Reaction as legendary Penn State volleyball coach Russ Rose retires after 43 seasons

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Russ Rose, the winningest and greatest NCAA volleyball coach of all time, is off to smoke cigars on the beach. The Penn State legend has retired after 43 seasons at the school where his program won seven NCAA championships.

The move has been a topic of conversation in the college-volleyball world for a while, and Penn State and Rose made it official Thursday.

Rose, who turned 68 in November, compiled a record of 1,330-229, including 526-88 in the Big Ten. The last two of those seven titles came in 2013 and 2014.

From the Penn State news release:

Rose will remain in an advisory role within the athletics department. Katie Schumacher-Cawley will serve as interim head coach as Penn State opens a national search for its next head coach.
 
“While I have decided to step into retirement, it has been my pleasure to serve as the head coach of the Penn State women’s volleyball program over the last 43 seasons,” said Rose. “My time here has provided my family and me many memories and relationships that we will carry with us. I would like to thank the many players, managers and support staff for their dedication, in addition to all of the assistants who helped shape the culture and success of the program.
 
“I would also like to express my appreciation to Penn State’s administration over the years, from the President’s Office, to the Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics and multiple athletic directors and senior woman administrators who have been responsible for our program and allowed our many players over the last 43 years the opportunity to reach for the stars, both on the court and in the classroom,” continued Rose. “Also, I cannot say enough about the support of the community and the Booster Club, who have been a true blessing. I wish nothing but the best for the future of the program.”

The NCAA began fielding women’s volleyball in 1981. Penn State won its first national title in 1999. In 2007, it began a streak of four in a row, including back-to-back 38-0 seasons in 2008 and 2009, the last time a team went unbeaten.

“Winning four national championships in a row is almost unimaginable,” said Coach John Cook of Nebraska, Rose’s longtime rival and friend. “You can say I’m gonna dream big and set big goals, but to do that is just incredible.”

Penn State also lost in the 1993, 1997 and 1998 national-title matches. 

Russ Rose when the Nittany Lions played Texas in the spring 2021 NCAA Tournament/NCAA Photos

Penn State is the only program to participate in all 41 NCAA Tournaments and had a 106-34 postseason record under Rose. This season, the Nittany Lions won their NCAA opener by beating Towson in four, but then lost to host Pittsburgh in four. They finished 21-11, including 13-7 in the Big Ten.

“It’s almost hard to put into words what he’s meant to the sport,” said Salima Rockwell, a three-time All-American setter who played for Rose in the early 1990s and served as his assistant twice (2006-08, 2014-18). “He’s not just been doing it for a long time, he’s really shaped the game and given the world something to live up to.

“You talk to coaches all the time, and they want to have their teams train like Penn State trains. They want their teams to have that level of success and have that secret sauce, and he found it. What collegiate volleyball looks like is due in large part to him.”

“I think it’s a sad day for volleyball. He is a character and a great coach,” Cook said. “Our fans love it when he comes to Devaney. I think he’s the greatest coach in the history of college volleyball.”

Mentor, tireless worker

Schumacher-Cawley, a two-time All-American and a member of Penn State’s 1999 national-championship team, returned as Rose’s assistant in 2018.

“Coach has been a mentor to me and so many others over his storied career,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “He has made an unprecedented impact in the sport of women’s volleyball. He changed the landscape of women’s volleyball and has set the bar very high.  Coach has a relentless work ethic and always tried to instill that in every team he coached. He truly cares and respects every player who has ever suited up for Penn State.

“I am forever grateful to have played for him at Penn State. Having the opportunity to coach with him has been a dream come true. I will cherish our morning talks and hold these memories close to my heart. I hope that I can take the lessons learned and make them count in life and my career.”

Rose was the Big Ten coach of the year 16 times and won the conference 17 times. The next closest was the late Mike Hebert, with five titles.

“I think everyone in our league has just ridiculous respect for what Russ was able to do,” Purdue coach Dave Shondell said. “I think what he taught everybody was how to win.”

“Coach may have had the largest impact on collegiate volleyball to date, but how he impacted me was more than just volleyball,” said Nicole Fawcett, who played for Rose from 2005-08, had an illustrious pro career that included a spot on the USA national team from 2009-16, and she spent this past season as a volunteer assistant at Ohio State. “He instilled life lessons that will remain with me forever. He is the most honest man, even when it was hard to hear sometimes, true to his word and the most loyal friend. I was able to face and overcome many adversities, on and off the court, because of Coach’s teachings.

“I will miss seeing him on the sidelines but am and will be forever grateful that I was lucky enough to play for him.”

Shondell noted that Rose was tireless.

“Nobody outworked Russ Rose, and it didn’t matter who Russ was playing in our league, he was more prepared than anybody else,” Shondell said.

