Kyle Witt has no idea what will happen next. His days are spent keeping his inbox empty – an impossible task akin to George Jetson on the treadmill without Janes around to “stop this crazy thing”.
His task is to set up a women’s water polo team by 2023. He hasn’t ordered any t-shirts, heck, he hasn’t ordered any water polo balls yet. He hasn’t started interviewing assistant coaches yet. Recruitment is an ongoing, never-ending crusade.
He doesn’t have a to-do list; “Tomorrow is my checklist,” he joked.
Cal State Fullerton softball coach Kelly Ford, a good friend of Witt’s, called him a few weeks ago to see how the new men’s and women’s head water polo coach was doing his first month at the work. Witt looked like someone who should be – but surprisingly isn’t – at his wit’s end.
“I said ‘This is crazy. This is impossible. This is so crazy. There’s so much going on it’s overwhelming,'” Witt said.
“And I like it.”
If nothing else illustrates that CSUF has found the right architect to build two programs from scratch, it’s the fact that Witt relishes an endless inbox with a thank you mentality, sir, may I have another. It’s been a month since he started a job that requires building a foundation from scratch with a countdown that never stops. It’s an ongoing episode of “Mission: Impossible” and he’s Peter Graves, accepting the monumental task ahead of him with that trademark stoicism.
Because Witt wanted that. He wanted it from the moment he learned that the CSUF was reviving a men’s water polo program that had been dormant since 1985. From the moment he learned how to create a women’s water polo program at Starting from scratch, Witt put his head down and put together an unbeatable set of credentials. , recommendations and, well, let its track record speak for itself.
It spoke very well. When CSUF athletic director Jim Donovan hired Witt to lead the men’s and women’s water polo teams, he found a coach who won 80% of his conference games at Loyola Marymount University. As LMU’s women’s coach for 13 years, Witt won four conference championships and reached the NCAA semifinals in 2010, when her team went 28-6 and beat No. 1 UCLA in national quarter-finals. He won 62% of his matches (236-145) in those 13 years.
“We needed someone who could come in here and get our programs up and running as quickly as possible,” Donovan told Cal State Fullerton’s Bill Sheehan. “Kyle’s recruiting prowess, his conference championship and winning records, and his experience as a Division I head coach will be the catalysts for our competitive success in the years to come.”
The road ahead is both simple and complex. Build a women’s team that will start playing in the Big West Conference in January. It’s as daunting a task as it sounds, considering the top water polo prospects signed on months ago. And before you can say “transfer portal”, Witt disabuses you of this simple and quick notion.
“The transfer gate in women’s water polo is about 40 in total in a year. People don’t transfer in our sport,” he said. “COVID has affected that. We have reached the transfer portal, but it was pretty dry when I was hired.
That said, if Witt wants to build an aquatics program from the ground up, he’s the first to tell you he’s in the right place to do it. Orange County is one of the nation’s water polo hotbeds. Even the B-list prospects ignored by the UCLA, USC, Cals and Stanford of the world are better players you won’t find anywhere else in the country.
In the meantime, he has plenty of places to start. Witt has previously mined the ranks of community colleges, starting with his good friend Gabriel Martinez at Fullerton College. He already has players on campus who thought their careers were over when they left high school.
“I have an open door. The only thing I’m looking for is the culture part,” he said. “If I don’t think you can add to our fabric, that’s the only reason I’m going to reject you.” If you can swim, that’s the start.
From there, Witt plays it as it goes.
“There is no basis. No documents, no charter. Nothing in writing that needs to be done,” he said. “It’s up to my choices, my expertise, my knowledge, combined with university resources to get things done. I don’t have a checklist. I have priorities that there are things that I must do.
“A lot of coaches are miles ahead of me, but I don’t compare myself to them. We are starting something new and we will go our own way. We will end up in the same place as them. I just think it will take time to get there.
Appropriate as it took Witt a while to get here too. Coming from a family of educators, Witt dutifully began the journey of a history teacher, earning a history degree while earning four all-conference spots playing the two-meter position for the water team. -LMU polo shirt. The plan was to teach history and coach water polo.
Until Witt hit a speed bump with the first half of that equation.
“When I walked into the classroom to work on my teaching diploma and substitute teaching, I can’t tell you how much I didn’t like it,” he recalls. “I couldn’t handle the kids who didn’t want to be there. I do not like it. But the framework? I could learn to do that.
Witt found it intoxicating. He began his journey up the competitive coaching ladder by paying his dues at places such as Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena and Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. Witt’s Westridge team went 0-12 and he loved every minute, giving first glimpses of his appetite for a challenge. As an assistant to Mira Costa’s men’s team, Witt was instrumental in their 2004 CIF South Section title.
From there, Witt spent two years as an assistant at Whittier College, long enough to help the traditional athlete win his first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
Next, Witt took his act on the road, coaching at Division II Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, for two years. Witt cut his teeth as head coach of both the men’s and women’s programs. He coached the men for two years, the women for one.
Afterwards, he returned to LMU, where he joined his mentor, John Loughran, as a Lions assistant. He took over the women’s program in 2010.
With each stop, Witt experimented, tried new things, and earned a reputation as a tireless problem-solver. He also earned a reputation as a specialist in dual-threat athletic and academic training. He has coached two Olympians, eight members of their country’s national teams and 46 All-Americans. That’s not to be confused with the 94 national college All-Americans and 119 conference college players taking the plunge with Witt.
“You’re going to see the building blocks of our foundation before all the championship aspirations are realised,” he said. “People who go here to Fullerton are fighters. Most are here for financial reasons. They are here because they want to go to school close to home. They work here part-time. These are the fighters we want on our team.
“You watch Kelly’s team play. They fight for everything. Football teams, obviously the baseball team. These are the children they have: fighters who fight for everything. I will have the same children. I want a scrappy team whose people know what it takes to beat us and know they’ll need everything they’ve got. In our first three years we might take a few bumps, but people will see that we have something going on here. They will want to be part of it. »
Did you know…? The men’s water polo team will begin play in the fall of 2023 with the maximum 4.5 scholarships. Eventually, the Titans will carry 22 men. The women start with eight scholarships and an eventual goal of 30 players. Both are the maximum scholarships allowed by the NCAA.
He said it : Witt on getting the Titans job: “During the pandemic, I found out they were building a pool, and from that point on I really worked hard to talk to people on campus. I went meet people. That’s where I met (softball coach) Kelly Ford. She didn’t recruit me, but she did without her knowing. people like that that really convinced me that I wanted to coach at Cal State Fullerton, let alone water polo here in Orange County…. It takes a certain mentality to get a job like this. have to go 100% with your heart and soul.