Tom Black on move from LMU to Georgia: ‘Incredible potential here’

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Tom Black coaches during a USA women's national team scrimmage/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

By all accounts, Georgia came up big when it hired Tom Black just before Christmas.

Black, 43, not only had strong runs at UC San Diego and for the past seven seasons at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, he was an assistant to Karch Kiraly on the USA national team in the last Olympiad, culminating with the women winning bronze in Rio.

The former star player for UC San Diego is 242-115 in 12 years as a head coach, 127-86 at LMU.

But he takes over a program that went 18-43 the past two years, 1-35 in the Southeastern Conference.

Black finally has his family — wife Crystal, a former volleyball player herself, and two children, 4-year-old Kylin and 10-month-old Emerson — settled into Athens. He also brought his assistants from LMU with him, Aaron Benning and Felicia Arriola.

We caught up with Black on Thursday morning.

LMU head coach Tom Black watches during 2016 Big West competition/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Tom Black as the coach of Loyola Marymount/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

VBM: What about the job attracted you?

Black: I thought there was incredible potential here for Georgia and in the SEC. Georgia’s got an amazing campus and there’s a lot amount of school pride for Georgia throughout the state and it’s right near Atlanta, which is a real good junior volleyball hotbed. The resources and national recognition added up to a pretty incredible opportunity.

VBM: Obviously there’s been a drought there and you’ve got an uphill battle to begin with.

Black: I think the school’s capable of doing really, really well. I didn’t think the past performance indicated what the potential was at this place or I wouldn’t have left. There’s a lot of potential.

VBM: Speaking of leaving, you got everyone’s attention when you did and went all the way across the country. Things were good at Loyola Marymount and you were involved with the Olympic program. This makes that hard to do, I assume.

Black: Yeah, I had already told Karch the travel was a little too extensive for having two young daughters. I wasn’t planning on doing it this quad. It was the right decision. It was a great experience and I learned a ton, but it eats at you when you’re away from your family for extensive periods. It just felt like the right decision.

VBM: It’s always hard when you leave a place, and you’d done well and I’m sure you were fond of your team and players.

Black: It’s super hard. The day I got hired the day was almost all making phone calls on the Georgia end and the next day was all telling everyone at LMU. That was a brutal day. There’s no way around it, it’s really hard. You’ve got deep relationships and it’s not only that, it’s a huge shock. They don’t see it coming so you have to walk it through and you have to do it 20 times. It’s a real hard process on that end.

VBM: Culturally it’s such a different move to go from southern California to the Deep South. Coaches tend to get typecast, like he’s a West Coast guy or whatever, and volleyball is volleyball, but it is different.

USA Assistant coach Tom Black works with the setters in preparations for the 2016 Olympics/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
USA assistant coach Tom Black works with the setters in preparations for the 2016 Olympics/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Black: That’s one thing being with USA kind of shattered for me. Maybe before the USA experience that I would have thought this was more of a big deal but after traveling throughout the world this doesn’t have as much of an impact on me in terms of getting to know people and what they’re about. There are definitely cultural differences from Georgia to California but I’m excited to learn those and you always grow from those. I’m excited to learn more about the South. People have been amazing and it’s a good deal.

VBM: Tell me about the Georgia team you inherited and what recruiting looks like.

Black: The coaching staff before put together a really strong class for 2017 with the two kids who are committed, T’ara Ceasar (Panama City, Fla./Mosley HS) and Kendall Glower (Phoenix/Desert Vista HS), and we’re looking for one more. Hopefully we’ll get that wrapped up soon. If we get that together we’ll have a really strong ’17 class. The ’18 class has been our main focus the past couple of weeks. There were Georgia commits and there were commits we had at LMU and there were other kids, so we’re trying to get that all organized. There’s been a high level of interest like we expected. We’re starting to get people on campus. I really think with Georgia it’s about streaming more attention to it. I think everyone knows about Georgia but they haven’t thought about it in terms of volleyball.If you get volleyball players to think about it more they get really excited. It’s an amazing place.

VBM: Timing, of course, is the key to life. I can’t be the only person to think it and/or ask you, but as soon as John Dunning retired I thought, well, Tom’s already gone to Georgia and had he not, he might be in the mix at Stanford.

Black: That’s a game you could play all the time. The job at Stanford is an incredible opportunity and they’re going to get a great coach. But I’m super fired up to be here. It’s an awesome opportunity and I think we’re going to grow it and make it really special and that’s where we’re focusing.

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