TEN THINGS ABOUT GEORGIA LINEBACKERS COACH KIRK OLIVADOTTI . . .
ATHENS — The most widely known personal detail about Georgia’s second-year linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti is the incredible battle his daughter Kasyn has waged since being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia shortly after the family’s arrival in Athens last summer.
To be sure, that situation dominates every waking minute of the Olivadotti’s lives. Kasyn, 5, is currently in what they call the “maintenance stage” of treatment. She undergoes chemotherapy at the hospital every 28 days, gets chemo at home once a week and takes numerous pills designed to fight the disease.
“She’s doing well,” said Olivadotti, who also has a 3-year-old boy named Kruz. “She’s still being actively treated, but she is going to start kindergarten this year and we’re all excited about that. In between being a cancer patient she’s just a 5-year-old. That ratio is getting ever better, where she gets to be more of a kid and less of a cancer patient.”
Lost in that real-life struggle have been the details about Olivadotti the coach. He recently sat down with the AJC to fill us in a continuation of a series on the Bulldogs’ assistant coaches. Here are 10 things you should know about him:
1. He’s the son of longtime NFL coach Tom Olivadotti.
Olivadotti’s father has had a long and distinguished coaching career, including winning a national championship as defensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes and assistant coaching stints with five NFL teams. That usually means a lot of moving around a lot for children of coaches. But Kirk spent the majority of his young life in south Florida graduating from the well-known football powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.
“I got lucky because I went to the same high school all four years,” Olivadotti said. “My sister went to four high schools. She started in Miami, went to two in Cleveland, then did her senior year in Ft. Lauderdale. So she was all over the place.”
2. He was an elite athlete himself.
Olivadotti was one of the fastest athletes in Florida in high school and was widely recruited as a wide receiver and a sprinter in track. An exceptional student as well, he had scholarship offers from Duke and Georgia Tech in football and from Florida State as a sprinter. But he ended up signing with Purdue, where he became a starter at wide receiver.
I just kind of rounded out the 11,” he said modestly. “I was just kind of a guy who could run fast straight ahead. If you asked me to change directions I looked like I got thrown from a moving vehicle.”
3. College career started with bang.
Olivadotti and his father share the rare distinction of having caught a touchdown on their very first college pass reception. Kirk scored on a long bomb against Wisconsin as a freshman in 1993.
“I took to the house,” Olivadotti said. “Somebody blew a coverage and they left the freshman alone running down the field. I thought, ‘hey, this is easy!’ Then I never did it again. There were 43 other catches that followed that never went for a touchdown.”
4. Shows smarts at Purdue
Olivadotti earned Academic All-Big Ten honors while at Purdue. He managed not only to earn an undergraduate degree in his four years there, but he actually completed requirements for a masters degree in educational administration as well.
But the most important thing Olivadotti took away from Purdue is his wife Keely. He was a junior and she was a senior when they met and they have pretty much been together ever since.
“Everybody knew Keely,” Olivadotti said. “I knew all her friends and she knew all my friends but we never really knew each other until later.”
5. Didn’t go straight into coaching.
Despite his built-in coaching pedigree, Olivadotti didn’t immediately jump into the profession. His first job out of college was as marketing director for an independent baseball league based in Lafayette, Ind.
“ The flagship team was the Lafayette Leopards, but there were teams in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Indiana,” Olivadotti said. “It was interesting. Basically you just had to find local restaurants who wanted to sponsor the games and stuff like that. It was decent money, but I realized pretty quickly I didn’t want to do that. Deep down I knew I wanted to be a coach. I just took that job to see if I could talk myself out of it.”
6. Started small as coach.
Olivadotti’s first job as a coach was at Maine Maritime, a tiny Div. III school in Castine, Maine. He found the job in a coaches-help-wanted listing, called the coach and offered to fly himself up at his own expense for an interview. Coach Mike Hodgson hired him on the spot to coach wide receivers and tight ends.
“I think he liked the commitment I showed by flying there on my own dime,” Olivadotti says with a laugh.
7. Switches to defense at Indiana State
Olivadotti moved up quickly through in the business. After one year at Maine Maritime, he moved to Indiana State for two years before the Washington Redskins hired him as a defensive quality control specialist.
It was at Indiana State that Olivadotti made the switch to defense. He had been hired to coach wide receivers, then the Sycamores changed to a triple-option offense and Olivadotti switched sides and coached secondary.
“From that time on I’ve been on defense ever since,” Olivadotti said. ”You end up watching so much film in this business, it doesn’t matter what you coach as long as you’re a clear communicator. A guy I used to work with said, ‘I could coach alligator wrestling if you gave me enough tape on it.’ It’s about communicating an idea more than anything.”
8. On the fast track in the NFL
Olivadotti’s technological acumen helped him thrive in the NFL. He got a job with the Washington Redskins in 2000 basically because he knew how to use computers.
“This was back when I had one of the two computers in the building,” Olivadotti said. “That’s basically why I got the job, because I knew how to do a playbook on the computer.”
9. The ultimate survivor in Washington
Olivadotti became linebackers coach and managed to remain employed by the Redskins for 11 years while working for seven head coaches: Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan.
“I never missed a paycheck,” he says proudly. “I got my last paycheck twice, but I never missed one.”
10. The road leads to Athens.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had worked with Kirk’s father in Houston and contacted him in March of 2011 about the linebackers job when Warren Belin left for Carolina. Olivadotti was interviewed by fellow South Floridian Mark Richt in March and, again, was hired on the spot.
“I didn’t really come down to take the job; I just wanted to see if this was something I wanted to do,” Olivadotti said. “But during the interview process, Coach Richt decided he wanted me and I knew I wanted to come here. I had like 10 days to get ready for spring practice.”
OTHER PROFILES IN THIS SERIE