VBM: USC is off to a great start this season. What has the experience been like for you on the coaching side?
Jeff Nygaard: I couldn’t ask for a better starting situation for my first year of coaching. I walked into an exceptionally talented team, not to mention it is a senior-heavy team so you’re not trying to balance freshman and lack of experience. I feel like I’ve been handed the best position that I could possibly hope for. It’s better than I could even hope for.
VBM: What has it been like to play rival—and your alma mater—UCLA?
JN: You know, I think you guys caught me a little late in the game on that one because I have already been able to do a little bit of the mental transition. I’m definitely a Trojan; I’m representing SC. Also bear in mind, if I had made the transition to SC maybe 15 weeks after I graduated UCLA it probably would have been a much bigger ordeal, but 15 years after I went to UCLA seems to have blurred the lines. I really don’t read too much into that whole situation.
VBM: What is the biggest difference in coaching philosophies between the two schools?
JN: Al [Scates] has been the standard for so many years that he has actually coached a lot of the coaches that are out there, so he has been formative in a lot of ways. The difference would be more scholastically and academically in the way things are—private school versus public school. Both are great but there are definitely differences between the two.
VBM: Being from the Midwest, do you look to draw talent from that region?
JN: Well let’s be honest, Wisconsin is a hotbed for talent. Having that connection back to the motherland I feel good about going back there and walking into a gym and not being as cold as a California coach would be. And there’s nothing wrong with having a hardworking Midwestern kid on your team, that’s for sure, and we have a big one in Murphy Troy.
VBM: Has becoming a father changed the way you coach?
JN: It’s kind of funny, whenever somebody up here has a very frustrating experience or a little temper tantrum I’m just thinking: at least I don’t have to change any diapers. Being a father I have a different perspective than most people on a lot of different things coming into the gym. And it’s not so much being a father; it’s being a professional volleyball player for the last 20 years. When somebody’s frustrated I’m like, yeah, I used to do that when I was your age. But instead of beating yourself up over it why not flip the switch and look at it as, well that was pretty darn close? Forget the one or two errors you had earlier in the season because by the end of the season you are going to be absolutely crushing that, so don’t worry about it. Let it go.
VBM: Hopefully the guys can understand the perspective and experience you are able to offer them.
JN: Well, I don’t expect them to embrace it 100 percent. The reason that it’s experience is because I’ve lived it and I can say that. I’m not trying to make myself to be this soothsayer, but if I went up to a guy like Karch [Kiraly] or [Tim] Simmons they’re going to have a perspective completely different from mine simply because they have traveled that path for much longer.
VBM: Could you recount one of your best collegiate volleyball memories along with a top pro memory?
JN: Along with what Karch once said: the one you remember the most is the one that you let get away. Losing to Penn State—although I don’t specifically remember any part of that match—was a big memory. Another big memory was coming back the next year and beating Penn State in the finals and also beating Ball State, the one team that beat us my senior year, in the semi finals. That was a vindicating response for the end of my career at UCLA. Getting to the Olympics in 2004 was a pretty darn good memory too. I gotta pick just a few?
VBM: That’s seems like a pretty sufficient list.
VBM: What will it take for USC to win a National Championship?
JN: One thing that I definitely learned at UCLA is that there has never been a match that I have been a part of that I felt that if I didn’t play the way I was supposed to that I wouldn’t win. That’s not to say that the other team against me has nothing to do with it, I just know if I play as good as I possibly can I’m going to be very, very hard to beat. So do I think we have a chance at winning? Absolutely. Do I think we will win? Well, I’m a realist. There’s a reason why we play the games because we find out who is going to be the best at the right time. I think we have a better chance at it than most teams. I think we have a lot of talent in the gym. Winning early in the season is great but winning at the end of the season is better.
VBM: We will definitely be watching and curious to see how it all plays out.
JN: I’m in for the ride and it’s going to be a good one.
Originally published in March/April 2011