GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz has had a pretty good run

Jack Kvancz will retire as George Washington athletic director this summer.
Jack Kvancz will retire as George Washington athletic director this summer. (William Atkins)
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 12:31 AM

On Dec. 10, 1979, Catholic hosted Saint Joseph's at tiny, outdated Brookland Gymnasium. The Cardinals won the game, 68-67, in double overtime. One season later, a Hawks team with the same coach and the same group of players upset top-ranked DePaul in the second round of the NCAA tournament and reached the Mideast Region final, where it lost to Indiana on the Hoosiers' home court.

That's how good a basketball coach Jack Kvancz was: He coached Catholic - soon to move down from Division I to Division III - to a victory over a future Elite Eight team.

In March 1987, Kvancz had to make his first critical hire as George Mason's athletic director when Joe Harrington left to become the basketball coach at Colorado. His choice was Rick Barnes. A year later, Barnes - at Kvancz's urging because it was too good a job to turn down - left to become the coach at Providence. The first person Kvancz tried to hire to replace Barnes was a North Carolina assistant named Roy Williams, who turned him down because Tar Heels Coach Dean Smith told him his first job should be bigger than George Mason.

That's how good an athletic director Kvancz was.

He also was a pretty good basketball player, the starting point guard on a Bob Cousy-coached Boston College team that reached the East Region final in 1967 before losing to North Carolina. When his playing career comes up, Kvancz doesn't talk about how good a player he was. He talks about playing for Cousy: "Being from New England [Bridgeport, Conn.], having Cooz come to the house on a recruiting visit was like having God come to your front door," he has often said. "The only thing bigger would have been Red [Auerbach] showing up."

That is classic Kvancz: let's not make this about me. He is one of those people who quietly does things very well, gives the credit to others and then tells jokes about himself. When he talks about his BC career, he doesn't bring up the fact that he averaged 15 points per game for very good teams as a junior and a senior. Instead, he tells the story about trying to keep UCLA point guard Lucius Allen from throwing the ball to Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the post.

"I might as well have bought a ticket and watched the two of them play," he said. "At least that would have been more fun."

Of course, long after playing for Cousy, Kvancz got to be friends with Auerbach, too. That happened during his 17-year tenure as George Washington's athletic director, a run that will end this summer when Kvancz will retire just before turning 65.

"Having Red [GW Class of 1940] come in here and talk basketball with me all the time was about the greatest job perk you could have," he said. "Sometimes I'd just sit there thinking, 'That's Red Auerbach sitting there telling me how to do my job' - which he did. But it was Red Auerbach, for crying out loud."

On Thursday, Kvancz announced his retirement. He and his wife, Janis, had talked about the possibility for several years. Offered the chance to stay on at GW as an adviser, Kvancz decided this was the time.

"Joe Harrington called me this morning," he said on Friday. "He said, 'I just have one question: How did you manage to get them to pay you to be an adviser.'

"Honestly, the job has become a job the last few years. It used to be fun all the time; now it's only fun some of the time. The biggest change is me - I'm older. I sit there on a Saturday afternoon at a basketball game and find myself thinking, 'I could be at the park with my grandchildren.' When you're thinking like that, maybe it's time."

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