Russ Rose was quick to point out that for the first 30-plus years of his career at Penn State, he never even had a contract.
But when the winningest NCAA Division I women’s volleyball coach of all-time enters his 42nd year in 2020, he’ll be doing it with a four-year deal.
“Having worked at Penn State a long time without a contract, having a contract doesn’t really change my approach to my commitment to Penn State or the job itself,” said Rose, who turns 67 in November. “I’ve always felt that we have a great relationship, the university and I, and I’ve always thought I could stay as long as I wanted and will stay as long as I have the passion to do the job.
“I’m still excited about the opportunity to work with the players and the players are committed to working hard and representing the university in the fashion that they do.”
Under Rose, Penn State has won seven NCAA titles, the last in when it went back-to-back in 2013-14, and has been to the NCAA Tournament 39 years in a row. This past season, the Nittany Lions finished 27-6 overall, tied for second in the Big Ten at 17-3, and lost in the NCAA regional final to eventual-champion Stanford.
“He’s still the hardest-working guy I’ve ever been around,” said Indiana coach Steve Aird, who twice served as Rose’s assistant. “And I think it’s the nature of him to want to grind and work.
“I’m happy that he gets the opportunity to do it as long as he wants to. That’s the way it should be.”
Rose is still a fixture on the recruiting circuit and also spends time teaching the sport through the Art of Coaching clinics with his partners, former Stanford coach John Dunning and former USA national team and Oregon State coach Terry Liskevych.
“I have the energy to do the job,” Rose said, “but I don’t have energy to run a marathon.
“But I didn’t have an interest in running a marathon when I was 18. I think my commitment is to do my job and represent the university and players I’m responsible for. I’m not interested in a lot of the noise and nonsense that’s around me.”
Joe Sagula, who turns 65 in April, is entering his 41st year overall and 31st at North Carolina. He and Rose have in common that they both have had knee replacements and haven’t slowed down a bit.
“Power to Russ,” Sagula said with a smile. “It’s good that he’s got that vision to keep going. I think people can be really successful for a lot longer in their life than we thought 10, 15 years ago. I’ve seen people get hired at 68 years old (football coach Mack Brown at his school, North Carolina). And others. And I see people around me who are so successful and I applaud them.
“So good for Russ.”
Sagula also pointed out “that he’s surrounded with good people and a good team, which allows you to have your energy to be a great coach.”
One of those around him is third-year assistant coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley, who played for Rose. She was on the 1999 NCAA-championship team. After graduating in 2002 she went back her hometown of Chicago and was an assistant first and then for nine years the head coach at UIC. She took the job at Penn, but after one season left for Penn State.
“I’m super excited for Coach and obviously he deserves whatever he wants,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “I’m just happy to be there working with him.”
She’s enjoyed being back.
“It’s a blast. He’s a funny guy. You laugh every day. I feel like I’m learning so much from him,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “It’s different from being a player and now a coach with him, but I feel like every day there’s something I can learn.”
One of Rose’s best friends is West Virginia coach Reed Sunahara.
“It’s great for the sport,” Sunahara said. “He’s the best out there.
“And I’m not just saying that because he’s my friend, but look at his track record. His wins, his losses, how many national championships he’s won. I think it’s incredible and I’m happy for him. He’s Penn State. He’s Mister Penn State.”
Said Dan Fisher, who has turned nearby Pittsburgh into a national power, “I think he’s been arguably the most successful college volleyball coach in our time. He’s earned it.
“Being in Pennsylvania, we have a nice little rivalry we’ve formed and I’m looking forward to playing him in the years to come.”
Coaching contracts are often four years long because that accounts for an entire recruiting class.
“There’s no question that (rival) coaches over the years have made it a point to identify that I’m older than some of the counterparts,” said Rose, who enters 2020 with a 41-year record at Penn State of 1,299-212.
“But I would just say I’ve been through a lot of coaches in the Big Ten.”
One of the B1G coaches is Adam Hughes, who just finished his second year as the Maryland head coach and his sixth year away from Penn State, where he served first as a volunteer coach and late as director of operations.
“I’m not surprised as someone who worked for him for a long time,” Hughes said. “I feel like he’s been answering these questions for literally 10 to 15 years and knowing how hard he works, I haven’t seen him slow down, and he’s been really consistent. I’m not surprised. Maybe some people are, but I’m not at all.”
Rose still enjoys most parts of the job.
“There are a lot of challenges in the industry that we’re in and there have been a lot of changes over the years, both good and bad, and I recognize that change is a part of life and I also recognize that nothing is forever,” he said.
“Every day I recognize that there are going to be parts of the day I really like and parts of the day that are a little more taxing.”
The 2020 Penn State team will have a different look after losing two star players, outside Tori Gorrell and libero Kendall White.
“Teams look different every year even though you might have some individuals coming back,” Rose said.”We’ll certainly look different but we’ll try to find a formula that gives us a chance to compete in a great conference. That’ll be the goal as it is every year.”
But the Nittany Lions return an outstanding core group, led by juniors Jonni Parker, setter Gabby Blossom, Serena Gray, and Kaitlyn Hord. An incoming class that includes Annie Cate Fitzpatrick, Macy Van Den Elzen, and Maddy Bilinovic could have an immediate impact.
Penn State also has a transfer from Rutgers, 6-foot-4 Russian junior outside Anastasiya Kudryashova.
“I’m sure he’s excited because he’s got some really good young kids and he’s recruited great,” Aird said. “And he’s been doing that for 40-plus years.”
NFL Owners take note: maybe you should focus less on the contracts and more on finding someone you want to keep around for 40+ years…