Visionary Brings College Football To Brevard County

By  //  August 13, 2012

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Inspirational Leader Sees Team's Potential

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – In all of the years that Dr. Anthony Catanese has served as a college administrator his support for athletics has never wavered and probably never will.

Florida Institute of Technology President Dr. Anthony Catanese was the driving force in the school's creation of a college football team. (Image courtesy Florida Tech)

He has transformed the landscape of athletics at universities he has led as president and has his finger on the pulse of what is important to local communities and the day-to-day lives of the average sports fan.

Through his strong leadership at Florida Tech, Brevard County will now have a college football program to embrace and call its own, which is a testament to the ability of Catanese to move ideas from the conceptual stage to reality.

Born in Beaver Falls, Pa. – the birthplace of legendary quarterback Joe Namath – Catanese grew up in New Jersey and became a fan of the New York Yankees and admired their winning tradition.

He played many sports as a child and his passion for athletics grew as he moved on to college completing undergraduate studies at Rutgers University, obtaining a master’s degree at New York University and earning a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Entering a career in college administration, Catanese was able to observe how athletics was a source of community pride while serving in various posts at the University of Florida, the University of Miami and at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Florida Tech football leadership inlcudes, from left, Athletic Director Bill Jurgens, President Dr. Anthony Catanese and Coach Steve Englehart. (Image courtesy Florida Tech)

Opportunity

When he was given the opportunity to lead Florida Atlantic University in 1990, his determination was instrumental in the creation of the school’s NCAA Division 1 football program in 2001 and the hiring of its nationally prominent football coach Howard Schnellenberger, who learned his craft as an assistant to the legendary coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama.

Arriving at Florida Tech as president in 2002, Catanese has been the driving force in bosting the school’s athletic program to now offer competition in 21 sports, including lacrosse, track and field, swimming and diving and college football, which held its first practice Sunday night.

“We’re going to take smart young men and extend to them the opportunity to excel in both athletics and in the classroom.” Dr. Anthony J. Catanese, Florida Tech President

“We’re out to prove something here,” Catanese said. “We’re going to take smart young men and extend to them the opportunity to excel in both athletics and in the classroom.”

And Catanese has taken bold measures to ensure Florida Tech’s football program will be successful from its inception, hiring a proven head coach in Steve Englehart, who holds the record at Indiana’s Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for the highest winning percentage as a football coach in school history.

Englehart said Catanese was one of the most important factors in his decision to come to coach here.

“He’s actually one of the most dynamic individuals I have ever met,” Englehart said. “He is persuasive and persistent and someone who knows about building a college football program. He truly brings out the best in  people and I wanted to be a part of what he is doing here.”

Goal-Setting

Longtime Florida Tech Athletic Director Bill Jurgens recalls that in one of his first conversations with Catanese, the president asked him to come up with a “wish list” for sports to add and he’d set about making it happen.

“Just about everything I asked for has come to pass,” Jurgens said while watching 120 athletes taking part in the very first football practice for the Panthers on Sunday night.  “It’s so gratifying to have a president like Dr. Catanese that understands the value of sports not only to this university,  but also to the residents of Brevard County.”

Despite the fact that there are no other NCAA Division II football schools in Florida, Catanese was adamant that Florida Tech would not field a smaller and less-competitive NAIA football program.

His intuition proved to be correct when Florida Tech was invited to join college football’s NCAA Division II’s Gulf South Conference, which includes larger schools with winning football traditions such as Valdosta State University  in Georgia, Delta State University in Mississippi and the University of North Alabama, before ever suiting up a team for practice or playing a down of actual competition.

“My vision for football at Florida Tech is to win a national championship,” Catanese said. “We’ve proven we can do it. I think we can be very competitive and we’re going to have fun. It will be a source of pride for Brevard County and the Space Coast and hopefully will change the way we think about sports here. I couldn’t be more excited about the future for Florida Tech and for our community.”


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