The plan was to write a simple coaching-carousel roundup, letting the dust settle a few days after Christmas.
After all, a few jobs had been filled, not the least of which was Oklahoma hiring Lindsey Gray-Walton to take over after a great run as an assistant at Kentucky. Also, Mississippi State, DePaul, Tennessee Tech and North Florida filled vacancies.
But then Wednesday afternoon Indiana dropped a Big Ten bomb, luring Steve Aird away from Maryland.
A list follows below of head-coaching vacancies in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball, with the addition of Siena. We missed that one last week after Garvey Pierre was not retained after 15 seasons when the Saints went 7-22 this season.
This list includes a handful of power-five-conference jobs, including Boston College, Cal, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC. Cal’s website still lists Matt McShane as the head coach, but we’ve been told under no circumstances will he return.
We’ve heard the job at Texas A&M has been filled, but an A&M spokesman said that a hiring would be announced in January. And, of course, whoever gets the USC job could likely get the carousel spinning once again.
Maryland: Aird, a graduate of and former Penn State assistant, had done a commendable job in his four seasons in College Park, seemingly turning the tide in a terribly tough uphill battle in the Big Ten.
This past season, the Terps finished 10th, the NCAA said Maryland was among the last few left out of the NCAA Tournament, and Aird had built a young roster loaded with potential.
And Indiana, which fired 11th-year coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan after the Hoosiers finished 1-19 in the B1G, just a game ahead of winless Rutgers — the only team it beat, in five at that — seems mired in, at best, mediocrity.
However, Indiana is not only located in the midst of what many consider highly fertile recruiting grounds, the school is building a new place for the Hoosiers to play.
“Being located in the middle of a volleyball hotbed and opening a new, state-of-the-art $17 million facility, it was important that Indiana University hire the right coach to lead our program into this exciting new era,” Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said in Indiana’s news release.
None of that was lost on Aird.
“The thing that trumped everything for me was Indiana’s commitment to the sport,” Aird said. “When it’s all said and done, when they build the volleyball arena, outside of Nebraska it will be the premiere place to play the sport in the country.
“I thought about the recruiting footprint, I thought about raising my kids in a college town — I’m obviously a Penn Stater — and Bloomington has a lot of amenities and a lot of things that are really impressive and I was excited for my family to find a place like this and raise the kids. And there’s a financial component that’s obvious and a big part of it, too.
“As far as people saying ‘They’re not very good and I can’t believe he’d leave,’ that’s the one thing that makes me smile. People are like how could you leave such a great team to go to a team that just isn’t very good, well, if I had a dollar for every person who told me not to take the Maryland job when I left Penn State … “
Aird, who won two NCAA titles as an assistant at Penn State, was 55-74 with the Terps. They were 13-19, 5-15 in the ACC, the year before he took over and Maryland made the difficult jump to the Big Ten.
Aird had B1G records of 3-17, 5-15 and 4-16 his first three seasons, before going 18-14 in 2017, 7-13 in the B1G, tied with Iowa.
“I like the challenge,” Aird said. “I thought if I worked as hard as I worked for the next five, seven, 10 years, that (Indiana) was a place that had the resources and commitment to do something special.”
Indiana last made the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and didn’t finish higher than 10th in the Big Ten since. Aird said he won’t get to Bloomington until mid-January and will access the current team then. There was just one senior on the 2017 roster from a team that went 12-20 overall.
“I do know that three years ago when I got to Maryland Indiana beat us up pretty good,” Aird said. “This year we beat them twice, on the road and at home, so I was able to close the gap on a lot of people, not only in the Big Ten but nationally as well. Not short order, but kind of methodically doing it. I don’t know a ton about their roster.”
The Terps lost just two seniors who were not starters. Aird, like any coach who changes jobs, leaves behind players he recruited and coached.
“It’s been incredibly hard. There’s the combination of shock from not just the players. I really tried to build a community there that cared about the game, from the support staff to the players to the future recruits. I was trying to build something that was sustainable for a long time and I would say this, that whoever is interested in the Maryland job is going to be taking over a program that now is a national destination for recruits. Because of the conference and because of what we were able to build, I think it will be very attractive for a lot of people and a lot of players.”
With Aird being in Toronto with family and his Maryland players scattered about for the holidays, he said it was hard to personally communicate with all of them but said that Maryland let them know before the announcement went out.
“I’ve heard from a good number of them and it’s a combination of being genuinely being upset and then being happy for my family and I,” Aird said. “These are really smart kids who understand sport and understand college athletics and I’ve always been a very transparent guy when I coach a team.”
Aird and he wife Brandy have three young children. He said he hopes to bring his Maryland staff with him, but there are a lot of variables, not the least of which is one assistant, Kristin Carpenter, is pregnant, while the wife of associate head coach Adam Hughes is also pregnant.
“But I’m hopeful our staff can stay intact,” Aird said.
Oklahoma: Gray-Walton was the AVCA national assistant coach of the year. She had been at Kentucky eight seasons, capped by the Wildcats’ tremendous 2017. While OU is in Norman, Gray-Walton was born in nearby Oklahoma City and raised in Olathe, Kansas. She played at Georgia Tech and was also an assistant at College of Charleston.
The Sooners, 7-22 this past season — 4-12 in the Big 12 — lost just one senior. Returning is VBM honorable-mention All-American outside Alyssa Enneking, who was a full third of the OU offense.
Gray-Walton’s husband, Kyle, has been the head coach at Division III Transylvania. He will likely be on staff at OU. They have a daughter. Berkley.
Mississippi State: Julie Darty, the head coach at Jacksonville University the past four years, takes over the uphill battle in Starkville. While Darty finished 18-10 overall and 12-2 in the Atlantic Sun this past season, Mississippi State was 10-23, 1-17 in the SEC. Darty has previous league experience after serving as a South Carolina assistant in 2012 and 2013.
DePaul: The school hired Marie Zidek, an assistant the past four seasons at San Diego where the Toreros had an impressive run. Zidek knows the program: She was an assistant at DePaul from 2010-12.
Tennessee Tech: The job went to Jeannette Waldo, most recently an assistant at Missouri State.
North Florida: Kristen Wright takes over as head coach for indoors and beach. She had done the same at Mira Costa College in California.