Brent Crouch, the former philosophy professor, has had some good volleyball jobs, the last four as head coach at Portland.
But taking over at USC is different.
“It means a lot,” Crouch said. “It means you’re playing volleyball in one of the best conferences in the country, maybe the best conference in the country. It means you’re able to do things at the highest level that you can do them, on and off the court, academically and in volleyball.”
And it’s not bad on the home front.
“My wife (Marcy) went to USC, my in-laws are in Palos Verdes and the grandkids (the Crouches have two youngs sons) are going to be around them, so it’s a dream come true, really.”
Crouch substantially elevated Portland’s place in the West Coast Conference. The Pilots were 0-27 the year before he arrived. In four seasons, he compiled a record of 55-66. In 2016, Crouch was the WCC coach of the year. This past season Portland was 15-15 overall, 6-12 in the WCC.
The USC job opened when the school announced it would not renew the contract of longtime coach Mick Haley. This past season, USC finished 25-10, tied for second in the Pac-12 at 14-6, and lost in five in the regional final at Florida.
USC announced his hiring on January 8, which happened to be his 43rd birthday.
“It’s a whirlwind, but I’ve taken over programs before,” Crouch said. “There’s more chatter around this because it’s USC and it’s a higher-profile program. In terms of the things you’ve got to do the first three or four weeks, it’s the same stuff. You have to connect with your players, connect with the recruits that are coming in, try to build your staff and so on. It feels fairly normal.”
Re-recruiting, if you will, the returning players, was of paramount importance. That’s where that doctorate in philosophy probably came in handy.
“We had a meeting and that first day we talked about trust. We talked about that if we wait to the point that we feel that we’re going to trust each other, that could be three years from now, so let’s just decide. Let’s decide to trust each other right now. That was the first meeting, all about that.”
USC’s returning roster includes All-American outside Khalia Lanier, and a handful of players who had varying roles in the team’s run to the regional final where it lost in five sets at Florida. Crouch said no one is leaving the team.
“They’ve been really welcoming,” Crouch said. “It’s really hard on them to go through a transition. It’s always hard on the players to go through that. They’re just trying to size you up and they’ve been great.”
There are five incoming freshmen, 6-foot-4 middle Abigail Hansen from Aspire, setter Ashley Humphreys of Laguna Beach, outside hitters Siena Secrist of Tstreet and Brooklyn Schirmer of Mizuno Long Beach, and libero Gabby Brown of Team Academy. What’s more, according to PrepVolleyball.com, the USC 2019 class has five of its top 50 players, including Indiana middle Madison Horin, who was on the VBM 25 Underclassmen list.
“We had a group text with all of the recruits on day one and I was on the phone with all them,” said Crouch, who has seen some of them play in tournaments, too. “I was on the phone with everyone who is coming in for three years.”
Crouch, who has worked in the USA Volleyball indoors and beach High Performance programs, is from Dallas. He was a four-year assistant at Saint Mary’s in California before taking over at Portland. Crouch, who played men’s club ball at and graduated from Texas A&M, from where he also has a master’s, has his PhD in philosophy from Oregon.
“This is way more challenging than what I was doing as a professor,” Crouch said. “When I was a professor, I was teaching classes and I was writing and there was some committee work, but this is dealing with people every day for 20 hours a week for four years.
“The impact you make is important, you have to know something about marketing, you have to know something about branding, you have to know something about statistics, you have to know something about motor learning and psychology and when I was teaching philosophy, it was philosophy.”
To help him with all those things, Crouch has hired JJ Van Niel away from Utah and Alex Dunphy from Minnesota.
Van Niel was at Utah the past three seasons, promoted to associate head coach in 2017. He has the same role at USC. He’s spent extensive time with the USA women’s national program and had tremendous success as a club coach for Coast in San Diego.
Dunphy, a USC grad, was Minnesota’s assistant director of operations and video coordinator. She was previously the director of ops for the Pepperdine men, where her father, Marv, was a legendary coach.
USC won the AIAW national title in 1976, 1977 and 1980 and the first NCAA championship in 1981 under coach Chuck Erbe. Haley won two NCAA titles, in 2002 and 2003.
“It’s a place that has won national championships and it’s a place where you can do it again,” Crouch said. “There are very few places where you can do that.”