Q&A with UCLA coach and new U.S. Olympic coach John Speraw

UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw addressed the media on Tuesday for the first time since being named the U.S. Men’s National Team coach for the 2016 Olympics.

Check out the news conference as Speraw discusses his plans for the national team, why he took the position and his decision to coach the United States while also keeping his job at UCLA.

John Speraw, UCLA and USA Volleyball: Thank you UCLA for this possibility. I met with [UCLA athletics director] Dan Guerrero a few weeks ago about this possibility and he was exceptionally positive and supportive of my goal individually and certainly my love for working with USA Volleyball and representing the United States. They have been just wonderful through this whole process. I’d like to thank Doug [Beal] for this opportunity again. This is something we talked about maybe a year ago, and we discussed it again a few weeks ago for the first time. I’m very excited to be in this position to continue my work at the university level and also coach the United States.

Don Patterson: Tell us how this will work with doing both UCLA and Team USA in terms of scheduling.

John Speraw: When we started talking about it with Doug, what we decided to do was make sure that we had enough staff in place to support the role particularly in the off-season with the national team players. Traditionally what we’ve done is that there was the head coach at the USA level, a head coach and an assistant coach, and then the last two years of the quad a part-time assistant coach position. And because I’m not here full-time the salary and structure was reorganized so that we can have two full-time assistant coaches here the entire quad. That will be very beneficial. … In terms of my role being split it became apparent that the change in the international calendar moving the World Cup and World Championships into August and September almost means that there is zero conflict with the academic year and the schedule at UCLA. Because of those changes we felt this was something that was very doable. For me that was emphasized after spending the last eight months at UCLA. The support at UCLA has been more than I’ve ever imagined. I have two wonderful assistant coahces in Andrea Becker and Brad Keller. … I have the support at UCLA. We have been way head of recruiting. So it felt to me like this was something that can be achieved in terms of the work load. I’m going to have to be a good manager, and part of this is we are going to have to figure it out as we go along. This is a new model.


John Hastings: You’ve had experience in both arenas. Can you describe the difference between coaching college men and the players from the international level? Would the analogues be UCLA basketball to the Lakers?

John Speraw: I think it would. I’ve talked about this fairly frequently because I think it’s much a topic of conversation. They are two very different jobs. When you are coaching at a university, you have a group of athletes that coalesced at different universities for different reasons. There is a personality that each institution has whether it’s the personality of the coach or it’s the academic demands of each institution or the culture of each institution. It attracts a certain student to that environment. So you have certain personalities that are quite similar. You usually have good team cohesion, and you have similarity in age. You come to the national team and it becomes very different. You have essentially a 22 year old that just graduated from college, and he is single and social and going out to Newport. And then you have another guy who is 35 years old and has three kids and a mortgage. And they are on the same team. And they come from different institutions with different personalities. And they all have individual motives. There is money that is involved for the first time. So you have to be more clear about your system and roles. You have to communicate your values and what the culture is going to be. That has to be a constant theme when you are coaching the national team or professionals. I think that has always been a strength of mine. I think it made my collegiate teams stronger. So I think the learning experience that I have working for Hugh McCutcheon and then with Alan Knipe the last quad has been very beneficial for me. I feel very prepared to coach in both environments.

Anne Peterson, Associated Press: A lot of people thought that when you decided to take the job at UCLA that the chances of being the national team coach was over. Can you tell me a little bit about the process. Did Doug approach you? Did you approach Dough. How did this come about?

John Speraw: It came about with a conversation I was having with Hugh McCutcheon probably three weeks ago. He asked how things were going and if I heard about the national team search. He asked what the decisions had been with Doug previously about the dual role. I told him, and I told him it’s a little low and more doable than I had foreseen a year ago when it was being discussed. I ultimately think what happened is Hugh just called Doug and said, “hey, have you rethought about this opportunity.” And Doug called me later that week, and that’s when the discussions began. That’s maybe three weeks. So this is definitely out of the blue. It wasn’t on my radar at all. I was very happy where I was at. I was happy with the decision that I made. I’m very excited about the possibility of doing it because I felt like it was something that could be done.

Vinnie Lopes, Off the Block: Looking at this USA team, what do you think is going to be the biggest challenge for the 2016 Olympics?

John Speraw: What I’m trying to right now is determine who is available and the health of the athletics right now and what the potential is for some of these athletes to make it another four years. … I do need to have some conversations with some of the players about what their plans are for the next four years. This is the time when everyone is making some decisions. Potentially, and I think this is true for a lot of quads, I think people under-estimate it, but I think that it’s just about turnover. Who the young guys are and how much experience can you get them early. I felt like watching the last quad that Russia and Brazil in particular, and Italy and Poland for sure, took some risks on some young guys early in the quad even if it sacrificed early success for long-term development. I think we are thinking along those lines, although nothing has been really decided yet. I think we going to have to get some new blood in here and take a look at some new young players and see what they can do early in the quad and in World League. I told Doug that I think the coach needs to be empowered to take some risks, even if it means that there are some early failures. So that’s going to help in the long run, and that’s a hard thing to do because in World League people want to do well. But I want to make sure that we are at the very best we can four years from now. We are in that exploratory phase about how we are going to construct this roster.

Vinnie Lopes, Off the Block: Just a follow-up to that. You’ve had a lot of opportunity in your current position to see a lot of college players. Are there an current colleges you might be considering for an opportunity to make 2016 Olympic team?

John Speraw: Yeah. I’m quite impressed with a few of the players. I also wished Kevin Tillie was an American citizen but he’ll be siding-out for France. I really think highly of [BYU outside attacker] Taylor Sander. I don’t think that’s a surprise. He’s a very gifted athlete. I’m really like the way [USC setter] Micah Christenson sets the ball. Dylan Davis of [UC] Santa Barbara is someone we can use to give us more depth in the middle and potentially develop him as well. There are some others to, but those are the ones who jump out of me right away. There are certainly some liberos. Michael Brinkley at UC Irvine is very good. I’m sure I’m missing others off the top of my head, but there are some guys that can make an impact.

Media question: Coach, how did your current team of Bruins take the news? Do you think it will be a factor during the rest of their 2013 season?

John Speraw: I don’t think so. They are all very excited. I think everyone’s response has been excitement. My players were excited for me. I’ve made it no secret that I really felt my experiences coaching Team USA has been some of the most special experiences of my professional career. I think they all know that, and they were all excited for me. I’m excited about it. We are in a good place. We have been playing better volleyball as of late, and I think that we are going to remain on that. I think as we evaluate this whole dual role, I think my ability to stay focused on the collegiate program down the stretch was something that was discussed pretty extensively. And that’s what we are going to do. From the recruits that we’ve signed in the fall and the players and the even the players on the national team so far everyone is on board with the model.

One Reply to “Q&A with UCLA coach and new U.S. Olympic coach John Speraw”

  1. Loved the names that popped up in his head when asked about the players. Can’t wait for this summer.

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