California golden bears
Director of Athletics
THE RIGHT FIT
Lifetime of Experiences Brings Jim Knowlton to Cal’s
Director of Athletics Chair
By Jonathan Okanes
The rst question asked at Jim Knowlton’s introductory
news conference in April 2018 was undoubtedly what
many Golden Bears were thinking as well.
Is a military man the right t for Cal?
It was a fair question given the campus community’s
history and culture. But an examination of Knowlton’s
values, experience and talents demonstrates that it is
also an unfounded concern.
The casual observer might hold a stereotype of a
military leader as the glori ed drill sergeant barking
orders to subordinates. But that really isn’t what
military leadership is about, and it’s certainly not what
Jim Knowlton is about.
Knowlton is a self-described servant leader, a style he
learned from a West Point education and a 26-year
career in the Army that followed. But he is also so
much more – an educator and collaborator who has had
some remarkable life experiences that have played an
impactful role in shaping his path, one that has led him
to the Director of Athletics’ of ce at Cal.
“Cal hit the lottery getting him as their Director of
Athletics,” said Knowlton’s best friend Jim Sharman, who
attended West Point with him before the two served in
Germany together. “He’s just a talented, dynamic leader.
He is uniquely quali ed to go in there and address some
of the challenges. There is no challenge too big that he
won’t take on.”
Knowlton ended up at West Point after being recruited
to play hockey and went on to carve out a distinguished
career in the Army that included 10 years of organizational
leadership positions of increasing responsibility, as well
as a stint on faculty at West Point as an engineering
professor. After earning his master’s degree from Cornell,
Knowlton received a four-year assignment to teach at
West Point that was ultimately cut in half when he was
selected early for promotion and assigned to the staff
college at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“I loved teaching,” Knowlton said. “It was so
rewarding. I loved the interaction with the young men
and women. I loved to see the light go on at different
points in time.”
Both of Knowlton’s parents were educators while
he was growing up outside Boston. His father was a
college engineering professor and his mother was a
remedial reading specialist. That meant education was
a focal point in the Knowlton home.
“My mom and dad were teaching at the dinner table
every night,” Knowlton said. “I watched teachers in
action every single day, which certainly in uenced me a