Is La Salle’s Athletic Department improving on its past mistakes? A discussion with former coach John Kunzier

Sports

Enrique Carrasco, Editor

Header Image: Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels

With the semester just beginning, I began to look at the past, at my previous experiences with La Salle University. While the majority of my memories at La Salle have been nothing but positive, one stands out as negative: when my team, as well as many other sports programs, got cut. Personally, I was always a big volleyball fan, so their sport getting cut hit the closest to home. Luckily for me, I had the privilege of interviewing an old coach from La Salle, John Kunzier. He was the head coach of the La Salle volleyball team for four years, ranging from 1992 to 1996. I asked him a few questions and these were his responses:

Q: What were your first couple of days at La Salle like?

The first thing I noticed when I got here was the sort of realization that I walked into kind of a bad situation at La Salle, due to the prior coach. He had a lot of NCAA violations and various other issues that were left for me to handle. We were kind of rebuilding the team in a sort of way. I started looking and planning based on what I had. We had some players come in from the Midwest and we started looking into recruiting some of my former players as well as other players, including some that were not your typical division one player, but they could perform. This was due mainly because of a limited budget, limited scholarships and the teams we were competing against. We were able to win a handful of games every season, and we got better as the seasons passed. We got to the point where we were respectable as a program. It wasn’t such a slaughter, and we were able to put up a fight against teams that were ranked top 25 in the nation such as Notre Dame. We got better and I tried to lay a foundation with the time I spent there. 

Q: What were the major issues you faced? Any issues with the administration? With the team?

Yeah, you know, when you’re young — I believe I was 26 — you want to believe everything the administration tells you. So we had joined a new conference and were competing with the likes of Notre Dame, UMASS, Washington and Virginia Tech, and we were supposed to have 12 full rides. I was supposed to be full time and we were supposed to work ourselves into it in two years. As the two years came by nothing changed, and I sort of learned from the other coaches that this was the norm for the lie that the administration would tell in order to get coaches to come. That was difficult to overcome, and I actually stepped away from coaching for almost 20 years because of this. It was challenging to do what we were doing against other teams, compete at a higher level, when you’re doing this with a hand tied behind your back. 

Q; During this time, did it seem like the Athletic Department ever had any favorites?

Oh, absolutely. It was men’s and women’s basketball, then it turned into football, which made absolutely no sense. This is because football is the most expensive team to maintain in terms of the sheer amount of players, the equipment, the field, the travel etc., it made no sense. It made more sense to double down on other sports. If they were smarter with their budgets, they would have doubled down on sports such as soccer, volleyball or even basketball, where the numbers are more limited and administration could apply more funding and be more respectable in the process, which is not what they did. It seems like they cared more for these sports rather than us. To me, it seemed like they were always looking for that one home run that would just save everything. At first it was Kobe, trying to get Kobe. When that failed, they tried with football. They brought people so they could try and drive more people to La Salle, but neither of those made any sense. 

Q: What are your thoughts on the team, as well as many other sports, being cut?

I honestly was, as a former coach, cheering for the team. The team had been winning a lot of games, and they were pretty good, they were making a name for themselves. Understanding La Salle’s financial reasons, it is something that should’ve happened a long time ago. But it was unfortunate that it happened all at once. The team was playing so well, but again, that is just an area of mismanagement and it seems like La Salle has not made any proper decisions for the future, and they are reaping the benefits of that now. 

Q: What were the positives during your time here?

We had a lot of fun. We certainly traveled and tried to make the most of time on trips, as a team, and communicate with everything. Everytime you coach, you’re basically getting paid to be a kid, to have some fun. I am actually back coaching again here in Philly, and we’re one of the larger clubs in the city. It’s fun to be in the gym again, and it keeps you young. It’s fun to build, but we had some really good times as a team. It was a great experience. I can tell my children I coached at the Palestra, at Notre Dame as well as other great schools. 

Q: What would you say is your favorite memory while coaching here?

One of my favorite memories is when we beat a Virginia Tech team that was really good. We won a match against one of the best teams in the country in a home conference game. It was great to see a lot of my efforts pay off (it was later on in my tenure). It was cool to see, and that will always stick out to me. If I had one thing to say to the administration, to students and to athletes, I’d say, from an administration perspective, I think there are always hard decisions to make, and continuing to be made, that will change the way things work at La Salle. There is a long history at La Salle, for example, my father in-law went there, my sister in-law went there and now my own daughter goes there. They owe it to the alumni to figure out a better plan going forward that is viable. To the student body, keep pushing for a change that makes sense for La Salle. It may not end up looking the way La Salle looks today, but something has to give. A big part of my time at La Salle was that I got to meet the Bryants. They are a really nice family. That is one of the highlights of my career, being able to meet people who are so successful, as well as the other guys I coached with. The coaches there have always tried to do the right things for the program. It’s unfortunate that my tenure there was not as successful as I wanted it to be, but it was great.

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