Mick Haley Q & A

USC women's head coach chats with VBM

"We just beat each other up," said USC Head Coach Mick Haley of the challenge of playing in the Pac-12.
Joshua Duplechian
"We just beat each other up," said USC Head Coach Mick Haley of the challenge of playing in the Pac-12.

Volleyball magazine’s Lee Feinswog made a recent visit to Los Angeles and spent time at Pepperdine (to chase a story about Maurice Torres and his sister, Shaquillah, who plays at Arizona), UCLA (for his story about John Speraw that appears in the May issue), UC Irvine (to check up on first year coach David Kniffin and see how the reigning champs were faring).

Said Lee, “The trip was outstanding, but no volleyball venture to LA would be complete without hanging out with USC coach Mick Haley. The thing I love about Mick is that he’ll talk about anything. We had a great Q & A about the state of affairs in the women’s college game.”

Haley, the former star setter at Ball State will turn 70 on his next birthday and is a father of four with five grandchildren but has no intention of retiring anytime soon. In his coaching career, Haley has won national championships on three levels:

While the coach at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan, he won the 1978 and ‘79 NJCAA titles. Haley won the last AIAW national championship at Texas in 1981, an NCAA title there in 1988, was the U.S. Olympic coach in 2000, and has been at USC since 2001, winning the NCAA crowns in 2002 and 2003. His USC teams have been to six final fours, including 2010 and 2011.

VBM: What’s been the biggest change in the women’s game?

Haley: Probably the biggest thing has been the scoring, when you think about it. It’s gone from an endurance contest to a sprint. I mean, it’s like taking the mile and running it over 100 yards. Really, when it’s all said and done it changed the whole way you think about the game.

VBM: Has it been good?

Haley: Absolutely. 100 percent. Just look at the spectators at the games and the way the kids are flocking to the sport. If we would give every school in the country four and a half men’s scholarships, it would be one of the top’s men’s sports. It would rival basketball pretty soon in the number of kids playing. Boys want to play.

They want to play. We’ve already educated everybody to be a good spectator. They all understand the game now because it’s not side out. You score a point on every play. That’s the biggest thing. And television is picking up. We had 82 matches on TV in the Pac 12 and the Big Ten had 53. You take what ESPN does and Sunshine and BYU’s station and Texas’ station and you’re going to be able to see volleyball 24-7. There are nothing but bigger things going to happen.

VBM: You started coaching women in 1967. How have women changed in that time?

Haley: Well, there are more of them. They’re bigger, they’re faster, they’re stronger. You used to be happy for a 5-8 middle blocker. (Laughs). Now that’s your libero.

VBM: Current events. Last year we spent so much time talking about the Pac-12 and then it was Oregon of all teams to get into the final four.

Haley: Last season the Pac-12 was really young. They had over 127 players who were freshmen or sophomores. It could have been more. While they were being seen a lot, it was still a really young conference. Stanford started four or five freshmen alone and they were undefeated until they came in here late in the season …

They were playing really well but might have run out of gas. Stanford has lost three years in a row to Michigan. Cal has lost to North Carolina two years in a row. Cal is just kind of hanging on. They’re hanging on by a thread. They haven’t replaced all those kids they had. They’re in a talent drain right now. They have to kick it up recruiting or they’re not going to be at that level.
Washington is sustaining a very good level … [In the NCAA Tournament] we got sent to Texas, which is OK, but they played as well as they can play against us … Texas just peaked at the right time and played really well. The fact that they didn’t have to travel until the last weekend is always a big help. Penn State had been getting that advantage. But you also have to be good to have that advantage.

I think we’re like the old ACC basketball tournament that [in the Pac-12] we beat each other up for so long throughout the season. We’ve got 12 teams and play 20 matches and then go right into the tournament. I think the teams are real good but watch out in the next two years when most Pac-12 teams will have players who are juniors and seniors.

VBM: Do you think the Pac-12 should go to divisions?

Haley: I think if we added four more teams -- and the teams I would add are Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – if we did that and had two eight-team divisions and then had a big tournament in Las Vegas the week of Thanksgiving I think it would be one of the more exciting things we could do.

VBM: How would you change seeding in the NCAA Tournament, something you’ve been critical of?

