Thursday, September 20, 2012
Q&A: Aggie volleyball coach Mike Jordan
Mike Jordan is in his 15th season as head volleyball coach at New Mexico State University.
During his tenure, Jordan’s put together arguably the most consistent athletics program at the school. Holding a 324-143 career record at NMSU, Jordan’s teams have made NCAA Tournament appearances from 2003-04 and 2006-08. They opened this year ranked No. 1 in the Western Athletic Conference preseason polls and hold an 8-3 mark thus far on the season (2-0 in league play). They open their home WAC schedule this week with a Thursday match against Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m. followed by a Saturday contest versus Texas-Arlington at noon.
Earlier this week Jordan sat down to talk Aggie volleyball, where the program’s been and where it might be headed in the midst of the 2012 campaign.
Sun-News: You and your program have a good relationship with the local community. Talk about it.
Mike Jordan: “Something that stuck in my brain early on was a side-out club function. I had more than a few people tell me at a side-out club function - boosters - say ‘we love getting the know the players. We love getting to know the players.’ You could just tell it was important to them. Maybe they’re all empty nesters or whatever, right? And they’re looking for something to do. They kind of in their own way adopt some of our players. That always struck a cord with me. So we started doing little things. Instead of after a game, and a team leaves and bolts to the locker room, we stay out. Talk, say hello, meet new people. Ingratiate yourself, and they’re going to want to come back because they’ve got a connection. And, who better than 99 percent of our players, who are really fun, nice, polite, social young women? They’re easy to like. That had a big impact. Just sort of kept people coming back .... That’s important. That helped sort of build, I guess a solid core of fans that started to grow. Starting to win more helped a little bit too. But, trying to be as helpful as you can in the community, just by going to things and saying hello to people. We ask our entire program to do that, and I think it’s helped.”
SN: You’ve also had a tremendous amount of success with transfer athletes. Maybe talk about that avenue of your program. The transfer results have been outstanding.
MJ: “It’s an important aspect of our recruiting. There’s a couple things that stick out with recruiting here: New Mexico’s not a highly-populated state. A lot of schools have the suburbs and the city’s around them, that sort of thing .... there’s not a lot of volleyball players in the state of New Mexico. We don’t have a lot of traction there, we don’t have a lot of possibilities there. So you have that as part of it. I think the fact that we recruit a lot of kids. We may lose out on them, but if they liked us, if they liked the program and it doesn’t work out for them at the place they go, maybe they’ll consider us again. And that’s happened a couple times. Most of the transfers we’ve gotten, we recruited initially and it didn’t work out where they were for whatever reason, and they thought ‘hey, you know what? Maybe that’s a good option for me.’ We’ve got to use that as part of our recruiting philosophy. If there’s a good, athletic transfer out there, we’ll take a look at em’.”
SN: You’ve taken athletes and turned many into volleyball players. Is that a common philosophy, a unique philosophy?
MJ: “I think all coaches in all sports will look hard at a great athlete. A Kim Oguh, a Krystal Torres. We have to look at them. We’d be insane not too. Even if, maybe early in their careers, they don’t play very good volleyball or aren’t very skilled. We know eventually they’re going to be with time and experience. It is a big part of what we do. And a lot of those kids like that were under the radar. Kim, for instance, didn’t play club volleyball. Krystal only played one year. If they were out on the club scene, playing in big tournaments all the time, I probably wouldn’t get em’. Maybe we would, because we’re local and they want to stay home. Maybe. But, yeah, we’d have a tough time getting those kids. So we’re always looking for those diamonds in the rough. That we know we’re going to have to spend a lot of time working with. And it may be a while before we start seeing them producing. But eventually they’ll get there.”
SN: You’ve coached in three leagues - the Big West, Sun Belt and WAC. Most of the time, you guys were chasing someone in the standings. How is this year different? Is it different as the front-runner? Does it feel different?
MJ: “Even though we’re the favorite, we were picked by the coaches, I don’t think we’re that much better than the rest of the teams in the league. Where we can be just coasting. Where, if we hope we can stay healthy, we should win it. I don’t feel that way. I think there’s some good teams in the league. Anything can happen. I have a lot of respect for a lot of our opponents. The difference in talent between us and these other schools isn’t that great. It’s certainly not as great as the talent between Hawaii and the rest of us when they were in the league. You know what I’m saying? ... Plus, we haven’t won it. We were co-champs in ‘08. We haven’t won anything since then, we haven’t been to the tournament in .... three years now. There’s a lot to shoot for. And I certainly don’t feel like we can be sitting back going ‘hey, we’re the favorite.’”
SN: What do you think the ceiling is for this year’s team? What’s the potential for this particular group?
