New Clemson coach Michaela Franklin: “I’m excited, I’m fired up”

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Then-Iowa associate head coach Michaela Franklin high fives right side hitter Taylin Alm (19) before their game against Penn State this past November/Brian Ray, hawkeyesports.com

Clemson last week hired Michaela Franklin as its women’s volleyball coach.

Franklin, 34, takes over a program that finished 6-26 overall in 2016, 4-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Subsequently, Clemson fired coach Hugh Hernseman after only two years.

Franklin, a standout all-around athlete from Lincoln, Neb. who played volleyball at Kansas State, was an assistant to Ray Gooden at Northern Illinois, spent four years as an assistant to Bond Shymansky at Marquette, was the head coach for one year at Wisconsin-Green Bay and then spent the last three years as a associate head coach to Shymansky at Iowa.

We caught up with Franklin on Tuesday as she returned from a recruiting trip, was getting situated on the South Carolina campus and enjoying the warm weather.

Former Iowa associate head coach Michaela Franklin/Brian Ray, hawkeyesports.com)
Former Iowa associate head coach Michaela Franklin/Brian Ray, hawkeyesports.com

VBM: What have you learned since you got the job?

Franklin: I’ve learned I’m absolutely in love with the place. It’s one of those places I keep referring to as having an elite-level atmosphere with still that kind of family dynamic, which I think is a rare combination to find. The people here have been extremely supportive and helpful. They’ve been popping into my office and saying hi and checking in and seeing how things are going.

Today is literally day two of being in the office and being around. There’s still lots to learn and things are going really well.

VBM: Having been there it always seemed like a big university with a small-town feel in the middle of nowhere.

Franklin: I don’t know if it’s in the middle of nowhere because I haven’t traveled outside of my bubble yet. But Greenville, where I’ve been flying in and out of, is about 45 minutes away and it’s a real easy drive. Atlanta is two hours and Charlotte is two hours. What’s exciting is it’s continuing to develop grow, both from the athletics standpoint and the university standpoint. The buildings they’re building makeit an exciting time for Clemson.

VBM: It’s probably been pretty exciting since they won the national football championship.

Franklin: I don’t know if you follow me on Twitter (@VBCoachFranklin). I met (football coach) Dabo (Swinney) yesterday and he was great. I went and checked out the football stadium yesterday and posted a bunch of pictures from the experience and it was something. I came from a place that obviously had a whole lot of nice things, but this is a whole ‘nother level.

VBM: What did you know about Clemson volleyball before and what you know about it now?

Franklin: I didn’t know much, honestly. I knew they compete in the ACC and that they’ve had some down years. When I came here to interview I learned that I thought there was opportunity for growth, which is why I was interested, but then when I came here for the interview and could see the vision and the changes, like at Littlejohn Coliseum, where basketball plays, and to see what football just got and seeing soccer and how they’re renovating those offices, it’s proof that they’re willing to invest in change and do things. So when I got here the opportunities for growth were confirmed and so being here it just continues to be confirmed.

And I just had my very first practice today and I was pleasantly pleased. The girls, they’re grinders and they want to work hard and they want to be pushed. That was positive. I’m excited, I’m fired up.

VBM: Is it fair to say it’s a rebuilding job?

Franklin: I think so … I think a foundation has been already set and in my vision we’re going to work on the volleyball part. We’re going to work on who are we and who are you. I call it championship behavior and first and foremost it’s being the best person you can be. Then being the best teammate, then being the best student and being the best volleyball player. We talked about that this morning and we’re going to focus a lot on the first two things, being the best person and the best teammate they can be. They’re doing well academically. The volleyball part we’re going to train, we’re going to work hard. Coming in as a new coach I’m going to have get to know them and they’re going to have to get to know me. This is a good time to work on this piece and let’s figure out who we are. We’ll work on the volleyball stuff and you work on the academics, but let’s figure out who were and grow this together.

VBM: The roster is full and there are only two seniors. General thoughts about recruiting. Are you going to add anyone for 2017?

Franklin: If I can. If they’re gonna help us I’m gonna add people. I think one of things that attracted them in hiring me was the experience of where I’m coming from. I wasn’t recruiting in a small pool. I was recruiting on a national level because it requires that of you. So obviously my natural ties are in the Midwest and trying to pull some kids down to the South where the weather is a lot better, I can tell you that (laughs).

It’s insane. I’m like sitting on the phone and sitting outside. I’m like, really, this is life now. This is a first. But I think in the grand scheme of things is I’ve been recruiting on a national level for three years now and I’ll be bringing in those connections and those ties and the most important thing is the relationships I already have in the volleyball community. And in this area you’re going to find athletes. There were already two or three athletes I was thinking about before but just couldn’t get them because they just didn’t want to come up to where it was cold.

VBM: You’ve been a head coach before, but it’s been a while. What do you draw from having been a head coach and from having been with other people, most recently with Bond?

Franklin: Oh, my gosh. All I can say is the way I’m going about this transition and some of the conversations I’ve had to have is I am so thankful that I have gone through this before as a head coach. I feel so calm and know what things to prioritize, what things to take care of right away and what things are not a big deal, where the first time everything was a big deal. Now it’s focus on this area or that area, stay in the moment, and then we’ll move on to what’s next. But I’m thankful for that experience.

Going into Green Bay as a head coach, (success) happened fairly quickly. We were 14-14 overall and 9-5 in (the Horizon League) and that was 2013 and they hadn’t done that since 2003. Then we had four players get all-conference honors, three of which I had recruited, two transfers and one freshman and the first time Green Bay had ever had a (conference) freshman of the year. It all happened really quickly. However, going into Iowa you’re going into a power-five conference that’s very well known and respected and it took time. And it was going to take time. You just can’t go in and wave your magic wand and all of a sudden it’s going to change. Not at that level. Not at this level. I learned at Iowa it takes time and there’s a process in turning it around at this level.

VBM: I assume it’s not lost on you, and it should not be lost on the volleyball world, that you’re an African-American woman getting a job as a head coach. It’s a small club. What are your thoughts about that?

Franklin: There are a couple of things. I feel like anyone in this position obviously has a serious amount of responsibility in leading the people who are involved in their program, but I also have a serious responsibility in regards to what I represent.

I understand that there aren’t many of us, I totally get that, but I’m in this to be great and I can acknowledge and recognize that there’s something unique about the situation, but I just look at it like I have a big responsibility.

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