Q&A with Texas’ Jerritt Elliott

Ed Chan
Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott hugs the 2012 squad's lone senior Sha'Dare McNeal after they won the national title.

Jerritt Elliott starts his 13th season at the University of Texas as the defending national champion. The Longhorns beat Oregon in the final match this past December 15 to win the 2012 NCAA crown.
Texas had previously won the 1981 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national title and the NCAA title in 1988.

From the Volleyball magazine story that night in Louisville:

They weren’t exactly the Chicago Cubs, waiting since 1908 to win another World Series, but in volleyball terms, considering the national-semifinals loss in 2008, the 15-13 ending in the fifth set to Penn State in 2009 and another semifinal defeat in 2010, finally celebrating at season’s end after 24 years—before any of these championship team members were born—was pretty special for these Longhorns.

Volleyball’s Lee Feinswog caught up with Elliott last weekend in Dallas at the Lone Star Classic club tournament, where Elliott was not only recruiting but also coaching his Longhorns in a spring tournament.

VBM: So upon reflection, winning the national championship. What did it mean?

Elliott: The first thing I remember is how long it took to sink in. It took some time to sit back and get through all the hoopla and all the celebrations and to just reflect on how we got there and how hard it was to build the program with the players we had and all the players who had an influence to get this team together. For me it was just an amazing opportunity.

I think it was 70 or 80 percent excitement and 20 percent relief. Because in Texas that’s what they expect and we’d been knocking on the door for so long. It was just so nice to see our team and how they’ve handled it and the influence on the university. The impact has been tremendous.

VBM: You’re not a giddy, go-nuts kind of guy, and I thought the night you won you seemed to be just soaking it all in and measuring everything. But did you ever have that moment?

Elliott: Actually the day of the match I got a little emotional. I just knew that we had an opportunity to win it and I started thinking about what happens if we won? And I got pretty emotional. But in the match, my biggest joy as a coach is watching the players’ faces and body language when good things happen.

So I really wanted to embrace that. I took a long look down the bench, I think I took a walk down the bench and enjoyed watching their posture when they were getting ready to do the dogpile.

We had talked about being in that moment when you know you’re going to win. And at the end of that game when Bailey [Webster] had the big stuff block and [Haley] Eckerman had a big swing and Sha’Dare [McNeal] hit that slide, you knew you were not going to give that up. To watch those last five or six points was pretty special.

VBM: Did it change you at all?

Elliott: It’s allowed me to be a little, well, it’s taken some pressure off me. I want that pressure on me. It’s why we coach and we want to have these opportunities. I’ve always been in it to be a teacher and to help these girls grow, on and off the floor. So if you try to coach and only play for the wins and losses, you’re in it for the wrong reason. That’s the biggest thing I keep reflecting on, in terms of how cool this was for our players. And also our alumni and what that meant to them, and to the state of Texas. It’s been huge. They’re still reflecting on it and still coming up and talking to us about it and it’s nice.

VBM: Any interesting reactions from Texas fans or old coaches or people we might not know about or expect?

Elliott: I was shocked. We did a thing before the Baylor basketball game and had a get-together. I was expecting maybe 50 people to show up and we packed the room with 300 people at least. Everybody came out and everybody wanted things signed and they gave us some cool memorabilia. The greatest thing was getting emails from some of the alumni. That was very meaningful for me.

VBM: It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. How do you look for next season? You’re finishing up the spring season and how do you look for next year?

Elliott: That’s the million-dollar question. I’m trying to do a lot of reading in terms of coaches who have been through this before. The “disease of ease” can be very easy to come by when you win. We’re trying to understand that we’re not trying to defend anything. That was last year. Now we have a new opportunity and we know that that Penn State and Stanford and other schools out there that are just as, if not more, talented than us. Our work ethic and drive has to be there. We’ve had a lot of team meetings and re-focused and gathered information, evaluated every aspect of my program so that we can learn from them and get back on track. Now we’ve set new goals and standards and are working really hard in the weight room and getting stronger to get back to that point.

VBM: You recruit so many years ahead, but did it have any positive affect on recruiting, perhaps just in an awareness sense?

Elliott: I don’t know. The last couple of years we’ve been pretty hot in getting kids to look at us. We’ve never had a problem in getting kids to look at us. So I don’t know how that translates into us having more success. Our freshman class, they come in and win a national championship and think how easy it is and they don’t understand the hard work that it takes. Trying to get them to a new level is important.

The recruiting part I hate is how early these kids are committing. For the first time in my career we’re getting pressure from ninth graders to make decisions. It’s kind of where our sport is going and we’ve got a big class that we’ve got to fill and trying to make the right decisions and trying to see which kids are capable is a kind of scary path from where I sit. I’m trying to be patient and not get caught up in the hardest thing that we do.

VBM: Favorite barbecue place in Austin?

Elliott: When I got there [in 2001] one of the first places I went to was the Salt Lick. And I was so excited to go I ate about four times as much as I should have. So I’ve had a bad barbecue hangover my entire time there. That’s why I don’t eat barbecue unless it’s a team meal where I have to eat some. I’m more sushi and Mexican food.

VBM: All right, favorite Mexican place in Austin?

Elliott: La Condesa is excellent and my favorite sushi place is Uchi.

VBM: Thanks.

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