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December 10, 2012
This interview is part of a weekly series that takes an inside look at how some of Cal's most memorable athletes ended up wearing the Blue and Gold.
What does a three-time All-American, two-time Olympian, and former NCAA Player of the Year do when his playing days are over?
If you're Kirk Everist, you set about stockpiling achievements as a coach.
Now in his eleventh year captaining men's water polo, and despite four national championship won (two as a player and two as a coach), the Cal Athletics' and USA Water Polo Hall of Famer remains insatiably competitive.
So competitive, in fact, that not even a knife-toting coach was able to scare him off...
BearTerritory: You didn't start playing water polo until you got to high school. How quickly did you begin to appear on college coaches' radar?
Kirk Everist: It took a while. I came out of intermediate school playing baseball and tennis competitively, and I really just swam because everyone in Orinda swims. But when I got to high school, I didn't want to play football in the fall, so my buddies talked me into playing water polo. My first coach, Mark Tilly, also went to Cal. He said "you could be a pretty good water polo player if you ever learn how to swim." [laughs]
BearTerritory: You went to Miramonte High School and had offers from California, Stanford, UCLA, and USC. What made you decide on Berkeley?
Everist: I don't know if there's a more sheltered environment to grow up in than Orinda, and I think that's a lot of what drew me to Berkeley. As I was looking at other schools, I saw a lot of the usual suspects in the water polo world that seemed very similar to where I grew up. I felt like I could always go back there, but I needed to be some place that challenged me. And at Berkeley, everywhere you go there's a challenge.
BearTerritory: What was your visit to Cal like?
Everist: When I got recruited, Coach (Pete) Cutino was the head coach and it was a pretty eye opening experience. I showed up in his office and he said that he'd love to have me come to school here. Then, in the same breath, he said "but I have no idea if you'll ever play."
BearTerritory: Is that something you expected to hear?
Everist: No, at other places I heard a lot about how great I was going to be and how they were going to win national championships and I was going to be integral to that group. Then, I came here and it was completely the opposite.
BearTerritory: Was that strategic on Cutino's part?
Everist: I think so. I think he had a feel for my personality. I walked out of there thinking that I was going to prove him wrong.
BearTerritory: I hear all sorts of stories about Coach Cutino. It sounds like he didn't believe in sugarcoating much?
Everist: [Laughs] Yeah, he didn't pull many punches. But he would make you laugh in the same sentence that he put you down. My freshman year, we were playing UCLA at home and I get in the game and have the worst minute-and-a-half span possible. I miss a shot, get kicked out, get scored on: just a train wreck. Pete calls a timeout and walks down the pool deck. He looks up in the stands in my mom and dad's direction and yells "its got to be heredity!" So yeah, he was unscripted. But he had a really good way of getting on you and then dialing it down and making you laugh. He was this big, 6-5, Sicilian bald guy who always had a knife or a switch blade
BearTerritory: A knife?
Everist: Oh yeah. He collected knives, so he always had one in his hand. You'd go into his office where he had carved all these knots out of an old wooden desk. And while you were talking to him, he'd be sitting there cleaning his nails with a switchblade or throwing a knife into the desk.
BearTerritory: You swam two years for another legendary Cal coach, Nort Thornton.
Everist: The swimming really helped with my speed, which was something I was known for. Plus, after going through Nort's workouts, swimming back and forth during matches became the easy part, and really let me focus on the game itself.
BearTerritory: Did you ever imagine you'd end up coaching?
Everist: I started coaching in 1989 at Miramonte, selfishly. I was playing for the national team and wanted the keys to the pool so I could train before practices. But I ended up really liking it.
BearTerritory: And did you find yourself adopting any of Cutino's coaching style?
Everist: I think parts. But the advice he gave me was "the minute you stop being yourself, the kids will eat you alive. Do whatever you do, be consistent with it, and you'll be ok." I can tell you that I definitely wouldn't have taken the Cal job if he didn't think I could do it. He was involved in helping me make the decision and he came back and helped me coach that first year.
BearTerritory: What was that like?
Everist: It was fun. He describes it as the lowest point in his career [laughs], but it was fun.
BearTerritory: Now that you're running the program, what sort of message do you give recruits?
Everist: This place will challenge you. You'll have your beliefs on how the world works, but in this environment, you better have a reason as to why you feel that way. And if you're inquisitive -- if you're willing to take the time -- you'll learn not to be afraid. There's a guy called "poke dot man" that's been here since I was a student. He has a whole spiel about how women are so much more evolved than men. We've gotten to know one another over the years and a while back, I was sitting on campus with my daughter and some of my players. He walks up wearing a jumpsuit and chemistry goggles that he's painted to cover everything but two little holes to see out of. He takes my daughter aside and starts telling her all his theories. I'm sitting there with some of the guys from my team, and I can see they're trying to make sense of what's happening. But I like it, because I know that my daughter will learn not to be afraid. She's inquisitive, and that's good.
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