[TwistNHook: Fiatlux helped facilitate an interview with National Championship winning men's water polo coach and Cal Kirk Everist. Everist is amazing, so many thanks to him for taking the time to respond to our questions. And thanks to Fiatlux for his help with the interview and, also, this introduction. GO BEARS!]
So you've liked the last couple of weeks. Oh yeah, we like National Championships in the water! Well today, we've got an interview with an all-time Cal great who has won plenty of wet National Championships, Kirk Everist. Before we get to the interview, a little story.
For us pretend / weekend jocks, there are times in life when we're faced with just how not a jock we are. For me it was the summer of '89. Kirk and I were friends in school, I think starting with my working at Raleighs with some other guys who were also on the water polo team. I don't want to embarrass him heading into this interview, but Kirk is and always has been a genuinely great guy. So one afternoon I'm in the pool at Spieker doing laps when Kirk gets in. Now I'm thinking I'm a pretty good swimmer so as Kirk starts swimming in the lane next to me I'm feeling good about myself because I'm totally keeping up with him. For about a half a length of the pool. The next thing I realize is that before I have done a length Kirk is on his return. And then what felt like just after I had touched he was already lapping me. And then I am pretty sure he lapped me again before I managed to complete my lap. I had exerted so much effort on that first length, my main focus was not finding myself on the bottom of the pool. When I completed that lap, I suddenly, um, developed a cramp and was done with my swim... And that was the proverbial and literal water in my face. Kirk was an elite swimmer. I was an effete swimmer. But Kirk was totally cool and told me he was impressed with my swimming. Hey, I'll take the crumbs.
Enough of that. Before our interview, let's get some of the biography stuff out of the way. 4 National Championships at Cal. 2 as a player in 1987 and 1988 and 2 as a coach in 2006 and 2007. Hey, this back-to-back stuff is in our DNA! Kirk was a three-time All American from 1986-1988. He was the National Player of the Year in 1988. He won Coach of the Year in 2006. He is a 2-time Olympian in 1992 and 1996. And he has been inducted into both the Cal Hall of Fame and in the National Hall of Fame. My god man, we get it. You're a stud! So let's get to it.
1. What is better: Winning a National Championship as a player or a coach?
I would say it is hard to choose which is better. They are both fantastic experiences and satisfying on different levels. As a player you have put so much emotional and physical energy into the process, as a Coach its more emotional and mental energy. Both are great and I'm fortunate to have experienced both.
2. You've won four national championships for Cal (two as a player and two as a coach) and been runner-up in 2010. You've obviously had a lot of success here. Why do you think you've been so successful here?
Cal Water Polo has a very strong foundation and the program has a tremendous amount of pride. I was fortunate to play at CAL during an incredible era. Between 1983-1992 the Bears won 7 National Titles and were the National Runners-up 2 times. When I returned to Coach that foundation and pride were still strong and we have tried to continue it. We all owe a great deal to the Coaches (Peter Cutino and Steve Heaston) who really built that foundation.
3. I'm sure winning national championships is a challenge; however, now that you've won four of them, are you looking for an even bigger challenge somewhere else? Would you ever consider coaching at another school or coaching professional teams? Or maybe even the Olympic team?
I was a part of the National Team for over 9 years and competed in the Olympics two times. It is a tremendous honor to represent your country. That being said I returned to Coaching at CAL because I truly love this school and this program and I can't wait to win the next Championship for the Golden Bears.
4. What does it mean to you to win national championships for your alma mater? I'm sure winning is great, but winning for your school must mean even more to you.
It is truly special to be a part of a Championship team at your Alma Mater. As I said there is a tremendous amount of pride in the Men's Water Polo Program at CAL and as an Alum I am very serious about the job of coaching this team. Maintaining that pride and that expectation of excellence means a great deal to me as it does all of our present and past players.
5. In the ten years that you've coached for Cal, I'm sure you've learned a lot of things about what it means to be a coach, and how to be a good coach. If you could give a few pieces of advice to aspiring coaches -- in water polo or any sport -- what would it be?
Yes it has been quite an experience. I think the biggest thing is to be yourself and be consistent. Players want to be led and they want to lead. We want to have a program that gives them the opportunity to grow as athletes and people.
6. College Football seems to dominate the sports world when it comes to college sport recruiting. Is there active recruiting for water polo? Do you visit high school prospects in their homes, and send them emails imploring them to come to Cal? What is the water polo recruit twittersphere looking like? We seem to have a lot of Eastern European guys... why is that?
Yes like all sports in College there is active and competitive recruiting of student athletes. It is a big part of our jobs - you can lose with talent but you can't win without it. So my staff (Boyd Lachance and Sean Nolan) work hard to identify the players we feel will be the best fit's for our program.
