Cal hires Air Force’s Jim Knowlton as next athletic director

Knowlton, James A Civ USAF USAFA USAFA/AD
United States Air Force Academy/Creative Commons

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4/10/2018: This article has been updated to include information from Monday’s introductory press conference, as well as Jim Knowlton’s experience prior to Cal.

Jim Knowlton has been hired as Cal’s next athletic director, Chancellor Carol Christ announced in a campuswide email Monday morning.

Knowlton has spent the past three years as the athletic director at Air Force. He will replace current athletic director Mike Williams, and his tenure will officially begin May 21.

“By virtue of his experience, values and personal attributes, Jim stood out among the other candidates in what was a large and talented pool of applicants,” Christ said in the email. “He is an excellent communicator who thrives on challenges, and he shares my commitment to excellence, integrity and diversity. I am certain he will be the thought partner I sought, and the leader our campus needs to usher in a new era of excellence for Cal Athletics.”

Knowlton’s introductory press conference Monday afternoon featured head coaches such as football’s Justin Wilcox and women’s basketball’s Lindsay Gottlieb, both of whom were on the search committee.

“I really am honored and humbled,” Knowlton said. “This is a special place; this is a group of special people and to have the opportunity to come and be a part of it is truly humbling.”

As part of his opening statement, Knowlton laid out his four priorities: support student athletes; support coaches, administrators and programs; develop a vision and strategic plan; and meet staff, faculty, alumni and the Berkeley community.

Knowlton addressed some of the main challenges he will face during the Q&A portion of the press conference, chief among them being the department’s financial situation and the campus’ shift to prong one of Title IX compliance.

Cal’s future athletic director cited his past experiences at Air Force and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in regards to attacking these obstacles.

“None of those are exactly the same, but they all require rolling up your sleeves, looking at both sides of the balance sheet and taking care of people,” Knowlton said.

To address Cal football’s declining attendance rates, Knowlton has a secret weapon up his sleeve: Chick-fil-A.

“There are so many things to do on this wonderful campus — it’s how do we find ways to make it exciting to join us at an event,” Knowlton said. “I don’t have those answers, but I’m going to be coming to (students) and talking to students and finding out what it is. Chick-fil-A is exciting because I’ve mastered the Chick-fil-A option.”

Knowlton oversaw an era of prosperity during his three-year tenure with Air Force. In his first two seasons at the helm, the Falcons combined to win nine conference championships — the most in a two-year stretch in school history.

The reach of Knowlton extended beyond the competitive realm during his tenure at Air Force.

Under Knowlton, the department reached a 10-year agreement between United States Automobile Association (USAA) and IMG Academy, and with the help of Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation, Air Force extended its contract with Nike, doubling the financial support compared to the previous contract.

Facility improvements were another notable point of emphasis for Air Force under Knowlton.

With the help of two $5 million donations from Air Force football alumni, Air Force began a multiphase renovation of Falcon Stadium, one which will include new locker rooms, training rooms and media rooms, among others.

Knowlton also led the charge in community outreach, the highlight being Air Force hosting the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, or NACDA, Spring Symposium. This event brought together more than 100 collegiate athletic directors to learn about sexual assault prevention, as well as leadership and character development.

Before taking the reins at Air Force, Knowlton served as the athletic director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2008 to 2015.

During his tenure at RPI, eight teams appeared in the NCAA Tournament, including the women’s cross country team, which appeared in its first-ever national championship.

In 2011, Knowlton was selected as the northeast recipient of the NACDA Under Armour Division III Athletic Director of the Year.

Senior staff writers Josh Yuen and Christie Aguilar contributed to this report.

Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Jim Knowlton as saying “battle sheet.” In fact, he said “balance sheet.”