Job: UI women's volleyball coach
Hometown: He's adopted Champaign-Urbana after having had a roaming childhood that put him in 22 places by the time he was 18.
Special interests: Thoroughbred race horses, discovered while coaching at Louisville. Hosted large Derby parties after moving to C --U, complete with mint juleps and racing silks.
Newest appreciation: Central Illinois' most identifiable profession -- farming.
Well, we have good friends who are farmers. The other day we went to a bonfire and I sat up in my friend's combine, and he was going over all the features of it with me. I think I'm going to try to steal a little bit of time one morning while he's harvesting and ride in it with him.
But really, wherever you live I think it's important to take part in where you live. And since we've moved back here we've discovered how fascinating farming can be.
You've lived in so many places. What do you call your home?
Champaign. Yeah, we love it here. If you combine the six years I was here before (as assistant coach to Mike Hebert) with this three-to-four years, it's the longest I've ever lived anywhere.
And if you live here for a while, there's something about the landscape and the skyline and the corn and the crops and the wide-open land. Your focus shifts and it has a spell of its own. It's beautiful here.
What's the job of being head volleyball coach like?
Well, first of all, recruiting has escalated. The time commitment and amount of work that goes into the recruitment of a top student-athlete is just an all encompassing endeavor. I make home visits with women where the mailman literally delivers special bags of mail to their homes. They get hundreds and hundreds of letters. There are 300 Division I programs in the country and it is fair to say that every girl I visit is getting letters from over 200 schools and several hundred scholarship offers.
This weekend, for example, we paid a visit with a recruit, and her family is coming in for the whole weekend from Friday through late Sunday. The minutes that aren't spent in practice are spent with the recruit and her parents. When you get home at night, you get maybe an hour to get ready for bed, and then you get up in the morning and get ready to meet the woman and her parents for breakfast.
Do you have to get to like the parents and get them to like you?
It's not that so much as it is letting them know their daughter will be cared for and that she will be treated with respect. We want them to know that we put tremendous commitment into our people. I've never lost a player academically in the 11 years I've been a head coach. And the parents want to know that if she has a problem, there will be people here who really care about her. And they want to know we're sincere.
But your job only keeps you busy during the volleyball season, right?
I only have eight to 10 open weekends a year.
How can that be?
Starting in February and March there are large junior competition tournaments on the weekends. We attend those and scout for talent. In June the national major junior tournaments go on and in July we're making the recruiting visits, and we have summer camps and clinics for coaches, and then we're right into preseason in August and that goes right into December. And then you have Christmas break, but we're still working on recruits because signing is in February. Then when the players come back for spring semester you begin training for some spring competitions and then you're doing the junior competition evaluations at the same time too!
So it keeps you busy. But I don't mind. I love my work. I really love it. I love the recruiting. I enjoy it. I love every aspect of my job except being away from home so much.
Did you always want to be a volleyball coach?
No, I didn't always intend that. I was going to be a minister.
I joined the Air Force out of high school as a chaplain's assistant to get my college paid for. I'm from a pretty modest background -- my mother's and my father's parents were coal miners from western Pennsylvania, and my dad worked really hard as a tool and die maker. He moved into production management and worked his way up the hard way. We lived all over the country.
Why did you think you wanted to be a minister?
Ever since I was in junior high I was real active in the church and the youth groups, and I really felt being a minister was the direction I wanted to head in. But my time in the Air Force and getting exposure to other career fields in the sports realm convinced me I didn't want that career. There are probably a lot of fortunate people out there because I did move away from being a minister.
What's it like being head volleyball coach in C-U? Are you a celebrity?
I think I'm a minor celebrity.
Do people come up and ask for your autograph?
On occasion. Sometimes when I'm on the road -- and I could be as far as halfway to St. Louis and I'll be in McDonald's, a mother and father will come up with their daughter and they'll ask for an autograph. And I enjoy that. That's wonderful. It's great that people recognize you. Here in town, many people know who you are. If they see me at dinner with my wife on occasion they'll come over and say good luck this year. But they do respect our privacy. It is nice when people are so polite and appreciative. I've had some wonderful people come up to me and say the nicest things. You don't always have that in every job. So that's kind of nice but it's not why I do what I'm doing.
Does UI volleyball have great fans?
Oh yes. We've had a real loyal following here that's really stuck with us. And they're getting rewarded now because the team's coming back up and they feel like they've been a part of that process. [The team is ranked 14th nationally preseason, even after losing five senior players.]
Is there something about you that your players would be surprised to learn?
I think a lot of my players would find me kind of boring in that way. There's not a lot of controversy around my life. I meditate regularly every day to get my mind set in the right direction. I think that surprises them when they find that out.
I'm a big public radio fan and we like listening to classical music. Some opera. We like all kinds of music.
What kinds of things do you and your wife, Kim, do for fun?
We love to camp. We go out and stay in lodges and cabins. We love to hike and fish together. And we've taken some pretty long bike trips together. We love the outdoors and to be out doing things.
And my wife and I love to dance. We'll be out somewhere incognito with our cowboy hats on doing the two-step. And there's a great lady here who teaches ballroom dancing and we'd like to learn all the dance steps. My wife's a wonderful dancer. I have some sense of rhythm ... and I'm not totally awkward. So I like to go out dancing.
Do you have any wacky hobbies?
I do magic tricks with players on the bus, sometimes, just for joking around. And sometimes I use magic tricks when I'm recruiting. We'll have a family at a dinner and it's their first night here and things might be kind of stiff, and then I'll pull out a couple stupid tricks first that they'll laugh at and then I'll do a couple decent tricks. It's a good ice breaker. But you don't want to pull out magic tricks too early in the evening or they won't trust you. [He laughs.]
When I was a kid I used to do a bunch of magic tricks as entertainment. So it's kind of a fun hobby.
What kinds of things do you still want to learn in your life?
I have a couple things on my list. One is learning aikido, and one is getting my pilot's license at some point in my life. Ever since I was in the Air Force I've wanted to fly. I would love to do that.