Chris Gobrecht was stunned by one important piece of her talk with departing Air Force athletic director Jim Knowlton on Sunday.
It wasn’t so much that Knowlton was leaving, but where he was going.
“I go, ‘Really?,’” said Gobrecht, the Falcons women’s basketball coach hired by Knowlton. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a switch.’”
California, located in Berkeley, is home to one of the country’s most famously liberal campuses; presenting a stark contrast to what Knowlton has come to know as a West Point graduate who served 26 years in the Army and most recently served three years as Air Force’s athletic director.
Asked about how he’ll deal with a student body, community and alumni base not known for its eagerness to take orders, Knowlton brushed aside any concerns.
“I think what you’re going to find is I’m a very collaborative leader,” said Knowlton, who was stationed in Berlin during the fall of the wall and later led a battalion of 750 at Fort Carson. “Being a collaborative leader, a servant leader, is what people want.”
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Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun also sees no issues with Knowlton skipping across the spectrum.
“It’s an outstanding school,” Calhoun said. “You talk about Berkeley, it’s one of the premier public institutions in the world, literally. In a very strong conference. So no.”
Falcons hockey coach Frank Serratore sees the hiring, because of those noted differences, as a good thing for academies.
“I think his hire at Berkeley reflects well on how the academy – and the academies in general – are viewed nationwide,” Serratore said. “When a big-time liberal institution goes and hires an ex-military man to run their athletic department, that’s a huge compliment to who we are and what we represent.”
Speaking of hockey, Serratore and Knowlton have known each other for years because of their connections to the sport. Knowlton was a team captain at West Point who later chaired the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee while athletic director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has raised five college hockey-playing sons.
California does not have a D-I hockey program.
Yes, when Knowlton goes west he will truly be venturing into new territory.