Chris Victor realizes he has a great opportunity as interim coach for the Seattle University men’s basketball team, and he would love to have “interim” removed from the title.
But Victor, who took over the team before the season when coach Jim Hayford was put on administrative leave — and later resigned — amid reports that he had repeated a racial slur, said he is not looking at this chance as an on-the-job interview.
“I don’t,” he said. “I feel like my job is to make sure the guys in the program this year have a great experience, and that’s what we’re doing as a staff. We’re making sure that these guys are having an experience that, when they look back on it, is a positive one. We’re trying to win as many games as possible, win a WAC championship and go to the NCAA tournament.
“And if we do all those things correctly, and we do our best, and our guys are having a great experience, then everything will take care of itself.”
Victor and the Redhawks (8-4) got off to a great start by winning seven of their first eight games. They have lost three of their past four games, including a 64-56 loss to Washington on Saturday.
They look to rebound when they host Northwest University on Wednesday before starting their WAC schedule with a home game against preseason favorite New Mexico State on Dec. 30.
Victor, 39, looks like he will have Seattle U ready for the conference opener, just as he was ready to take over when Hayford left unexpectedly. That is because he had been preparing for an opportunity like this for years.
He grew up in San Bruno, California, about 10 miles south of San Francisco, and played four years of varsity basketball at Capuchino High School. From there, the 6-foot point guard played for a season at Canada (community) College in Redwood City, California, and remains close with his head coach there, Danny Yoshikawa.
That led to a scholarship to play at Concordia University in Irvine, California. Victor led the team to the NAIA national title as a junior in 2003, with 26 points and nine assists in the title-game win over Mountain State (West Virginia). The next year, his team lost in the title game to Mountain State.
It was a great time for Victor, and playing for head coach Ken Ammann and assistant coach Rick Croy helped shape his career decision.
“My experience at Concordia is why I coach now,” Victor said. “I loved it. All those guys I played with are my best friends now. They were all at my wedding and it’s why I got into coaching, for that experience that you have with your team. Ken taught us how to build it, how to build that culture.”
Victor got his start in coaching at Citrus (community) College in Glendora, California, serving as an assistant under Croy, who had taken the head-coaching job there. After a year there, Victor was the top assistant for Ammann for four years at Concordia.
Victor spent the next five seasons as head coach at Citrus, compiling a record of 103-39 and leading the Owls to the state title game in 2011.
Victor left that job to join Hayford as an assistant at Division I Eastern Washington.
“I felt like it was the opportunity to make that move,” Victor said. “The goal was to be a head coach at a higher level — not necessarily at the Division I level — and I thought getting Division I experience would make that transition a little easier.”
After two years at Eastern Washington, Victor followed Hayford to Seattle U, serving the past four seasons as the top assistant, tasked with overseeing the team’s defense. Victor said Hayford helped him with understanding the “mental side of the game.”
“I’ve learned the other side (from Hayford), the mentality and using the numbers (stats and analytics) to your advantage,” Victor said.
With more than 15 years of coaching experience, including five as a head coach, Victor said he felt ready for the moment when asked to take over last month.
“You always say that you want to prepare for an opportunity before it comes,” Victor said. “In the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a head coach again. I didn’t know when it was going to happen — and when the opportunity was going to come — but I knew that when it did, I would be ready for it.”
Victor, who has a 1 1/2 year-old son, Leo, with wife Sara, has high aspirations for the team.
“We feel like if we get better every day, every week, that we have an opportunity to win the conference and go to the NCAA tournament,” Victor said. “I think we can be that good. It’s obviously a long way away and we have to get a lot better to be that team that can do that, but right now we feel like with the progress we are making and where we are, that we can get there.”
And that, no doubt, would go a long way in getting the interim tag removed.