As a college coach familiar with recruiting, you know Curt Kraft has lots of experience when it comes to travel.
However, Kraft says he learned a lot from his whirlwind drive across the country this past week. Just consider the cities he connected along the way: Reno to Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky, Huntington and Charleston in West Virginia, then Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham and the ultimate destination of Greenville in North Carolina.
"It's an easy route - I think I was on four highways - and it gave me a chance to see how beautiful this country is," Kraft said.
"But it took me 45 hours to drive right at 3,000 miles. Let me tell you, Reno to North Carolina is not an easy commute. I learned one thing ... the next time I get into a plane, I won't complain about a four-four flight," he added with a laugh.
And on Monday, Kraft knew he had a new job when he was named head coach of the East Carolina University women's track and field program. It was great news for a man who had served 10 years as head coach of the University of Nevada before he stepped down last year.
"To say I'm excited is an understatement," Kraft said Monday night from Greenville. "To be coaching again ... this is where I belong."
He left Nevada after the 2004 outdoor season, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family - wife Nancy, a teacher, as well as daughters Alicia and Kayla. He had the opportunity to watch Alicia and Kayla play softball for Galena High this spring and he spent four months as a coach/counselor at Rite of Passage.
Still, Kraft's passion to coach at the college level continued to burn and he found exactly what he was looking for at East Carolina.
"This is a great university and a great conference and I'm going to a beautiful area," he said. "There's no question, I'm excited to have a chance to coach again. I'm looking forward to impacting the lives of young student-athletes. I want to motivate them, I want to see them come away with positive experiences and memories."
Speaking of experiences and memories, Kraft says there's another team he plans to keep an eye on - the NFL Carolina Panthers. And he's looking forward to watching former Nevada star wide receiver Nate Burleson and the Minnesota Vikings play the Panthers in Charlotte on Oct. 30.
"You know who Nate Burleson is married to? ... Atoya Shaw, who used to run for me at Nevada," said Kraft, who coached Shaw during a 2000 season in which she ran one of the nation's fastest times in the 100-meter hurdles. "I'm getting tickets to the game; it's going to be a lot of fun seeing them again."
Kraft obviously made a favorable impression when he interviewed for the East Carolina job and he succeeded in impressing a coach who is well known in his own right - athletic director Terry Holland, who came to fame himself as basketball coach at Virginia and Davidson.
"Coach Kraft is a great motivator who impressed everyone involved in our search process as a demanding coach who would make sure our athletes enjoyed competing while working hard to win championships," Holland told ecupirates.com
Kraft certainly expects the Pirates to improve their eighth-place showing at the C-USA Championships this past May. It's not altogether different from the situation he stepped into at Nevada because the Pack climbed from middle of the road to become Big West Conference outdoor championship in 2000, followed by Western Athletic Conference indoor titles in 2003 and '04. He was named conference coach of the year the latter two years and was named NCAA Division I Mountain Region Coach of the Year in '03.
"We're going to use the same approach we did at Nevada," Kraft said. "The expectations are going to be high. My goal, obviously, is to win conference championships like we did at Nevada."
Conference USA championships are not easy to come by. Southern Mississippi and Houston are formidable programs that rank among the best in the nation. Then there's Rice, a newcomer to the conference, but a program Kraft knows well from the days when the Owls were Nevada's WAC arch rival.
"There's some work to be done. This is one of the strongest conferences in the country, so winning championships is going to be very difficult," Kraft said. "But I'm up to that challenge. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be here."
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.
Athlete: Competed at Minot State University and graduated with a degree in physical education and social studies in 1984. He was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame in 2004.
Coach: Assistant at Nebraska 1989, assistant at Nevada 1991-94 and women's head coach 1995-2004. At East Carolina, he replaces Matt Munson, who resigned at the end of the 2005 season after six years as head coach.