Born in Hedgesville, West Virginia, Catlett played for West Virginia from 1958 to 1963. He played on the freshman team in 1958-59, but missed the 1959-60 season with a broken wrist. During his three varsity seasons (1960-61 through 1962-63), he helped the Mountaineers to two NCAA tournament berths. West Virginia went 23-4, 24-6 and 23-8 during Catlett's varsity seasons, winning the Southern Conference title every season. The 6-foot-5 forward totaled 407 points and 275 rebounds on Coach George King's guard-oriented teams.
After he graduated in 1963, he began his coaching career. He started out with assistant coaching jobs at Richmond under head coach Lew Mills, Davidson under Lefty Driesell, Kansas under Ted Owens, and finally Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.
In 1972, Catlett was named head coach of University of Cincinnati, succeeding Tay Baker, whose team had gone 17-9 the year before. In Catlett's first season, 1972–73, the Bearcats were also 17-9, and they improved to 19-8 the following year. It was the 1974-75 season that Catlett and the Bearcats reached national prominence. Led by a crop of highly touted recruits including Pat Cummings, Brian Williams, Robert Miller, Mike Jones, Gary Yoder and Steve Collier, the Bearcats were 23-6 and advanced to the NCAA Midwest Regional Finals. By 1975-76, the team won the Metro Conference, posted a 25-6 record and were expected to make a deep run into the tournament, but the Bearcats were upset in the first rund on a last-second tip-in by Notre Dame. In 1976-77, the Bearcats were 25-5 and again won the Metro Conference, but they were again ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament. During the three season from 1975-76 through 1977-78, the Bearcats were consistently ranked in the top 20.
In six seasons at Cincinnati, Catlett posted a record of 126-44 (a .741 winning percentage). took the Bearcats to three NCAA tournament appearances and one NIT appearance. He left Cincinnati after a 17-10 season and under a cloud after the basketball program was penalized by the NCAA for numerous recruiting violations during his tenure.
In 1978, he took over the head coaching job at West Virginia. During the decade before his arrival, the Mountaineers were 116-121. Over the next 24 seasons, he posted a 439-276 record. Catlett's West Virginia teams won an average of 19 games a season and made eight trips to the NCAA tournament, including a 1998 Sweet 16 appearance.
On February 13, 2002, at age 61, Catlett announced his retirement. He had a career college coaching record of 565-320.
In late 2005 he publicly stated that he was considering running in the 2006 Republican primary in order to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. He later declined to run.
Head coaching record
|Cincinnati Bearcats (Independent/Metro Conference) (1972–1978)|
|1973–74||Cincinnati||19-8||NIT 1st Round|
|1974–75||Cincinnati||23-6||NCAA 3rd Round|
|1975–76||Cincinnati||25-6||2-1||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1976–77||Cincinnati||25-5||4-2||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|West Virginia Mountaineers (ECAC) (1978–1982)|
|1980–81||West Virginia||23-10||9-4||3rd||NIT Semifinals|
|1981–82||West Virginia||27-4||13-1||1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|West Virginia (Atlantic 10) (1982–1995)|
|1982–83||West Virginia||23-8||10-4||T-1st||NCAA 1st Round|
|1983–84||West Virginia||20-12||9-9||T-4th||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1984–85||West Virginia||20-9||16-2||1st||NIT 1st Round|
|1985–86||West Virginia||22-11||15-3||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1986–87||West Virginia||23-8||15-3||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1988–89||West Virginia||26-5||17-1||1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1990–91||West Virginia||17-14||10-8||T-3rd||NIT 2nd Round|
|1991–92||West Virginia||20-12||10-6||3rd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1992–93||West Virginia||17-12||7-7||6th||NIT 2nd Round|
|1993–94||West Virginia||17-12||8-8||3rd||NIT 2nd Round|
|West Virginia Mountaineers (BigEast) (1996–2003)|
|1996–97||West Virginia||21-10||11-7||3rd||NIT Quarterfinals|
|1997–98||West Virginia||24-9||11-7||3rd||NCAA Sweet 16|
|2000–01||West Virginia||17-12||8-8||4th (West)||NIT 1st Round|
|2001–02||West Virginia||8-20||1-15||7th (West)|
National champion Postseason invitational champion