The answer, after a long pause with obvious distaste for having to respond to such a question, was typical for Russ Rose.
The Penn State women’s volleyball team’s head coach was asked last week about picking up yet another coaching award, and Rose restrained himself from what he wanted to say — “I hate answering questions about me, ask me about my team.”
However, you can’t help but ask every once in a while about all the honors and personal accomplishments the face of one of the nation’s top volleyball programs — certainly the best program in the past decade — has received.
He is this year’s Big Ten and AVCA Mideast Regional Coach of the Year, and the piles of other honors take up plenty of space on his resume. He’s already been inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame, been the national Coach of the Year four times, the region’s Coach of the Year five other times, the conference Coach of the Year 13 times, and there have been a lot of other honors along the way. He is also on the doorstep of 1,100 career wins, which only two other Division I coaches have achieved, his five NCAA titles are more than any other coach, and Penn State is one of only two programs in the country to have been in every NCAA tournament since it was first held in 1981.
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Also, his .864 winning percentage, on a 1,091-174 record, is better than any other Division I coach, he has never had fewer than 22 wins in any season, his 15 Big Ten titles are more than any other program and he’s produced an All-American in all but one of his 34 seasons.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Oregon coach Jim Moore said Wednesday. “He’s done things that nobody has done.”
So, while Rose may not like to answer the questions, sometimes they have to be asked.
“Individual awards in a team sport kind of don’t resonate that well with me,” Rose said last week when answering that unwanted question. “When you have a good team and you have great success, there are a lot of awards that get passed out amongst the players and the coaches, but in the end success in a program comes from a university’s support, an entire staff’s commitment and the players really working hard. So I wouldn’t say that the individual awards that have my name on it are getting too much of my attention.”
He has plenty of fans too, in the volleyball community, those who cheer for Penn State and even among his coaching peers.
Moore admitted he has a picture of himself and his wife posing with Rose from the Ducks’ visit to Rec Hall last season, and he was planning on having Rose autograph the print.
“He has been very kind to me throughout my career,” Moore said. “When things weren’t going so good, Russ was one of the first people on the phone. Russ is truly the definition of a friend.”
With a mix if dry humor, piles of sarcasm, pointed statements, attention to details and statistics, high expectations and great passion for the sport, he engenders a little fear and agony but a lot of love and devotion from his student athletes.
A few have left the program over the years, though typically not because of him, but there have been far more stories of players who have shown their loyalty to their school and coach even with little playing time.
He is tough on his team members both physically and mentally, with high expectations and a place in the doghouse if anyone is slacking, and the team leaders, especially the setters, have an even higher standard against which they are held.
“He’s hard on us,” said sophomore Micha Hancock, who was the Big Ten’s Setter of the Year and an All-American this season. “Everyone knows he’s harsh. That’s the big thing — he sets that standard. He wants perfection, and that’s what I like about him. I want perfection from myself, so he’s got me pushing every moment. It’s made me so much better as a player.”
However, invariably when asked, athletes always say they know before they ever step onto campus, before they even commit to Penn State, what they are getting from their head coach and what will be expected of them. He is abundantly clear there will be very few easy days once they join the Nittany Lions, and their skin will need to grow extra thick to handle the coming critiques.
It has been the recipe for one-third of a century as the Nittany Lion coach, hoisting banner after banner to the Rec Hall rafters and hauling home a slew of honors — even if he doesn’t want to talk about them.