This promises to be a very busy year for Hugh McCutcheon.
Not that the U.S Olympic women’s volleyball coach hasn’t been runnin’ and gunnin’ the past few years.
But in 2012, after the London Olympic Games, McCutcheon will immediately take over as the head coach at Minnesota, a job he’s had in waiting since Febraury of last year. In his absence last fall, interim head coach Laura Bush led the team to the NCAA tournament round of eight,
“There was a lot of risk in trying to manage that transition,” McCutcheon said. “Laura and Alfee [Reft] and Chris [Tamos], the staff at Minnesota, have done a phenomenal job. And this was the intention from the very beginning, that I would have nothing to do with it and they’ve been fantastic.”
McCutcheon, 42, got the job after Mike Hebert retired, but he still had an Olympiad to finish.
“Now that we’ve qualified and we’re getting ready for London, we’re going to give our everything to get to that finish line,” McCutcheon said. “I’m extremely excited and extremely grateful for the opportunity Minnesota gave me to finish this.”
McCutcheon, a native New Zealander who played collegiately at BYU, coached the U.S. men to the gold medal at Beijing Games in 2008.
With the women, he takes over a team sprinkled with former NCAA stars, including those recently in the spotlight like setter Alisha Glass and outside hitter Megan Hodge, from the Penn State team that won four titles in a row, and opposite Destinee Hooker of Texas, perhaps the next great international star. Veteran setter Lindsey Berg played at Minnesota.
While the 2012 NCAA Championships had its share of standouts, none are under consideration for the 2012 Games, but might get into the national-team pool in the future. The NCAA is, in essence, the feeder program for the national team.
“I think the link between the national team and the college game is healthier than it’s ever been,” McCutcheon said, noting that the two entities play by different rules with different agendas.
“Is there some stuff we would like to change in terms of how complete the athletes are by the time they get to us? Sure, but the reality is college has to play by their rules and we’ve got to play by our rules and we’ve just got to help manage that transition. The more that college athletes can be part of junior national teams, or youth national teams to get that international experience so that they know what’s coming in that next step, that’s an important part of it.”
Both McCutcheon and his assistant coach, former Olympics great Karch Kiraly, who was doing television analysis, were in San Antonio for the NCAA Championships.
“Due to the depth that we have on our team and it’s a real short year – all the [national team] athletes are playing overseas now and they hit the ground in May and we’re done August 14 — there really isn’t time to take anyone from this [NCAA] world and graft them into ours,” McCutcheon said.
“The transition is tough in the best of times and we just don’t seem to have the need. Even for the best of them it takes a year or two to make that transition from college.”
The U.S. is certainly one of the favorites in London and in the meantime, the McCutcheon family — minus Hugh — will begin to settle in in Minnesota.
|THE HUGH & A|
Hugh McCutcheon discusses why he chose Minnesota and what he expects from the college experience.
• McCutcheon’s Q&A
McCutcheon’s wife, the former Elisabeth Bachman, starred at UCLA and played on the 2004 U.S. team that finished fifth. She is also from the Twin Cities area, where her mother resides. The McCutcheons have a young son and are expecting another baby in April.
Last season, Minnesota finished 20-12 overall, 11-9 in the Big Ten. It lost to Iowa State 3-1 to miss out on making the NCAA championships. McCutcheon said the plan was to keep the staff in place.
“I’m excited they want to stay on,” he said.
McCutcheon also gets a roster that includes two star juniors. Six-foot outside hitter Ashley Wittman was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America team, while 6-3 middle blocker Tori Dixon received honorable mention. Both are from Minnesota as well.
“I’m fired up to get in there and get in the mix,” McCutcheon said. “After 11 years of international volleyball this is a great way to end it. It’s been a phenomenal ride.”