Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 9, 2010

A dreamy new job for Minnis

Castilleja, Stanford club coach takes over men's women's polo teams at Harvard

by Keith Peters

Ted Minnis is doing something this weekend for the first time ever in his coaching career. He's going to be a spectator.

A year ago, Minnis was in Southern California, coaching a Stanford Water Polo Club girls' water polo team at the U.S. Club Championships. Instead of coaching this weekend, Minnis will be spectating and recruiting.

"I'm just going to watch a lot of water polo," Minnis said this week. "I don't have to worry about X's and O's, just be a fan."

Minnis will be watching the best boys and girls compete because he'll be coaching the men's and women's water polo teams at Harvard University this coming school year. He'll be wearing the Crimson's colors for the first time as he embarks upon the next stage in his life.

"This was just too good of an opportunity to pass up," said Minnis, 40, who coached water polo at Castilleja for 11 years and boys' polo at Menlo-Atherton eight years prior to that. "I am very excited for the opportunity of leading the Harvard water polo program. Being able to work at a great institution, with such a high caliber of scholar athletes, and a great athletic department is a logical extension of my work at Castilleja. It's a dream come true. I cannot wait to step on campus and begin this great journey."

Minnis is believed to be one of the few (maybe only) local coaches to ever make the move from high school to Division I head coach.

While Minnis never got his elusive Central Coast Section title, his Castilleja team earned something perhaps even more important when the Gators were named one of 28 state academic team champions for the 2009-10 school year. The Castilleja water polo team had a combined grade point average of 3.79, the highest of any girls' team in the state.

"My girls are the state academic champs," Minnis said. "That's the last championship I won at Castilleja and, perhaps ironic, because it's a scholastic championship."

"It's a great lead in to where he's going," said Jez McIntosh, Castilleja's Athletic Director. "It's further proof why Harvard would look at our coaching staff. It just speaks volumes of our program."

McIntosh will dearly miss Minnis, one of the more popular and likeable coaches anywhere. In addition to coaching water polo, he was Castilleja's middle school athletic director, assisted McIntosh with the basketball team and coached middle school water polo in the spring. This school year, Minnis also took over as interim AD while McIntosh was on sabbatical at Stanford, in the women's basketball office.

"He was her 24/7," McIntosh said. "Filling his shoes will be tough . . . While his loss will be felt most acutely by our polo players, everybody at Castilleja will miss his generous spirit, his humor and his kindness. But we also feel proud that one of our own has secured such an amazing opportunity."

"It's a great institution with such a great tradition," Minnis said of Harvard. "I'm really happy. I'm excited to live in Boston, but I'm going to miss Castilleja. I'm going to be leaving a family behind, but I'll have another family waiting for me."

Making the move easier for Minnis will be the presence of former Castilleja athletes like Taylor Docter and Jane Alexander, starters on the Harvard volleyball and softball teams, respectively. He'll be coaching Palo Alto grad Lizzie Abbott on the girls' team and Menlo-Atherton grad Alexander Popp on the men's.

Minnis was offered the job on July 1 and given the night to think it over. He accepted the position Friday morning and then called many of his Castilleja water polo players to inform them of his new job.

Minnis also will leave behind his Stanford Water Polo Club players and coaches, who have become a big part of his life.

"That's been the luckiest part of my career, working with John Tanner, Susan Ortwein and Kyle Utsumi (at Stanford)," Minnis said. "To have a mentor like John Tanner has been great. I can't say enough of what he has taught me. To work with those three for 12 years in water polo, I've grown so much as a coach. I'm 200 percent better than I was when I got here."

Minnis just completed his 11th year at Castilleja. He took over a floundering water polo program in 1999 and endured plenty of tough seasons (5-20 in 2003) before starting a middle school program and building the varsity team into the respected entity that it is today. His squad reached the CCS finals in 2008 while fashioning a 19-10 record, losing to top-seeded Sacred Heart Prep in the title match. It was Castilleja's first appearance in the CCS finals since 1997.

Minnis vowed to be back. While the Gators were eliminated in the semifinals this past season and finished 18-10, the program was on very solid ground.

"I've always said that I've run my high school program like a college program," said Minnis. "I got the (Harvard) job because of the way I coached here and at Stanford."

Minnis will head back to Harvard in a few weeks, ending a very successful era at Castilleja. He, of course, will miss McIntosh.

"That's the sad part about this," Minnis said, "leaving Jez. We've been together for 11 years. He's just always been there for me. He gave me all the jobs here and was always supportive. That's the sad thing, leaving Castilleja. But, I'm starting a new chapter in my career and I'm ready for the challenge."

Minnis will make his debut on the Harvard pool deck on Sept. 4 when the Crimson plays at MIT.

The hiring of Minnis was announced by Harvard Director of Athletics Bob Scalise. Minnis will serve as the 10th coach in both programs' history.

"We are please that Ted will be joining our staff to coach our men's and women's water polo teams," Scalise said. "We look forward to working with Ted to move our water polo programs forward in their quest to be one of the top teams in the Collegiate Water Polo Association.

"After reviewing dozens of qualified candidates I feel confident we hired the best person for the position," Scalise added. "His philosophy matches the Department of Athletics Mission Statement as he will serve as a positive role model for our student-athletes in and out of the pool. Ted is a passionate, dedicated leader who will thrive at the collegiate level."

Minnis is a veteran coach at the Stanford Water Polo Club. During his 12 years of service, he has won two Junior Olympic bronze medals, a U.S. Club Championship and finished among the top 10 at various national tournaments numerous times.

For the last three years, Minnis has served as the head coach for the Olympic Development Program Pacific Zone and in 2009 worked with the National Youth Team staff. Most recently, his teams picked up a pair of silver medals at the 16 and Under Olympic Development Regional Championship and Zone Championship.

In 2007, Minnis was named the USA Water Polo Development Coach of the Year and in 2005 and 2007 was a Positive Coaching Alliance finalist for coach of the year.

"I'm very proud of what I accomplished," Minnis said. "I have no regrets."

Just a lot of memories, like his CCS Honor Coach award in 2005; sitting next to McIntosh when Castilleja beat Menlo School for the first time in basketball; winning the state academic award this year and, of course, playing for the CCS title in 2008.

"That's something I'll never forget," he said.

But, it's off to Harvard now.

"I just want to share my knowledge and passion for water polo with the scholar-athletes at Harvard," Minnis said. "I'm ready to go."

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