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Regardless of job title, coaching itch remains for Jim Kwitchoff

Jim Kwitchoff spent a career coaching other people’s kids.

As much as he enjoyed it, it’s always great when he has an opportunity to coach his own.

Instead of roaming the sidelines as a top aide to Reggie Witherspoon at the University at Buffalo, Kwitchoff is coaching his sixth-grade son, Ty, and the 12U North Tonawanda Nighthawks team that will be competing for a spot in this summer’s Little League World Series.

Kwitchoff has been assisting with Ty’s travel teams at North Tonawanda National Little League since Witherspoon and his staff were let go in April 2013 after a 14-year run with the UB basketball program.

“What’s been great is I’ve still been able to be involved in coaching,” Kwitchoff said. “When people ask me if I’m still coaching I tell them I’m not doing it for a living, I’m doing it for the love of the game.”

In the past, Kwitchoff has also helped out with his two daughters and the Wheatfield Nitro travel softball program. Julia, who’s in fifth grade, plays for the 12U team there. Maddie is a sophomore on Niagara Wheatfield’s varsity team and now plays summer ball in Clarence.

He continues to donate his time coaching boys and girls basketball programs at the Town of Wheatfield Youth Center.

“I’m just like all youth coaches,” said Kwitchoff, a Wheatfield resident. “It’s all volunteering because you love doing it. It allows me to be in the game, and of course with my kids.”

Jim Kwitchoff, who stands 6-foot-6, takes a knee as he talks to his North Tonawanda Nighthawks travel team. (Photo provided by Jim Kwitchoff)

Kwitchoff wasn’t always afforded as much family time as he would’ve liked during the past decade-plus at UB, so he’s making up for it now as he transitions to his next career as a regional vice president at Life Storage.

The change of pace from the life of a Division I coach to overseeing the westward expansion of a self-storage company hasn’t been as much of an adjustment as one may think.

There’s no more time or shot clock, but there’s certainly deadlines. Reaching the Big Dance is no longer the goal, but expectations still remain high.

“Our game day, while I don’t have 35 designated game days anymore, our game day is when a customer walks through the door,” Kwitchoff said. “We need to be able to deliver. It happens all day every day.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing I do is to provide the guidance and support for my seven area managers, so they can do the same for our store associates, so they in turn can provide the best product for our customers.”

Kwitchoff was skeptical when he had initial conversations with longtime friend Ed Killeen, now the chief operating officer at Life Storage, about a newly created VP position in the fall of 2013.

“When I spoke to him, my first reaction was if it’s where I’m staring at numbers on a computer screen, I’m not interested,” Kwitchoff said. “And he told me, ‘well, actually it’s a coaching job.’ I said how so? And he explained the structure of the organization.”

There were five regional vice presidents, 36 area managers who each had 14 to 18 stores, and each store had two to three associates.

Just like that, Kwitchoff found his new team.

Jim Kwitchoff, shown here in 2011, left an assistant principal position in Lockport to become an assistant coach for UB's men's basketball program. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

The VPs were the general managers, the area managers the head coaches, store managers the assistant coaches and store associates the players.

“I still have the same work ethic I had to have as a college basketball coach, where you don’t punch the clock,” Kwitchoff said. “Recruiting was never-ending. I could be on the phone with a recruit at 11 at night. There were long hours I logged traveling the country to recruit and coach.”

Kwitchoff officially started in October 2013 and now oversees seven area managers, five on the West Coast and two on the Gulf Coast. Collectively they supervise about 100 stores.

“My competitive juices are flowing no different than they did as a college coach,” Kwitchoff said. “It’s funny how things come full circle. Now I’m up late on work phone calls with the time difference.”

While Kwitchoff dusted off his 25-year-old business administration degree from Boston College, where the 6-foot-6 lineman was on football scholarship after playing two years at Sweet Home, he used the master’s degree in educational administration he started in his fifth year at BC and finished at UB before taking the risk of a lifetime on Friday, Dec. 3, 1999.

“I can live 100 years and never forget that day,” Kwitchoff said.

Witherspoon called him after getting off the phone with the AD at UB. Their men’s basketball coach resigned five games into the season and Witherspoon was tasked as the interim for the remaining three months.

“Reggie,” his wife, “Dawn, and I sat in the basketball office, just the three of us, until 2 o’clock in the morning brainstorming on how to handle all of this,” Kwitchoff said.

Witherspoon, remember, was the head coach at Erie County Community College at the time, and Kwitchoff was a volunteer assistant. The Kats were getting ready to play Buffalo State’s JV team that coming Tuesday. Instead, UB had to play North Carolina the same night. The next game was against Bob Knight and Indiana.

Reggie Witherspoon and Jim Kwitchoff started coaching at UB on three-month contracts, which turned into 14-year careers with the Bulls. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

“The way that whole thing played out, Reggie kept saying ‘I, I, I,’ while I was saying ‘we, we, we.’ Reggie stops and says, ‘you’re not coming on board here.’ And I’m like, ‘hell yeah I’m coming on board.’ Reggie says, ‘but you can’t, you’re an assistant principal at Lockport.’ Well I’m going to leave. I’m going to be a former principal.”

The Witherspoons couldn’t talk Kwitchoff out of it. When he got home late that night, his wife, Trish, who was up waiting for him, didn’t even try.

“She simply said, ‘I know this is where your heart is, so I support it 100 percent. If you don’t take it you’ll regret it,’ ” Kwitchoff said.

They were newlyweds from that previous year, had just bought a house, had a mortgage. He was tenured and on track to get his own building as a principal. Now he was taking a sizable cut in pay for a three-month contract.

“Too often in life people look for security, when people should be looking for opportunity,” Kwitchoff said. “My moment to prove that was right there.”

That three-month contract turned into 14 seasons.

“I would do the exact same thing all over again,” Kwitchoff said. “An opportunity may seem risky, but it could lead to the payoff they’re seeking. It was one of those moments of life where the door’s only open for so long.

“I loved Lockport High School. I envisioned working in the Lockport school district my entire career and retire there. I loved it that much. I was confident if it didn’t work out that I could go back to school admin.”

From assistant principal, to Witherspoon’s right-hand man, to the VP of a storage facility, to little league coach, it’s been a whirlwind 20 years for Kwitchoff. But every step of the journey, he’s found the right way to help whichever team he’s been on succeed.

“If I ever owned a business, I would want to hire ex-college coaches,” Kwitchoff said. “There are no limits when it comes to long hours and high expectations. They’re very driven about achieving results.

"Here I am proving it.”

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