John Kasser, Cal’s former Director of Athletics from 1993 to 2000, passed away last week at the age of 82. He served Cal for over seven years as his crown jewel and lasting impression is certainly Haas Pavilion that he oversaw the building of.
Kasser opened Haas Pavilion in 1999 after a two-year project that transformed the previous Harmon Gym, which of course was built way back in 1933.
Cal’s press release put Kasser’s life and achievements together in a moving tribute to the former AD in Berkeley.
BERKELEY – John Kasser, who served as Director of Athletics at Cal from 1993-2000 and oversaw the renovation of Harmon Gym into Haas Pavilion during his tenure, passed away Thursday. He was 82.
A dynamic leader, adept administrator and superb fundraiser, Kasser brought a warm personality and sincerity to his job. His positive approach helped generate excitement among alumni, and he raised more than $100 million to support Cal Athletics and its student-athletes.
Perhaps Kasser’s lasting legacy is Walter A. Haas Jr. Pavilion, which opened in the fall of 1999 and serves as the home of Cal’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams, as well as many administrative offices. The two-year, $60 million project consisted of a complete transformation of old Harmon Gym, which was built in 1933, into a modern, 12,000-seat facility.
In addition, Kasser oversaw a renovation and upgrade of the Edwards Stadium track & field running surface and infield (now known as Goldman Field), and returned Memorial Stadium to natural grass, which remained the playing surface until 2003. In the mid-1990s, Cal expanded opportunities for women by adding three sports – women’s golf, women’s lacrosse and women’s water polo.
Under Kasser’s direction, the Golden Bears won nine national team championships with six coming in rugby, two in men’s gymnastics and one in men’s rowing. He also hired 14 head coaches, including Ben Braun (men’s basketball), Steve Mariucci (football), Tom Holmoe (football) and Rich Feller (volleyball).
Kasser joined Cal in December 1993, officially assuming his duties a month later, following a two-year stint as Director of Athletics at UC Santa Barbara. He announced his resignation in December 2004 to become executive director of Pac-10 Properties, which served as the licensing and marketing arm of the Pac-10 Conference and Fox Sports Network.
A native of California, Kasser was a standout basketball and baseball player at Pepperdine in the late 1950s. He spent time in both automotive sales and high school coaching in southern California before he moved into college athletics as an assistant athletic director at UC Irvine in 1977. After three years with the Anteaters, he assumed a similar role at the University of Houston. From 1982-84, Kasser oversaw the school’s men’s basketball program that went to three consecutive Final Fours behind the efforts of such stars as Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler.
Kasser served as Director of Athletics at Long Beach State from 1984-87, a period that saw the women’s basketball team reach the Final Four and the softball team advance to the Women’s College World Series. In 1987, Kasser became associate executive director with the College Football Association and played a large role in securing a major TV contract with CBS.
Kasser returned to the auto industry for just over a year in 1988 as vice president of MacPherson Enterprises in Orange County, and then got back into athletics at UCSB in 1989.
Kasser served on multiple NCAA committees during his career, including women’s volleyball, women’s basketball and men’s water polo, as well as on the NCAA Council. He was also a member of the NACDA executive committee while at Cal.
Kasser and his wife, Carol, had two daughters, Karen and Sharon.
Our thoughts are with the entire Kasser family, his friends and loved ones.