If there is a Godfather of college volleyball, it would be Carl McGown. Carl coached the BYU men's volleyball team for 13 years between 1989 and 2002 where he led the team to two national championships (1999 and 2001), twice earned National Coach of the Year honors, and compiled a 225-137 record. He led the Cougars to nine top-10 finishes in his 13 years and coached 18 different All-Americans. McGown served the national team in many different capacities, from head coach to technical advisor. He coached in seven different Olympic games.
“Carl was a coaching icon in the volleyball community and was recognized worldwide as one of the very best teachers, strategist, and innovators the sport has ever known,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “He guided our fledgling men’s program from a club team to national prominence in the NCAA. Along the way he had a profound impact on the lives of many student-athletes." Carl passed away in 2016 at the age of 79.
“Carl McGown was one of the great volleyball minds in the history of the sport,” BYU men’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead said. “His ability to analyze the game and his team’s training from a unique perspective was why coaches from around the world knocked on his door. Carl loved volleyball and he loved learning. Playing for Carl was a dream come true. He pushed us and coached us as only Carl could. He loved each one of his players through the good and bad times. The greatest life lessons I learned were with Carl away from the court. He had that kind of impact on everyone who played for him.”
Carl's son, Chris, is very much involved in the world of volleyball today, primarily through Gold Medal Squared. I always felt GMS was a kindred spirit of mine. At one time, their website included a page of book recommendations. Their book recommendations looked like a replica of my personal library. In one of Chris' clinics, I heard him pass along a piece of wisdom from his father. His father had once said, he wished all coaches could experience a 2-27 season.
To unpack this idea, Chris talked about the concept of time. Time is one of the five major coaching decisions a coach must make. What do I do today? How are we going to spend our time? Time is the currency of coaches. Chris talked about the idea of opportunity cost. If we spend time here, then we cannot spend it there. When the margins between winning and losing are thin, how you spend your practice time becomes crucial. Chris then shared a story from his father.
Remember, Carl led BYU in the transition from club team to NCAA competition. McGown and BYU began NCAA competition in 1990 after the club team won three national club titles and finished second in 1986 and 1989. The team was the best blocking team in NCAA men's volleyball in 1990. But they finished 5-22. So in 1991, they renewed their focus. We need to block more balls, the staff said. We need to be better at blocking this next year. So, in 1991, BYU again led the nation in blocking. They finished the season 2-27.
Finally, Carl realized that they can't emphasize blocking so much because there are other skills that are more important. They were the best blocking team in the nation and it led to a 2-27 finish. It took a 2-27 season to get the wise coach to reevaluate how they spent their practice time. Years later, Carl would speak at a coaching clinic and tell other volleyball coaches, "I wish upon all of you a 2-27 season." That always shocked the crowd, but then Carl would explain. "If you go 2-27," he said, "you will do anything to not go 2-27 again."
It took a 2-27 record for Carl to realize they were spending too much time on a skill that did not equate to more wins. Perhaps it takes a 2-27 record to realize you need to communicate better with your players. Maybe it takes a 2-27 record to realize that your system is now out-dated because the game has changed rapidly. Whatever the case, Carl McGown- known throughout his sport for his ability to analyze the game- wishes upon you a 2-27 season. Maybe that's what it takes before you will finally reevaluate and consider changes.
Last Chance U is, simultaneously, one of the worst things on television and one of the best things Netflix has produced. It's a train wreck. The show could provide fodder for numerous blog posts. You could watch seasons 1-4 to know what not to do as a coach. The featured coach in seasons 3 and 4, closes out the last episode of season four by saying, "I ain't ever gonna change. I'm too old school." Ironically, this quote comes after a dismal 2-8 season which included his parting ways with the school over allegations of verbal abuse. In spite of all this, he still says that he is never going to change. That's a fixed mindset. Perhaps the rest of us can embrace a growth mindset. Carl McGown was the epitome of growth mindset long before Carol Dweck's book became popular. Carl endured a 2-27 and found ways to change and grow the program. It led to the development of national championship teams and what remains today as one of the elite men's volleyball programs in the country.