MJ: “I love our athletic ability. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in particular with ball control, passing and defense. As we get better at those things, the offense will take care of itself. We’ve got good arms. More than we’ve ever had here. We’ve got the ability to change the lineup, which we’ve done already multiple times if we need to. I do see us having the same kind of physical ability that we had in ‘08 and ‘07, ‘06 (NCAA Tournament seasons), we’ve got the same kind of athletes. We’ve just got to get better at volleyball. I think it’s a high ceiling.”
SN: It’s a new-look WAC. Who should fans be on the lookout for?
MJ: “I have a ton of respect for Debbie (Buchanen) and what she does at Idaho. They’re a veteran team and they’ve got some really good athletes. I’ve always had respect for them, Moscow’s a tough place to play. To get away with a win there, I felt fortunate almost, especially since they spanked us there last year. Utah State, Grayson (DuBose) does a great job at Utah State. They got a lot up there. They’re tall, really good athletes, they play a good system. They’re good at what they do. You know how they always used to talk about Bobby Knight’s Indiana teams were always so good at man-to-man? Everybody knew they were going to play man-to-man the whole time but they were so good at it. I feel that way about Utah State and what they do. They’re just very, very good at it. It’s why they were able to knock off Hawaii in the conference tournament the year before last. That system and the athletes they have are pretty good. I have a lot of respect for those guys. The Texas schools, UTSA and Texas State, have a lot of talent. I think they’re all pretty good.”
SN: As a competitor, as a head coach, do you miss having Hawaii around?
MJ: “I do. I do. Not just in our conference, of course, but even nationally they set the bar at a really high level. To have a program like that, that has the kind of athletes they have. The tradition they have. The support they have. I mean, so impressive. When you get an opportunity to compete with them, if you win - which we were only fortunate enough to do twice - when you get a chance to compete with somebody like that, it gives you an idea with where you’re at on the national scale. Those times where they beat the daylights out of us, we knew we weren’t very good, or we were OK. And the times we were able to either win or a lot of the times we went five games with them, then we could feel like, ‘hey, we’ve got a pretty good team here. It’s something to build on and a lot to look forward too.’ And it gave us confidence a lot of times, even if we didn’t win, as long as the scores were close and the games were tight.”
SN: You’re down 2-0 to Seattle the other night, you go into intermission. What’s said to the team there to get them on track? Obviously you guys came back to win the match.
MJ: “You hope that, before I even get in there - we typically spend a couple minutes outside the locker room just talking as a staff, trying to figure out what we want to do. Do we want to change the lineup? How do we handle this? That kind of stuff. You hope that by the time you get in there, they’ve already started to go ‘OK, this is crap. We’ve gotta get it together.’ If you’re competitive, you should. But, my message in there was pretty simple: pull your head out of your butt. And, if you do anything, don’t even thing about volleyball. Just think about competing. Get the fire in your belly to win and beat somebody. And take this personally. And understand, they’re not just going to give us points and lay down and die. We’re going to have to make plays, comeback and win.”
SN: Does the volume level of the voice rise?
MJ: “Not all the time. That one for sure. Just because I was so disappointed. I didn’t feel like we were ready to compete. That’s frustrating. And that’s when you get angry. When you get frustrated.”
SN: Different circumstances cause different reactions. That one called for some frustration.
MJ: “Lack of skill is one thing. If you’re losing to a team because you’re not doing something very well like passing or whatever, that’s something you’ve got to deal with as a coach. You gotta go make your team better, find ways to pass the ball. When it just seems like it’s a lack of competitiveness and that the other team - cliche again - but wants it more, that’s not OK.”
SN: That pushes a button.
SN: Is there anything in particular you want to see this team work on? The No. 1 thing you want to see this team get better at?
MJ: “Passing and the ball control. I don’t want any of our players to be one-dimensional. And I think there’s a lot of them that are pretty good hitters. They hit the ball well, it’s what they like to do. They need to understand that they need to get better at the rest of the game too. And, if we do that, I think we can be very good.”
SN: You’ve built a solid, consistent program at New Mexico State. Has it been hard to sustain that level of success?
MJ: “It’s been hard to get to the next level. When we started to win in ‘03, ‘04, when we won the Sun Belt titles, we beat a couple of good teams. In ‘03 we beat Santa Barbara, that was the first time we beat a ranked team. So we knew we were a pretty good team nationally. We’ve tried to do more. We’ve tried to schedule tougher the last few years, we’ve tried to take on the big boys more often. The hardest part is getting to that even next level. Where the perennial powers live. That’s the challenge of it. I think we’re a really good volleyball team, some years better than others. We’re always a top-50, -60 caliber team, I think. We can play at that level. But to play with the top-25 teams on a consistent basis is the challenge. And, so, being where we are, I think the way we’re doing things, I think we can stay where we’re at. That challenge is there to try and do more. And that’s what kind of motivates us all the time.”
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