On Jan. 19, former lightweight crew coxswain Joel Furtek ’90 joined the crew program as operations coordinator.
Furtek follows in the footsteps of Tom Taft and Jerry Romano, who worked with the crew program for 38 and 42 years, respectively. As operations coordinator, he is responsible for maintaining and modifying the equipment for the heavyweight, lightweight and women’s teams; driving boats to regattas; and coordinating the visions of all three Yale head coaches.
“Having been a member of our program and spent his adult life in rowing, Joel understands the sport,” women’s head coach Will Porter said. “He’s able to fix, repair or maintain anything that we need.”
Furtek brings 20 years of coaching experience in his return to Yale. He spent 11 years as the women’s head coach at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, leading the Tar Heels to an appearance at the NCAA championship regatta in 1998, and six years as head coach at Canisius College, along with briefer stints as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia and the University of Central Florida and as operations coordinator at the University of Miami.
Furtek said he has coveted the operations coordinator role since he was a freshman in 1986. Though he turned down similar positions at other nationally competitive programs, he jumped at the opportunity to work at Yale once Taft announced his retirement. He cited the success of all three Yale programs, the quality of the crew facilities and the involvement of the alumni community as factors that drew him back to New Haven.
According to Porter, the Bulldogs have enlisted Furtek as an independent contractor for cross country trips over the last 10 years. On several occasions, Furtek has driven women’s crew trailers to the NCAA national championships in Sacramento, California. This work allowed him to maintain a relationship with the Yale coaching staff.
“Driving is one of the more fun parts of the job for me,” Furtek said. “I’ve done 17 round trips to California over the last 25 years and I’ve learned something about myself on every one.”
Taft, Furtek’s predecessor, set an example of commitment for Furtek to follow in his lengthy tenure at Yale. Associate Athletic Director of Varsity Sports Administration Chris Kohuth praised Taft for the length of his service and the power of his legacy, pointing out that Taft had built up a significant amount of institutional knowledge. In honor of Taft’s January retirement, one of the women’s eights is racing in a boat named after him this year.
Furtek said he is implementing a new set of systems to make the teams’ equipment more navigable and accessible for coaches and athletes.
In addition, having worked with Taft when he was coxswain at Yale, Furtek intends to work with the Bulldogs’ current coxswains to make repairs and monitor boat conditions.
“It’s not my presence as a person that’s critical to the operation of things: It’s the systems I put into place,” Furtek said. “Most of my work takes place behind the scenes and the programs run themselves.”
Furtek combines his decades of coaching experience with a deep mechanical knowledge; in addition to performing maintenance for several crew programs, he has spent considerable time restoring old houses and repairing International Harvester Scout trucks since he began coaching.
“There are a lot of people who have the skill to drive a truck or repair fiberglass, but having been a coach, I can understand the pressures teams face,” Furtek said. “Without that background, it might be hard to do the triage that comes with jobs like this.”
Now that Furtek is working at Yale, he believes his coaching days are over: He said he plans to work as operations coordinator for at least 20 years until he decides to retire.
The Yale crew teams resume competition against Michigan and Ohio State in late March.