UAF men's hoops coach quits

Sokaitis cites difference of philosophy with administrators in decision to leave

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2004

FAIRBANKS - University of Alaska Fairbanks men's basketball coach Al Sokaitis resigned Wednesday, citing a longtime difference in philosophy with administrators and a breakdown in communication with athletic director Cory Schwartz.

"My philosophy is not necessarily right or wrong, it is simply different," Sokaitis said.

"I am a strong believer in the value of communication," Sokaitis said. "My job depends on communicating with my players. It is obviously important to me to be in a workplace where that same communication exists. I hope to work at a place where instead of reaching for excellence, they practice excellence."

Sokaitis spent eight years coaching the Nanooks and is credited with rebuilding a program that had experienced meager success. Sokaitis compiled a 108-111 record, including 43-15 the last two years.

Sokaitis departs after back-to-back championships in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, where he was named Coach of the Year both years. He also led the Nanooks to consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division II West Regional playoffs.

His biggest achievement may have been leading host UAF to the championship in the 2002 Top of the World Classic, a tournament featuring UAF and seven Division I teams.

Sokaitis fought to get a full-time assistant, keep his scholarship count, and to get a new contract.

"Those are the type of things that were happening at a fairly regular rate," he said. "When you spend more time fighting battles than recruiting and coaching, it's time to move on."

Sokaitis said that the crux of his disillusionment with the university administration has been his lack of communication with Schwartz, who was hired as athletic director in November 2002 after a search to find a successor for Randy Pitney took more than a year.

Sokaitis met with his players Monday. He said it was the most difficult part of his decision.

"I absolutely love my team," he said. "The hardest part of all this is leaving the players and the people in the community who have meant so much to the program."

"Al has shared his frustrations before and in the long term they continued to grow and I'm disappointed for him," Schwartz said. "I have nothing but respect for what he's done for basketball in the state, in the community and at UAF."

Sokaitis said Fairbanks would be a difficult place for anyone to coach.

"Travel, geography, distance and climate are added to the normal stress of coaching," he said.

He said he has watched seven head coaches, 14 assistant coaches and three athletic directors come and go during his tenure.

Sokaitis endorsed UAF assistant coach Frank Ostanik as his replacement. Ostanik, 33, is an eight-year assistant and former UAF player.

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