For almost four months, Katie Bason sat at home, unemployed and waiting on a call from a football coach about a job that didn’t yet exist. She turned down a more stable career path in the form of offers from Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Google and Apple. She even once performed as “Orbit” the mascot for the Martinsville Astros — a creature who’s modeled after its MLB namesake — a lime-green alien with antennae that stem from it’s head.
Call it an unabashed love for sports — in addition to having blind faith in a man she had known only 90 days — but it’s called optimism in any language.
It’s that type of attitude that’s resulted in a decade-long relationship with Mike MacIntyre — making her one of his most trusted staff members and first hires when he took the head coaching job at FIU.
Raised in tiny Martinsville, Virginia, a town near the Virginia-North Carolina border best known for being a stop on the NASCAR Cup Series, Sarah Catherine “Katie” Bason grew up idolizing an older brother, who was a star baseball player among the local prep ranks. The sole girl between two boys, Bason naturally gravitated towards baseball opposed to softball and her parents encouraged to play as long as the opportunity provided itself.
“Really, I just wanted to be like my older brother, so I spent hours practicing with him,” said Bason. “My parents encouraged me to keep competing until I couldn’t keep up with the boys and they kept thinking it would happen, but it never got to that point as I entered high school.”
Bason played four years on the baseball team at Martinsville’s Carlisle High, where she excelled on the diamond as both a pitcher and a position player. However, she took her fair share of lumps — or beanings along the way as the lone girl playing amongst the boys.
“I got thrown at a lot but over the years, I think they realized that I wasn’t going to quit, and I was there to stay,” said Bason. “Over time, my teammates grew to appreciate my drive and other schools started to respect me, so around my junior year it wasn’t as big of deal anymore.”
After graduation, Bason enrolled at Wake Forest University. Wanting to stay involved in sports, she picked up a role as an equipment manager on the men’s basketball team coached by Skip Prosser, who would be influential in guiding her to a career in sports.
“Coach Prosser was a high school teacher before he started coaching and he taught me about how this profession can be used to the advantage of young people, in terms of preparing them for life,” said Bason.
In addition to her duties as a student and with the basketball team, Bason’s desire to pursue baseball didn’t quell.
She played for the Chicago Storm, a women’s semi-pro baseball team and earned an invite to tryout for the United States under-21 women’s national team. After making the team, she continued with the Storm for two seasons — playing in various tournaments overseas and having the distinction of taking the field at hallowed Doubleday Field located in Cooperstown, NY — home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“(Playing) in Cooperstown was really excited and then we traveled to Australia to play in a tournament was honestly a life-changing experience,” said Bason.
Bason earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 2005 and spent the next half-decade as a teacher at various high schools in the Carolinas before moving cross country with her then-husband to California in 2010. Her career in college athletics began after failing to find a teaching gig in the area — and was supposed to be temporary.
“Because the state was on a budget freeze it was hard to find teaching jobs,” said Bason. “I ended up with several job offers in the private sector, but my heart has always been in education and sports. So I emailed every school in the Bay Area talking up my experience in both teaching and working with student-athletes. One day, I received an email from San Jose State saying we have a role as a learning specialist, but it was a temporary role for 60 days. I had no idea what a learning specialist was, but I knew I’d take it.”
A few months prior to Bason descending upon the Golden State, Mike MacIntyre accepted his first head coaching job with San Jose State.
He inherited a program that went 2-10 on the field in 2009 and had even more pronounced struggles off the gridiron. The NCAA leveled SJSU with several scholarship restrictions due to Academic Progress Rate (APR) issues stemming from the Spartans’ issues graduating student-athletes.
Before attempting to rebuild the program on Saturdays, MacIntyre faced the reality that his players had to perform in the classroom in order for him to have a fighting shot.
“San Jose State was on academic APR penalty, so we could only have 16 hours of practice per week (20 hours is the normal limit) and we had both a reduction in scholarships and were facing further penalties if we fell even further below the APR mark,” said MacIntyre. “Then there’s this young lady, Katie Bason, who was doing a phenomenal job with the kids. So I at least think I’ve got that covered and one day she walks in my office and tells me today is her last day because she was only filling in for another person on maternity leave.”
The impression left on MacIntyre in just three months was enough so that he made a personal appeal to then-San Jose State Athletic Director Tom Bowen for Bason to be kept on.
However, while MacIntyre was making his appeal to the higher-ups, Bason was out of a job — again. Despite job the offers from Google and Apple, Bason, with some level of trepidation, kept her faith in the coach that she had only known for a short time.
“I didn’t really believe it was going to happen, even to the point where I interviewed for other jobs, but in the end I turned them down because Mac would keep in contact pleading with me not to take another job,” said Bason.
MacIntyre recalled the meeting with Bowen and how emphatic he was that Bason needed to be a part of the program.
“I went across the street to (Bowen’s) office and told him that we have to hire her if we don’t want to have an APR penalty because she’s phenomenal,” said MacIntyre. “I told him we’ve got to get it done. So they created a position and interviewed her through the whole process and hired her and we went from the worst APR in our league to the best and the rest is history.”
History is a slightly concise way of summarizing what would turn into a relationship that has continued over the next 12 years.
When MacIntyre was hired at Colorado, he made sure that Bason had a role with the Buffaloes. After MacIntyre’s tenure in Boulder ended, he took the defensive coordinator role at Ole Miss — and Bason earned a role working in player development. She stayed with the Rebels through MacIntyre’s time as defensive coordinator at Memphis for two seasons and once he accepted the FIU job, it was little surprise that one of the first calls he made was to Bason.
“She’s kind of kept evolving, which is why I wanted to bring her in as our Chief of Staff, which is an expanded role from her previous ones,” said MacIntyre.
At 39, Bason feels she’s more than ready for the new challenge, especially given her almost two decades in education and over a decade working in college athletics.
“I’ve worked in academics, I’ve worked in recruiting, I’ve worked in operations, I’ve worked in player development so I feel like at this point in my career, I’m ready to do a job that allowed me to touch all of those things at once officially,” said Bason.
While she’s hit the ground running in her new role with the Panthers, the first-time South Florida resident has had the opportunity pick up on some of the intricacies of the region.
“I already love living in Miami and the culture is nothing like I’ve ever experienced, plus I learned Spanish from my time working as the mascot (Orbit) of the Martinsville Astros,” said Bason. Although I will say, driving is an experience — it’s like I’m playing a game of Frogger and I’ve learned that your blinker’s actually called a “weakness signal” and you get honked at — at lot.”
For MacIntyre, he summarizes why Bason is a pivotal piece in his rebuilding efforts with the Panthers.
“Katie has an unbelievable caring heart, but she’s also very competitive and being an athlete herself, she’s really able to relate to them and vice versa. “She makes an gigantic impact and we wouldn’t have had the success that we had at San Jose State or Colorado if it wouldn’t have been for Katie Bason.”