Rob Hoyt lived in Capitola roughly 200 yards from the beach before recently accepting the job as head coach of mens’ basketball at Columbia College.
“I had a friend ask me why I would want to leave and I replied, ‘Because I’m going home,’ ” the 28-year-old Sonora native said.
Hoyt graduated from Sonora High in 2003, where he played basketball and helped the Wildcats win the 2002 Valley Oak League Championship. He went on to play for the Claim Jumpers from 2003-05 under Columbia head coach Nathan Rien.
The Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees approved the hiring of Hoyt at a regular meeting Wednesday and also named Rien, who recently stepped down as head coach of mens’ basketball, as the college’s new athletic director.
“I get along with him (Rien) very well and he’s been very supportive of me,” Hoyt said of his former coach and new boss. “He’s making it a really easy transition.”
Rien is looking forward to tackling new challenges and responsibilities as athletic director and said his decision to step down from coaching will also give him more time to see his family because he won’t be spending as many late nights on the road for away games.
“This is going to give me an opportunity to really help advocate for our basketball and volleyball programs,” Rien said. “I’m excited for that new challenge and feel fortunate that I’m being put in a position to help continue promoting Columbia athletics.”
And as for seeing a former player of his grow up to take over the program for him? Rien said he “couldn’t more proud.”
“I’m really happy for it to be someone like Rob Hoyt, a kid who I’ve seen play since high school through junior college,” Rien said. “To me, it’s a tremendous success story and he’s going to continue to be successful. He’s indicative of what this is all about and why I love Columbia College.”
In addition to his community ties, Hoyt brings years of coaching experience at the collegiate level, including successful stints as an assistant at both Reedley College and Cabrillo College over the past six years.
From 2007-09, Hoyt assisted Reedley head coach Brian Fonseca and helped guide the team to a combined record of 46-16, including two playoff appearances, two Sweet 16s and a Final 8 appearance during the 2008-09 season.
He went on to work under Cabrillo head coach Tony Marcopulos from 2009 until taking the job at Columbia. Cabrillo had an overall record of 78-33, a Coast Conference South record of 41-7 including three championships and made four state tournament appearances where they twice reached the Sweet 16 and once the Final 8 during Hoyt’s time as assistant coach.
“I really got to see how he operated and was successful,” Hoyt said of working under Fonseca. “Then I went on to work for Tony Marcopulos and really got that Division 1 background on how to be a professional and handle business on and off the court. It really was a coaching boot camp for me. He broke me down and built me back up and will always be a very influential person in my life.”
Hoyt described a paradigm shift that is occurring among hoops coaches away from the old, militaristic style in favor of a more relationship-oriented form of leadership. He said that his style falls somewhere in the middle.
“My relationship with the players is very important but I’m also very demanding and there’s a lot of structure,” he explained. “I may not be the easiest guy to play for all the time, but I’ve always gotten along very well with everybody I’ve coached.”
Though Hoyt has not been given the chance to do much recruiting while waiting for his hiring to become official, he said there are several players graduating from area high schools he’s had his eyes on.
“As far as recruitment goes, I’m going to have an inside-out philosophy,” Hoyt said. “That means we’re going to get the best players from local schools first and then we’re going to branch out from there as opposed to the other way around.”
Hoyt hopes his ties to the community and local-first philosophy can help in his quest to garner more support and involvement from local fans.
“We want the best players possible and we also want the community to be involved,” he said. “You’ll be able to watch some of the guys you’ve seen since they were little kids playing here now at a high level and getting better.”
The Claim Jumpers team this past season featured former Summerville star Travis Arenas and Bret Harte grads Danny Radford and Jordan Gomez, but Hoyt hasn’t made any decisions regarding the 2013-14 roster.
“We’re going to be starting over with a different brand of guys and a different mentality that I really hope the community will support,” he said.
Hoyt said he’s looking for players who are focused on academics, fierce competitors and “all around good people.” His emphasis on academics is easy to understand considering he received a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fresno, in 2008 and a master’s degree in sports science from the United States Sports Academy in 2011.
“The players that I like are different than what a lot of other coaches look for,” he said. “I’m going to get a lot of those guys in there, put together a coaching staff, figure out how to get the community involved and bring back a winning program and the excitement that goes along with it.”
Fans used to cram inside Bud Castle Gym, prior to the construction of Oak Pavilion, to watch the Claim Jumpers, who had an impressive run beginning in the late 80s and lasting through the 90s that included winning a state championship during the 1992-93 season.
Hoyt can remember the excitement of going to Columbia basketball games as a boy and vows that he will strive to return the program to its status as a perennial contender in the Central Valley Conference, which the Claim Jumpers last won in 1996.
“Columbia was the hot ticket when I was growing up in the county during the 90s,” Hoyt recalled. “When you’re a young kid, it’s like watching professional basketball. Being able to put on that jersey and play in that dome was really special for me. And now, coming back and walking through the same hallways is really special.”
Area high school basketball coaches also had positive things to say about Hoyt, including newly-hired Sonora varsity boys’ basketball head coach Dan Dona.
“Rob Hoyt is an outstanding choice,” said Dona, who coached Hoyt during the summer before his freshman season. “His effort and leadership were already way above and beyond the kids at that level. I think it’s the best thing Columbia could have done. He will do great things out there. I think he’s really interested in getting the community involved with that program and I’m excited for him to come back here, coach and be part of our community.”
Dona’s taking over Sonora hoops for Francis, who recently stepped down after a 40-plus year coaching career.
Francis will serve as Hoyt’s assistant in addition to his duties as Wildcat athletic director.
“I’m really excited about that and I think it’s going to be a fun dynamic,” Hoyt said of working alongside his former coach.
Francis said he’s looking forward to working with Hoyt and thinks the new Claim Jumpers boss will find success at Columbia.
“He’s got that passion in his heart and when you have that you just go for it,” Francis said. “There’s no doubt his players will respect him, and hopefully I’ll be able to help him a little along the way.
“It’s his program and I’m just assistant coach,” Francis continued. “If he wants me to do something a certain way, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Sports editor Bill Rozak contributed to this report.