TAMPA — There were many times when Chris Catanach wondered if he should remain as the University of Tampa's volleyball coach. Larger programs beckoned, complete with full funding, a bigger salary and more attention.
He stayed and made UT volleyball into his career.
Yes, Catanach said.
A thousand times, yes.
Although it has always been about the team-building process, the development of players and setting them up for successful lives, Catanach allowed himself some brief moments of celebration Sept. 2, when the Spartans clinched his 1,000th career victory by sweeping Franklin Pierce University.
"Then it was on to figuring out a way to win 1,001," said Catanach, 55, who is beginning his 33rd season at UT.
Although Catanach said the milestone "mostly means I've been coaching a long, long time," his players knew better.
"Winning a thousand of anything is amazing and it's hard to wrap your head around that number," Spartans senior outside hitter Allee Stelogeannis said. "Coach Catanach has been coaching this volleyball program longer than I've been alive. But he still gives his all and comes ready to go every day. And that's what he demands from us."
"In a way, he's like a father to us," Spartans sophomore libero Logan Holanchock said. "He really cares. But it's not easy. If we don't meet a goal on a drill in practice, it's not fun. We have to get it right. But that's what makes this program so good."
Catanach's Spartans are two-time NCAA Division II national champions (2006, 2014), along with four national runnerup finishes. The thousand career victories have helped to quantify the coach's status. He's third among active Division II volleyball coaches and eighth among the sport's active coaches in all classifications.
"I think when I get out of this business, I can be really proud of it," said Catanach, who hopes to coach until age 60 then evaluate his options. "My first thought was it's like your birthday. You go up one number. Do you feel any different than yesterday?
"But when I look at the level of coaches on the (all-time victory) chart and think about the longevity of lasting so many years, it is pretty cool. I can say without hesitation that coaching this long and going for (1,000 wins) was not something I ever imagined."
Catanach, a 1983 UT graduate, was going to be a physical education teacher. He applied for a Catholic school job, but also had a backup plan, a UT admissions counselor position.
The UT job offer came first. Along with that, the athletic director offered him the head coaching position for volleyball, a program where he assisted as a student. He also coached men's and women's tennis "and any other sport the AD wanted to give me," said Catanach, whose varied duties also included heading up the clean-up committee for an on-campus carnival.
"When people asked me what I did, I said, 'I work at the University of Tampa,' " Catanach said. "I wasn't feeling like coaching volleyball was something to boast about. But the last few decades, I just have a big smile on my face, like, 'They pay me to do this.'
"Division II is not the same world as Division I. But it's an apples-to-apples comparison. It doesn't have some of the money and resources, but we have it great here at UT. It doesn't come with some of the pressures. It's a very enjoyable life. It's home."
There was a time when Catanach wanted the Division I limelight. He remembers considering Virginia. When the Auburn job opened, he asked UT athletic director Hindman Wall, a former Auburn administrator, if he could get him in the door.
"Hindman was instrumental in my approach because he told me to look long and hard at the life I had here," Catanach said. "He said there were similar frustrations everywhere. People were hitting their heads against the wall at Division I. He said I could get it done here, build up my (summer) camps, have a very nice career.
"And I have. It was great advice. I have never regretted staying here. For me, it was a great decision."
A thousand times, yes.