DawgmanRadio: Five Sets With Jim McLaughlin

Every once in a while we get a chance to sit down with a master teacher to learn their story, and this week we were lucky enough to spend some time talking with UW Volleyball Coach Jim McLaughlin. McLaughlin has done it all, from representing his country to working in Hollywood to winning national championships. Currently the No. 3 Huskies are one of only four undefeated teams left in Division-1.

In this 40-minute interview, McLaughlin breaks it all down for us - from his teaching style, to why he came to UW, to the players he’s been able to mentor, and a whole lot more.

Here are some excepts from the full interview, which can be heard below.

What attracted you to the game? - “I was in the game, I played it, and I got into coaching just to finish my degree. I thought, ‘I’m not going to do this’. I got into the movie industry and did that stuff for a while and worked for NBC for a while and then I got a phone call from a coach that said, ‘Hey, I want you to coach at Pepperdine’. I had just gotten a really good job with a sound lab in Hollywood putting sound on motion pictures, and I said, ‘I’m done with volleyball’. This coach said, ‘I’ll see you Friday’. I went home and I talked to my Mom and Dad…they said, ‘You never freaked out, you’ve always done your homework…go check it out. You never know’. And thank God I did. I went down and watched this coach train his team and I thought, ‘Wait a minute…this is different. I like this’. I got into it for no money; turned down a great job worth a lot of money.

“But I’m thankful because I got into it, and then I started to learn how to coach and how to teach. Through that you can have an impact, if you do it right, that’s not just four or five years, but an impact for 40 or 50 years. I liked that aspect of it. There were things you could teach through Volleyball that would affect their lives down the road. Then I just fell in love with it. My heart was in it. I’ve got to do this.”

Why the women’s game instead to the men’s game? - “You’re going to hate this answer, but the money. And there was…philosophically people were telling me different things. It’s become part of my philosophy: Be careful who you listen to. I tell our girls that all the time. I tell my own kids. There’s a point where we won a national championship (at USC), I was working my tail off. I’d go in early in the morning and fundraise for three hours just so we could play the season in the men’s game. We only had four-and-a-half scholarships. I was at SC; I had to get either really rich people, poor people or smart kids because I only had four-and-a-half scholarships for 14 guys. At the time I’m at SC, I’m making $27,000 or something, we won the championship. They give me a little raise, but all my money’s going to rent. I’m living in Playa del Rey down on the beach, so it was nice. Then one of the AD’s, a female AD, came in and said, ‘Mike Hebert just signed a $90,000 deal at Minnesota’. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute! He’s making three times what I’m making and I’m doing the same job - I might be working harder than he is. And I’m fundraising!’ They get 12 full scholarships.

“So the gender equity thing kicked in and the laws…I saw the writing on the wall. I thought, I’m going to get into the women’s game. I just had to know…I went to Notre Dame just for one season to see if I could coach the way I coach men. Could women do what men do? Was the psychology the same? The movements are the same, the eye work is the same, the volleyball is volleyball. It’s not gender specific. But could I coach it? I figured out, wow! Women can commit at the highest level: women work their tails off; they can be highly intellectual; women can compete. When we started measuring things and competing, women like that better than men because there were no favorites, and Jim’s very objective and women love that. I thought, ‘What the heck…I can make a lot more money doing this. I can get married, I can travel, I could have kids, and my wife wouldn’t have to work.’

“So that’s the main reason I got into this, but looking back…my younger brother’s the coach at UCSB - where I played - and it’s men’s volleyball and he’s not making what I’m making.”

Chicken or Egg: Did you bring championship volleyball to UW? Or was the environment here all along and you simply were the catalyst? - “Everybody told me not to come here. I was at Kansas State and were rolling. We beat Nebraska three times, we beat Texas five times in a row. We had a young team, but a good mentor of mine, Carl McGown - the guy I listen to the most - he said U-Dub is great academically. He got into this 20-minute talk where we were giving a lecture in New York teaching coaches the principles and laws relative to coaching. Barbara Hedges had called me and I just said no. I’m not going to U-Dub, and you guys stink. You’re last in the Pac-10 and it rains there. (McGown) taps me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, tell her to call you back’. I said, ‘I’ve got this’. He said, ‘Jim, tell her to call you back’. I said, ‘Barbara, we’re going in to give a lecture, can you call me back in 20 minutes?’ Barbara said she would call me back at 11 o’clock Eastern Time. We’re driving back, and he goes, ‘Hey! What are the top academic institutions in the country? Public?’ I said, ‘Michigan’s good. Virigina’s good, North Carolina’s good…’ He goes, ‘Stop. U-Dub’s in the mix…one of the best med schools in the world. You could get top student-athletes there. You put on the W and get things in place you could win championships’. I go, ‘Carl, wait a minute. It’s up in the Northwest…’

“Jim, you could win championships. Not one. You could win more than one championship.’ I go, ‘Really?’ He goes, ‘Go check it out’. I was on a flight at 6 am; he told all those coaches I had to go recruit a kid. I flew up here, met my wife in Kansas City. We had two daughters at the time, now we have three. Before I said to Barbara, I said, ‘Barbara, I’ve got to call Margaret, she’s got to…’

“I already talked to her. We’ve got a flight for her, you’re picking her up.”