As far as twitter goes, I think we are all looking at how this will impact our programs and how to best use it. We have an active account now @CalWaterPolo and will continue to get the word out about CAL Water Polo through this medium.
International players are very prevalent in our sport. We have had a number of internationals over the years (Serbia, Hungary, Montenegro, Israel, New Zealand, Italy, Australia). Water Polo is a very big sport in Europe and the prestige of Berkeley really resonates with the athletes that are looking to put off professional sport in order to continue their education.
7. Water polo is a team sport. How do you go about strengthening the team bond prior to a season? Do you have team bonding events?
Building the team is always important and we have done many things in this area. Most recently we took the 2011 team to Coronado and spent a day with the NAVY SEALS. The team spent the day going through SEAL Team training drills and lectures. It was really a fantastic experience and has really had a great impact on the teams mentality.
8. If you can recall, what was that one moment in being a head coach for the water polo team where you had that "Ah hah! This is for me!" realization that this is what you loved to do?
I am not sure that there is any one moment but it very easy to get up in the morning and go to "work." Being around these young men is challenging but so rewarding. It really is an honor to be a part of their growth.
9. Ever coach has their ups and downs. Tell us what was the toughest "down" moment for you? How did you overcome that difficult time?
It is always frustrating when you don't quite get to where you think you can competitively. So years like 2005, 2011 and 2012 are frustrating. These are teams that really had the potential to win Championships but the line is very small. It is hard to say that a team (2011 and 2012) that went 17-1 in two years of conference play, won a conference championship, and lost in the 2011 NCAA final in overtime was not successful, but that is the bar here at CAL. We all know this, embrace it and expect it.
10. You followed two of the greatest water polo coaches who ever lived -- Pete Cutino and Steve Heaston. What does that mean for you personally? Did you feel any added pressure because of that when you first took the job?
"Cutino and Heaston" via 2.bp.blogspot.com
Pete and Steve were incredible coaches and I had the pleasure of playing for both of them. I don't feel any added pressure because of them. I can't try to compete with them as coaches, that is not what this job is about. Pete taught me to be my own coach and be the best one I could be.
11. Which of the Cal teams you played on was the best? Who was the best player you played with at Cal?
Both 1987 and 1988 were really good teams. It would be hard for me to pick one. 1988 had a great mix of veterans and youth. The 1988 team had 3 players on it that had or would win the National player of the year award (Jeff Brush, Myself, and Chris Humbert). If I had to pick the best player I played with at CAL I would say Rich Ambidge. Rich was from England and was just an incredible all around player and competitor.
12. What does it feel like to be in the Water Polo Hall Of Fame?
Being honored by the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame was a tremendous honor and something I will never forget.
13. Can you comment on the funding situation for Athletics? What is men's water polo doing to help fund its program?
Obviously it has been and continues to be a challenging environment at CAL. CAL Aquatics has had tremendous support over the years. Our Friends of CAL Aquatics program is an active group that encompasses all the Aquatics teams and we are actively building our endowment. We have had such great support from Alums like Warren Hellman, Don Fisher, Ned Spieker, and Rick Cronk over the years and we expect continued support from all of our passionate supporters.
14. What can men's water polo do better to help promote itself and get more fans out to games?
I think there are many things we can do with Social Media as well as mediums such as yours to get information out about our program. We have always enjoyed great crowds at CAL but invite any and all fans to come out and support this great program.
15. Can you take us through a standard water polo practice?
Our typical workouts are 2.5 to 3 hours.
We will go through 30-60 minutes of conditioning (swimming or leg work). Leg strength is very important in the sport so our players spend a great deal of time using weight belts (5 to 10 lbs) while they pass and shoot during drills. We also use stretch cords (long elastic bands) with belts that the players will pull across the pool during different drills.
30-60 minutes of the workout will be Passing and Shooting drills and the rest will be more tactical work.
16. What initially interested you in Cal, lo those many years ago?
I grew up in Orinda and Miramonte High School had a long history of sending players to CAL. I also played in the Summers for Concord Water Polo which was run by Coach Cutino and Heaston. So CAL was always at the top of my list. At the end of the day I think it was the way I was recruited that sealed the deal for me. CAL was the last school I visited and every other school spent a great deal of time telling me how much I would impact their team and the great things they were going to do.
When I came to CAL Pete sat me down and said "Kirk we'd really like you to come to CAL but you must understand I don't know if you will ever play for me." I would have to earn anything and everything I got and that was exactly what I wanted. Water Polo was no different than the school. If you want something (anything) at CAL you can have it, but you will have to work for it.
17. How many times do you run around the office in your swim trunks with the trophies laughing hysterically?
Not very often but it is a great job and I love it very much. CAL is an amazing place and I am very lucky to be here.