An Interview With UCI Water Polo Coach Dan Klatt; Compassion, Respect Are Hallmarks of Veteran Leader

Dan Klatt

An Interview With UCI Water Polo Coach Dan Klatt; Compassion a Hallmark of Veteran Leader

IRVINE, CA. Water polo will never be mistaken for a kumbaya-kind of athletic experience. It’s physically and emotionally draining. But those who care most about the sport—especially coaches—have tremendous compassion for those who compete.

Count Dan Klatt, head coach for UC-Irvine men’s and women’s teams, as one such coach. In a recent interview at the Anteater Aquatics Complex, his insights into his players and opposing coaches were chock-full of respect and appreciation. Following a difficult women’s season in 2023, in which the Anteaters qualified for an eighth NCAA tournament during his tenure, Klatt (392-196, 20 seasons) has the UCI women again ranked among the nation’s best collegiate programs.

Following is an interview w/Dan Klatt conducted during the 2024 Barbara Kalbus Invitational.

[Following accusations last season that she assaulted an opposing player, Nina Flynn left Irvine for Berkeley, where she is among the leading scorers for Cal this year. The disruption around Flynn might have sunk most programs, but the Anteaters advanced to the 2023 NCAA tournament.]

Despite issues out of the water the UCI women made NCAAs last year.

It would be a discredit to them if I put that on myself—as if I did something to hold them together. In situations like that, players can fracture, or they can come together. The choice was to come together.

It was a difficult situation for everybody, but they really leaned into each other. Their group was almost impenetrable from the outside.

I coached as hard as I could, but I think they deserve the credit for how they performed.

[In 2021 Klatt replaced long-time UCI men’s coach Marc Hunt, assuming the mantle formerly held by legendary Anteaters’ coach Ted Newland. An UCI alum, Klatt not only played for Newland but credits his success in the sport to one of the most successful and devoted coaches in NCAA water polo history.]

Two seasons ago you added the men’s program to your duties, this after decades coaching the Anteater women. Now, one season ends in December, and another begins in January. How do you keep life in balance?

Dan Klatt

Courtesy: Nicola Bugelli

The hard part about being the leader for both is I’m really intense and don’t have a very good off switch. So it’s hard in my moments of downtime to turn it off because there’s such a little gap between the times in which we’re competing.

It’s a great honor for me to coach both of these teams. To be able to contribute to and coach a team that I grew up playing for and which gave me my best friends, my opportunities in water polo… it’s a great honor to take that seat, and it’s something I take very seriously.

[It] keeps me up some nights wanting to do a great job, not just for myself but for all the guys who played with and after me.

I will tell you, I didn’t know how hard it would be physically and emotionally on me to do both. I’m used to doing two jobs—the UCI women and the national team—but Adam [Krikorian] was carrying the baggage of the head coach and I was living in the space of assistant coach… picking the team up, giving [out] information and tidbits of advice. As an assistant you live in the moment with the players; [as] head coach, your mind’s off into the future. 

Now my head’s spending a lot more time in the future and a lot less time in the moment [laughs].

I really enjoyed those moments with the national team and being able to live in a different space.

[Klatt has been coaching against Hawai’i and its coach Maureen Cole since he took over the UCI women’s program in 2005. In many of those years, it has been either the Anteaters or the Rainbow Wahine who have represented the Big West in NCAAs. Earlier this year Cole announced she is leaving Hawai’i to pursue other interests]

Maureen Cole, the Hawai’i coach, is retiring this year.

If I’m not playing against Mo I’m always cheering for her. She is an incredible role model and advocate for female coaches. She has battled her way through adversity in coaching. Her values and her intensity have stayed consistent. Her love for her teams and their success has stayed consistent. 

There is not another coach who is coaching right now that will miss her more than I will. Whenever I see her I feel like I saw her just yesterday because over the years we’ve created that kind of relationship. I have so much respect and love for the way she [coaches] and the passion she does it with.

[With Curtain Set to Drop on Coaching Career, Maureen Cole Leading Hawaii in Chase of NCAA Water Polo Crown]

We’re both in the Big West; we’re both gonna try and win it. [Hawai’i] has an excellent team and I will be rooting for them if it’s not us.

I think they got a real shot. This is a year where there’s five or six teams that could win it. Maybe some teams that we can’t even see [yet] are gonna get a lot better over the next month or two who might surprise people at the end of the year. 

It’s a fun year in that way. This tournament’s seeded differently than it’s been before. You have Hawai’i at two and Fresno State at three. Normally the two four teams are always Pac-12 schools. 

[For a decade Klatt was the top assistant to US women’s coach Krikorian and was on the bench when the American women captured three Olympic titles (2012, 2016, 2010).]

Appearing vulnerable after falling to fifth at the 2023 World Championships, the US women again capture gold at the 2024 World Championships in Qatar. Does it surprise you how resilient Krikorian and his team are?

No, I’m not surprised because Adam is the hardest worker I’ve ever been around. He’s smart, he’s personable, he’s about the right values. When he gets a team around him in full training, like he has right now, there’s a contagion of greatness that he expects and that he exudes in his own work ethic.

The team is catching it… and everyone else should watch out.

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