“We came up and we’re going across the 520 and it’s a beautiful day. Margaret hits me and said,’we’re coming here.’ She had done all the homework on the schools and the environment and the people and all this. She said, ‘This is a great place to raise our family’. I said, ‘I want to make sure we can win’. I wrote down 137 things on a legal pad from little markers to white boards to erasers to everything we needed to get things in place. I just told Barbara, ‘If I can have these things, we’ll win’. She offered me a three-year contract, and I said I need four. To turn the corner…we’re not very good and we need four. She said, ‘No one…volleyball coaches…’, and I said, ‘I just telling you, I need four’. The next morning she got mad at me and said, ‘Dog gone it, I’m giving you four’. And then I came here.

“And I didn’t get a raise, but they matched my salary. But it’s Seattle. It’s a good place, and I thank God every night that we’re here. The next question everybody asks me is, ‘Why didn’t you go to UCLA or USC? They called you’. I didn’t want to go to SC or UCLA. This is a great place, and it’s a great place for my family and we can win here. This is a great institution and I love the Northwest. I don’t need to be at UCLA or SC. I already did that. The region’s growing; we’re getting more recruits from the region. The coaching’s getting better in the region. We’ve been a good model for it. And we’ve got the best crowds. We’ve led the Pac-10/Pac-12 the last nine years in attendance. It’s been unreal. We’re the only in the country that has the NFL, good NFL, the NBA will probably come back. We’ve got Major League Baseball that’s getting better. We’ve got Women’s Basketball, we’ve got Sounders - and volleyball’s important. We get huge crowds. I coached at SC, and we didn’t have that at SC. We had the number one team in the nation, we won a championship - we didn’t have big crowds. But here we do.

“So every school is unique in some way, shape or form. I just think there’s so many positives here at U-Dub.”

On his first interaction with Don James - “I came up here and I was trying to do as much homework as I could in a short period of time. I asked if I could sit down and have lunch with Don James. Everybody said no, he’s not going to sit down, he’s not going to talk to a volleyball coach. He didn’t even talk to his players much…and I said, ‘Can somebody just try? What the hell!’ A booster here tried and (James) said, ‘Yeah, tell him let’s meet in Kirkland’. We went down, and you know how football guys are. They are on the clock and I knew that. I sat down for a half-hour and we had lunch. The first question I asked him was, ‘Can this be a great job?’, and he said, ‘If you know how to teach, it can be a top-10 job. We may not have everything Texas has, but it can be a top job if you know how to teach’.

“I said, ‘What were the first things you did when you came here?’ He goes, ‘Jim, that’s an interesting question, but we weren’t as big or as strong as SC and UCLA, but we had to win some battles. So we focused on the special teams and things where you didn’t have to be big or strong. And we worked on that and we measured it. It was from that where I measure everything; what gets measured gets managed, what gets managed gets done. He had the same principle; that was part of his philosophy. He was choosy on the right things to spend time on.

“As I’m listening to him, we get done and it’s just unbelievable. This guy is amazing. At the end of 30 minutes I got up. I said, ‘Coach, I appreciate…’ and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, you gave me 30 minutes, this really helped me.’ and he goes, ‘Sit down’. We went another hour, and then we went back to his house and had three hours at his house. Then we got to play golf once a year and I just use that time to ask him…and then he’d come by and watch us practice and he’d look at the board and he’d go, ‘Every play, every day - where’d you get that?’ I said, ‘A mentor of mine…when you teach a kid, coach, how to play every play every day, the toughness comes from that. Because most people can’t go hard every play. Only two, three, four plays are going to define the thing, so you don’t know when it’s going to happen’. He goes, ‘I used to say that!’

“Then I’m over at his house, and the coolest thing was the last thing he told me. He took me downstairs and he shows me a red Corvette, convertible. I go, ‘Is that your car?’ He goes, ‘Your wife puts up with a ton in this business; you take care of her. I got my wife this, and she drives it around and she loves it’. He goes, ‘Don’t screw that up’. It was unbelievable how he said it to me. I know you’re a coach and you get into it, but don’t screw that up. Then I thought right then, this is the real deal.”

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