Jim Knowlton, who has established himself as a dynamic leader and accomplished administrator through service in intercollegiate athletics and the U.S. Army, is in his first year as Director of Athletics at Cal after formally moving into the role on May 21, 2018.
Knowlton served as AD at Air Force for three years before to his move to Berkeley, and he previously spent seven years overseeing the athletic department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he was named the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Athletic Director of the Year.
Throughout his career, Knowlton has focused on and successfully fostered programs that place a premium on leadership and character development among student-athletes, coaches and staff. He has demonstrated an unfailing commitment to high achievement, both in academics and athletics, has a proven track record as a fundraiser, and has shown a consistent ability to take on complex challenges and develop strategic solutions to meet them.
“By virtue of his experience, values and personal attributes, Jim stood out in what was a large and deeply talented pool of applicants,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ upon naming Knowlton to his position at Cal on April 9, 2018. “He is an excellent communicator who thrives on challenges, and shares my commitment to excellence, integrity and diversity. I am certain he will be the thought partner I sought, and the leader our campus needs at this pivotal time so that we can, together, usher in a new era of excellence for Cal Athletics.”
In addition to his tenure at Air Force and RPI, Knowlton is a former student-athlete and one-time faculty member at Army West Point, where also served as both a deputy director of athletics and interim athletic director at Army from 2003-06.
Outside of collegiate athletics, Knowlton taught in the civil and mechanical engineering department at Army West Point, and he held several leadership positions over more than two decades in the U.S. Army, including as head of a battalion of 750 men and women while stationed at Ft. Carson, Colo., before deploying to Iraq. He retired from the Army in 2008 as a colonel with 26 years of service.
At Cal, Knowlton becomes the school’s 24th director of athletics and oversees an athletics program that sponsors 30 sports and supports more than 850 student-athletes.
“I am thankful for the trust and confidence of Chancellor Christ, and am extremely impressed with her vision along with the passion, commitment and dedication of the entire search committee,” Knowlton said. “I look forward to connecting with our exceptional student-athletes, faculty, coaches and staff on campus, along with our alumni, supporters and the Berkeley community.
“Cal has all the ingredients to be incredible on and off the field and I’m excited for the challenge to have our athletic teams and student-athletes win the right way at the highest levels. We will excel in the classroom, on our campus and in our community, and incorporate dignity and respect in all we do.”
Knowlton received his bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1982 from Army West Point, where he was a four-year letter-winner and captain of the varsity ice hockey team. After 10 years of organizational leadership positions of increasing responsibility in the U.S. Army, Knowlton received a master’s degree in civil engineering from Cornell University and returned to Army West Point in 1992 to teach.
Knowlton’s career in athletics administration began as deputy director of athletics at Army West Point in 2003, where he oversaw more than 200 staff and supervised 25 intercollegiate teams with more than 1,000 student-athletes. After three years in the department, he left to become director of the Center for Enhanced Performance at West Point, leading a staff of 50 professionals who delivered training for peak performance in athletics, academics and military endeavors to cadets, soldiers and athletes both on and off campus.
Knowlton began his tenure as the Air Force athletics director in March of 2015, and the Falcons soon experienced unprecedented success. During his first two years at the helm, Air Force teams combined for nine conference championships – the most during a two-year span in school history. During the 2016-17 season alone, Falcon coaches won six conference coach of the year awards and 38 cadets earned All-America honors. Air Force also led the service academies in the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings for the sixth consecutive season.
Knowlton’s influence at Air Force extended well beyond the competition arena as the Falcons made significant strides in community and alumni outreach, facility improvements, corporate sponsorships and fundraising. He led the development and implementation of a strategic plan for the athletic department, and also introduced a culture and climate officer who developed a healthy relationship training model that was incorporated into all intercollegiate teams,
Among the outreach efforts under Knowlton’s watch were the creation of a fan engagement committee, a fall concert series that has featured country music headliners Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton, and external speaking engagements by coaches and staff to various community groups. Additionally, Air Force hosted the NACDA Spring Symposium, which brought together more than 100 athletic directors from across the country to learn about leadership and character development, as well as sexual assault prevention.
Under Knowlton, the department teamed with the dining facility to start “Falcon Fuel,” a re-fueling nutritional program that benefits not just Falcon student-athletes, but all 4,000 cadets on campus.
In 2017, Air Force began a series of renovations to Falcon Stadium for fans and football players alike, while additional upgrades were made to the locker rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball programs. The improvements were made possible in part through two $5 million lead gifts, among others.
In business development, Air Force signed new long-term major agreements with USAA and IMG, in addition to renewing a partnership with Nike that doubled financial support from the previous contract to the athletic department.
Prior to Air Force, Knowlton served as director of athletics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., from 2008 until 2015. While that school primarily competes at the NCAA Division III level, it also supports Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey programs. Among his accomplishments, Knowlton helped develop a strategic vision for the athletic department, implemented a new branding strategy, and facilitated renovations to RPI’s field house, as well as construction of the $102 million first phase of RPI’s East Campus Athletic Village. For his efforts, Knowlton was chosen the Under Armour Division III Athletic Director of the Year in 2011.
Knowlton also represented RPI on the national level, including on the NACDA Executive Committee, the board of College Hockey, Inc., and as chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee.
Knowlton is a registered professional engineer in the state of Virginia. He and his wife, Corey, have five sons: Jimmy, Patrick, Christopher, Mark and Shawn.