A look back on Mike Hebert’s Career
CVT Staff CollegeVolleyballTalk.com
Here we are in day 27 of the Minnesota coaching search and we know about as much now as we did day 1. So rather than focusing on what we don’t know, let’s focus on what we do know; Mike Hebert just wrapped up one of the most unbelievable coaching careers in this sport’s history.
While he sits next to Dan Marino and Reggie Miller on the no championship bench after falling short in 2004 in his only title game, that may be the only blemish on Hebert’s record. Two losing seasons in 37 tries is an astonishing feat. Five Big Ten titles and only finishing below fourth five times in 27 Big Ten seasons is remarkable. National Championships cannot define what Hebert did for not only Minnesota or Illinois, but for the sport as a whole.
Prior to his arrival, the Big Ten, and half of the country for that matter, had been almost an afterthought. No team East of the Mississippi had been to a Final Four or reached the top of the polls until Hebert’s Illini. Most give the credit of bringing volleyball relevance to the Big Ten and beyond to Russ Rose and his Penn State teams, but it was Illinois, under Hebert’s direction, that reached the Final Four and the top of the polls first in 1988.
As it stands now, the Big Ten is unarguably one of the top three conferences in the country, arguably the best. When Hebert joined the conference in 1983, the sport was heavily dominated by the West Coast and largely by Hebert’s native land, Southern California. With the support of the Illinois administration, Hebert started to tilt the axis of the sport and bring some interest to the other side of the Mississippi.
Even after the sport had grown to the point it has in the last 5-10 years where the talent pool and coaching level has escalated with it, Hebert still remained at the top of the curve. In fact, some would argue these have been his best years with his Gophers finishing in the top 3 in the Big Ten each of the last nine years.
Looking past the contributions Hebert gave to the trophy cases in Champaign and Minneapolis, you can really look at the contributions he gave to the game of volleyball. In his brief stint as AVCA president from 1985-’88, Hebert was able to expand the presence of the association by converting the Collegiate Volleyball Coaches Association into what it is today, the AVCA which includes all coaches, not just those in the college ranks. Also while at the helm of the AVCA, Hebert aided the shift away from West Coast dominance by regionalizing the tournaments and keeping those California teams that had been previously spread across the country on the West Coast.
One more major contribution he gave to the game was the passion to coach. Fifteen of his former players or assistants have since gone on to become head coaches in the college ranks, not to mention the many more that have been or are assistants. From when he entered the game in 1976 where there was very little enthusiasm for the game itself, not to mention coaching it, to where the game and excitement to coach are today, a lot has changed and there is no doubt Mike Hebert had a good part in that.
So as the twin city faithful worry about the fate of their elite program, we can all take a step back and enjoy the tremendous career of the man that took that program to its elite status.