesday and Thursday this spring after practice they go do tutoring and mentoring.”

Clearly this native of the U.S. Virgin Islands had a Catholic foundation to build from to lead his players to such a selfless initiative.

The third of six children explains, “My dad is a Knights of Columbus member and was a grand knight at one point.  He was very devout. For us it was church every Sunday, and attending Catholic school. The Catholic high school on the island kind of went down academically so I went to a different private school my junior year.”

It’s little wonder that Catanach chooses to end the conversation by adding that, “My belief has always been ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’ You can’t go wrong. You just have to live your life that way and you’ll make a difference.”

Posted with permission from the Catholic Sports Association, an organization dedicated to highlighting Catholic sports professionals and enriching junior high and high school student-athletes with Catholic sports articles, conferences, a Web series, and other programs.


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