Another Big Ten rival, Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon, got to know Rose when McCutcheon was was an assistant with the USA national team. McCutcheon then coached the USA men to Olympics gold in 2008 and the USA women to Olympics silver in 2012.

“We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” McCutcheon said. “But we all should be especially indebted to Russ for committing his life to the sport and for the incredible amount of competitive success he had, and for shifting the needle for women’s volleyball in this country.”

Mick Haley, a former coach at Texas and USC and coach of the 2000 USA Olympics team, said that Rose’s teams always played hard.

“He had excellence as a coach, humor as a clinician, showed leadership in the profession, and had a run at Penn State that was second to none,” Haley said.

Personal touches

The list of greats who played for Rose is extensive, including two members of the USA team that won Olympics gold this past summer in Tokyo, Haleigh Washington and Micha Hancock.

“The thing that people don’t know about Coach is that he’s busiest man alive. Works his tail off and is completely focused on his team and the success of his team,” Rockwell said. “But he was never too busy for a picture with a fan, a conversation for advice from an aspiring young coach, or helping place people for jobs.

“Most of the day he’s working, working, working, but he’s also writing handwritten letters to his alumni. Handwritten. I would fight him. We had labels. He wouldn’t even let me address the labels on envelopes because he wanted to do it himself. And there are so many things over the years aside from his success and what he did on the court that has made so many people better and enriched so many lives.”

Rose has partnered with two other former coaching greats, John Dunning and Terry Liskevych, to form The Art of Coaching Volleyball. Rose and Liskevych go back to when Rose was a student at George Williams in the early 1970s.

“He’s one of the great coaches in any sport,” said Liskevych, who coached at Oregon State and the USA Olympics team. “He built the program from scratch, got it to the pinnacle of volleyball, and the most important thing is, he’s been the same since I’ve known him. And we’ve known each other for 49 years.

“He’s done it his way and has been very successful at it. And certainly one of the greatest volleyball coaches of all time.”

Dunning won five NCAA titles, two at Pacific and three at Stanford. He retired after winning it all in 2016.

“Our adventure into the world of education with The Art of Coaching has been a joy for many reasons, but certainly one of them is it’s allowed me to have more time in person with Russ than I otherwise would have,” Dunning said.

Dunning said that being with Rose at their clinics has been eye-opening.

“I’ve learned so much. It’s amazing,” Dunning said. “I realized I needed to find out more about certain aspects of coaching because he was so good at them, and I needed to be better.”

Dunning and Penn State had some epic battles.

“I knew, and my teams knew we always had to bring it,” Dunning said. “Because there was no doubt that they were. And that’s due to him. He always got his teams ready to play, and we had to bring our best. You just have to say thank you to someone for doing that, because that brings out the best in you.”

The highest standard

Kevin Hambly, now the coach at Stanford, first competed against Rose when he coached at Illinois.

“Russ has set the standard for all coaches in our sport. What he did for as long as he has is truly remarkable. We are all trying to accomplish what he has in coaching,” Hambly said.

“The thing that I took most from Russ is that he is always himself, and it is something that I know I have tried to take from him and emulate. I will miss seeing him on the road and in competition. But the sport will miss how he drove us all to be better.”

Former Nebraska coach Terry Pettit said: “I don’t think anyone will ever match Penn State’s run of four consecutive national championships. Russ did it with exceptional talent that consistently played defense as well or better than anyone else.  He leveraged that brand as well as anyone in college volleyball.”

We wrote about Rose in February 2020 when he signed a new four-year contract.

“He’s still the hardest-working guy I’ve ever been around,” said coach Steve Aird of Indiana, 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.”

Also in the story, Rose said: “I have the energy to do the job, 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.”

Rose kept a notebook and wrote in it throughout every match, even sitting calmly and adding to his notes after Penn State won championships.

“I’m putting in the first bid of $500 for his notebook,” Cook said. “I want to know what the hell he’s writing all the time.?

From the Penn State media guide: 

A 1975 graduate of the George Williams College, Rose was a member of the school’s 1974 NAIA national championship team and captain of the 1975 squad. Upon graduation, he remained at George Williams as a part-time coach, helping the women’s team to a pair of state titles and a sixth-place finish at the national level. In 1978, he earned his master’s degree from the University of Nebraska, while also serving as a defensive coach for the women’s team. While writing his thesis on volleyball statistics, he led the second team to a two-year varsity mark of 52-5.

A 2013 Penn State Honorary Alumni honoree, Rose married Lori Barberich, a former three-time All-American at Penn State, in 1986. The two are the parents of four sons, Jonathan, Michael, Christopher, and Nicholas.

Russ Rose PSU 2/25/2020
Russ Rose has retired as the winningest coach in NCAA volleyball history/Mark Selders photo

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article about coach Rose. Husker fans (among many others) owe him a debt of gratitude for his role in making our program and the Big10 what it is today. He and his great teams set the high bar that others had to meet to become great. Miss him already.

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