Terry Pettit sent me his book "Talent and the Secret Life of Teams" probably over a year ago. I promptly read it, loved it, then needed to review it for CN. I kept putting it off, thinking if I did it during the off-season, no one would read the review, and it would do a disservice to a guy who not only can write a fantastic book, but had one helluva hand in building the sport of women's volleyball (not just Husker volleyball, but the sport) as much as anyone.
With Nebraska taking on Iowa State this evening at the Qwest Center in the 2009 NCAA Volleyball Tournament, the time is perfect for Pettit's review. Why you ask? Well, I'll tell ya.
Earlier this year, Iowa State got their first-ever win against the Huskers in Lincoln. They won in five sets (18-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-20, 15-12), to make the series 76-1. Nebraska returned the favor when visiting Ames, sweeping the Cyclones (25-16, 25-22, 25-23), in the second game of a nine-game winning streak in which they haven't lost a set. After struggling early in the season, the Huskers have begun to look like the perennial power of lore.
Tonight, the Nebraska volleyball team faces Iowa State once again. Former Husker Christy Johnson is the head coach of the Cyclones and has engineered a turn-around of that program something akin to what Bill Snyder did at Kansas State in football. If you want numbers, here they are - prior to Johnson's arrival, Iowa State had won 13 conference matches in 180 tries.
The Cyclones finished ahead of the Huskers in the Big 12 this season, with Texas first, Iowa State second, and Nebraska third. Add Texas A&M, who upset LSU to get there, and you've got an All-Big 12 regional in Omaha. That all the Big 12 teams are in a single regional giving only one a chance to advance to the Final Four signals a certain amount of dickishness on the part of the NCAA (not that this is anything new or shocking). Maybe they wondered if people would buy tickets if the Huskers didn't make it. Maybe they wanted to suck up to all those Penn State people who were unhappy last year's great team had nearly lost in Omaha before winning their national title. Or maybe they just want to squash Big 12 volleyball back into a box before it gets too much bigger.
Talent and the Secret Life of Teams
Back to Pettit's book. It's not like most football coach books, which are written as if they're trying to teach aspiring young men how to succeed in business, but instead is full of Pettit's stories. Pettit relates how he get started in coaching, mostly by accident, and what it was like in 1974 when women's sports didn't yet really exist. He treats us to his poetry. (Can you imagine a Keith Dunnavant book about the poetry of Paul "Bear" Bryant? Think Vogon poetry, and you'd be there.) He relates Sun Tzu's "Art of War" to volleyball. He relates a fictional letter he presented at an AVCA convention.
Throughout all of these things, the theme is constant although sometimes barely noticeable. What makes a better coach? What makes a better player? What makes a better team?
Pettit talks about Christy Johnson in his book. One chapter, the title chapter, is about the 1995 National Title team on which Johnson was a captain. I'm not going to relate all that he says, but it's an account of a player coming into her own leadership skills. From reading Pettit's account of Johnson's journey, it's not that difficult to understand how why she's a successful head coach.
Christmas is coming. If you're looking for a present, Pettit's book can be ordered directly from his web site. I don't know if I'd order it for a he-man who'd prefer a book about Paul Bear Bryant, but for everyone else, it's a darned good choice for a present. It's an exceptionally good read.
I asked Pettit to put together a list of former Nebraska players and coaches who are in the coaching profession (the list is from last February, so... be gentle).
John Cook - Head Coach Nebraska (former assistant coach)
Russ Rose - Head Coach Penn State (former assistant coach)
Christy Johnson - Head Coach Iowa State (former player)
Jay Potter - Head Coach Indiana State (former assistant coach)
Karen Dahlgren - Head Coach Kansas (former player)
Mary Buysse - Head Coach North Carolina State (former player)
Nikki Stricker Best - Head Coach Montana (former player)
Dave Best - Assistant Coach Montana (former volunteer coach)
Allison Weston - Assistant Coach Montana (former player)
Corey Helle - Head Coach Wofford College (former manager)
Nancy Grant Colson - Assistant Coach Lincoln High (former player)
Gwen Pell Egbert - Head Coach Papillion High School (former player)
Kathy Deboer - Head Coach Lincoln Southeast High School (former player)
Fiona Nepo - Head Coach McKinley (Hawaii) High School (former player)
Angie Oxley - Assistant Coach Creighton University (former player)
Todd Raasch - Assistant Coach Florida Athlantic - Head Coach Kenyon College (former assistant coach)
Kim Behrends - Assistant Coach Sanfranciso University - (former player)
Jill McWilliams - Assistant Coach the University of Minnesota (former player)
Lindsay Wischmeier - Assistant Coach Northern Colorado (former player)
Pam Krejeci - Assistant Coach Omaha Gross High School (former player)
Renee Saunders - Head Coach Omaha South High School
Julie Hermann - Head Coach University Tennessee - Assistant AD, U. of Louisville (former player)
Cathy Noth - Assistant Coach University of Nebraska (former player)
Val Novak - Assistant Coach Univeristy of Nebraska (former player)
Mindy Martens - Assistant Coach University of Pennsylvania (former player)
Jeff Nelson - Head Coach University of New Mexico (former assistant coach)
Kim Crandall - Assistant Coach the University of Mississippi (former player)
That's some kind of coach tree, ain't it?
For Out of State Husker Fans, the games will be streamed:
On Huskers.com, go to Nside (home page navigation bar) and then scroll down to live events, and the link will be available at match time. The first match between Texas A&M and Texas will be in the Qwest Center in-house feed, while the Nebraska-Iowa State contest will be taken from the NET-1 Television feed.
In-state Husker fans can watch the Iowa State game on NET-1 and NET-HD.