Imagine walking to class in Plant Hall on a sunny day at UT and not seeing the Martinez Athletic Center, the Sykes College of Business or passing by Vaughn for a quick bite to eat with. They don’t exist. Imagine only having 1500 classmates and the only dorms are small, average looking Smiley and McKay. Over the past 30 years, our school has transformed into the well-known, private university we attend today but it was not always like this. In the early days of UT, inadequate facilities such as the athletic building, made up a large portion of the campus. Athletic coaches such as basketball head coach Richard Schmidt and volleyball head coach Chris Catanach have been able to see first hand how the athletic programs have evolved since the 1980s. The primary difference? Facilities.
“When I first got here, we had an old gym down by where Tampa Prep is right now,” Schmidt said. “We had no heat, no air conditioning, most of the windows were broken out, and that is where we practiced. My first year here, it was 19 degrees on Christmas Day, and we practiced that night. There’s not even a comparison to what is was when I first got here.”
Both coaches hold a special place in their heart for UT as Catanach is an alumni of the school and Schmidt built the basketball program from nothing.
Schmidt began his coaching career as an assistant at the University of Virginia, and soon after took a head coaching position in 1979 at Vanderbilt University. After two years in Nashville, he finally found his way to UT in 1982.
“A friend of mine was the athletic director here and we got talking and we tried to see if I could start a program down here,” Schmidt said. “I had started a program at Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky and I was the only coach there. I started that from scratch and we had a great team. So this was something I thought I would enjoy doing because we had no basketball program at UT then. We started from scratch and built it the way that I wanted to build it.”
A native of the U.S Virgin Islands, Catanach attended the University of Tampa and worked as a student manager for the volleyball team, serving and hitting balls in practice and learning the game in the process. After graduating in 1983, he spent a year in admissions traveling across the country in search of recruits for the athletic program. As he returned from the extensive traveling time he spent recruiting, the position for the women’s head volleyball coach opened up that spring. He was able to convince the athletic director to give him the job, an opportunity that wouldn’t have been open to someone with the little qualifications he had at the time. Back then, it had only been UT’s third year of having an NCAA volleyball team, and in 1984 he endured his first season as head coach with a low budget in order to help his team grow.
“My first year my budget was $6,300, I will never forget that,” said Catanach. “We couldn’t supply the girls practice gear or shoes, we had to purchase cheap uniforms and do what we had to do to get by.”
For the first ten years of his career, the weak opportunity provided to expand the volleyball program even made him consider finding a different job. In 1995, he was offered a coaching job at the University of Virginia. However, after weighing out the pros and cons, the only advantage he saw was that UV was a “name school.” They had similar funding as Tampa at the time and the facilities were just as poor.
“When choosing your job you choose where you’d have the best chance to enjoy it and be successful. I decided to turn the job down and stay at Tampa. I’ve never looked back,” Catanach said. “Shortly after, President Vaughn came in and changed a lot. He started to figure out new ways to sell the school well and each year UT became a better and more enjoyable place to work.”
Despite having their fair share of both successful and unsuccessful seasons, the one thing that both coaches agree has affected their decision to stay in Tampa for all these years has been the relationships they created with their players. Schmidt, in particular, is notorious for recruiting a high school underdog and making it his goal to mold them into a successful college athlete.
“I enjoy coaching and working with young men and seeing them develop,” Schmidt said. “Here’s an example: Nate Johnson, who played here, went on to play in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz. He didn’t even start on his high school JV team when he was a junior. I’ve had a lot of kids that weren’t really recruited by anyone but me, and I enjoy seeing them develop and get better both mentally and physically in life.”
Totalling over 30 seasons each, Catanach and Schmidt have seen both the athletic program and the school as a whole expand in every sense of the word. However, despite their lengthy careers, the dedication each has to their individual sport and players has kept them hungry for more seasons.
“I truly believe that if you find something you’re passionate about, its not a job,” Catanach said. “Every time you graduate a kid you think you’ll never find one like them again and then another one pops up and wows you and are different, but tremendous.”
Tess Sheets can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Regina Gonzalez can be reached at email@example.com