Haley: There is a formula we could use to seed the tournament. The RPI certainly gives you a little bit of a look if the RPI is valid and reliable, which I don’t think it is. It might be reliable in that it tells you the same thing every time, but its validity doesn’t tell you which are the best teams. The best way to do this tournament would be to have eight to 12 athletic administrators who are very knowledgeable in volleyball from all over the country, and they would get on the phone every two weeks and have regional reporting and then have a mock poll where they would vote. And they go through this process over the three months. Maybe it doesn’t start until the middle of October … Then in the middle of November they do their last poll. That means they would have watched all the teams for a month and a half, they would have heard from the regional committees on who is playing the best in each of the regions, and get insight into injuries and that sort of thing and those regional committees should be made up of coaches. We already have regions, because we pick All-Americans out of those regions, so you wouldn’t have to redesign the system.

I would add another poll. We could take all our major retired coaches, like [Terry] Pettit, [Andy] Banakowski, [Mike] Hebert, Elaine Michaelis, Linda Dollar and others and do a poll where they call around their friends. And they’re probably watching on TV anyway.

The coaches association is not a reliable poll but it’s more accurate than a lot of them.

(Note: Haley gave credit to Lu Wallace, an administrator at BYU, for much of what he said about seeding the tournament, and added that the volleyball tournament should follow the lead of the NCAA basketball tournaments. What’s more, he added that teams from the same conference and geographic areas should be separated on the bracket).

They should send teams to the same place for every first and second round. … You might miss on two or three teams but it’s not without 12 people going to battle in that room and really sifting through the data and earning each other’s respect by treating each team fairly. That’s the only way we’ll get a good tournament.

And if we use the NCAA terminology, we’d have a better student experience.

(He laughed again). And we have to keep an eye on the [TV] talent and what they say because it could become political. They should also televise the first and second rounds of the tournament.

VBM: We kicked this around in 2011 in San Antonio, the free agency in women’s college volleyball. Has it slowed down at all and is there a solution?

Haley: There’s not a solution. Just people’s honor and club coaches are becoming power people. They try to do favors for their kids, “Oh, you don’t like it at this school now? I’ll call around for you.”

Maybe you have to lose the one-time transfer and you have to sit out a year. That might slow it down a bit. People are less likely to leave on a whim if they have to sit out a year.

There hasn’t been wholesale raiding. If you want to look at the teams who have raided, Minnesota has raided, Washington has raided, UCLA has been a raider. In other words they have taken the best players from other teams and they’ve made an impact and changed the balance, which is unfortunate. Those are game changers and that’s what you don’t want to have happen. I may be missing a couple of schools, also, that do this all the time.

Some of it’s a farce where they find loopholes like saying a school doesn’t have their major. You just don’t want parents to think that’s a good thing for their daughter’s education. They want to be agents for their kids. They do that in club, because they’re paying. Then when they get to college and they don’t have control, that irritates the hell out of them.

VBM: OK, then what about having juniors in high school make official visits then?

Haley: I think that’s a terrible idea. [UCLA coach Michael] Sealy put that out there. I’ll tell you why it’s a terrible idea. You’ve heard all the good things about it. But how would you like to be responsible? The NCAA and the university supervisors have put all the onus of every violation on the head coaches. Even if an assistant coach makes a violation the head coach is the one who gets penalized. They’re gonna get fined now, they’re gonna get suspended, they’re gonna do all this stuff to the head coaches.

And I bring a 16-year-old on campus for an official visit and I send her out with my team? For the evening? To have ice cream and cake? And when she doesn’t come back or gets drunk or does all these things that are happening on all these campuses with high school seniors, what’s gonna happen? And do I want to be responsible for that? Hell, no.

The best thing that’s going on right now is that we haven’t had an official paid visit in three years, because our commitments are coming in their freshman or sophomore years [with their parents]. Our kids are not disadvantaged by having to spend their time recruiting kids for us instead of spending time on their college experience.

VBM: And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we weren’t going to leave LA without a Q & A with Mick Haley.


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Olympic coach in 2000, and has been at USC since 2001, winning the NCAA crowns in 2002 and 2003. His USC teams have been to six final fours, including 2010 and 2011.
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