Nearly three weeks ago, Russ Rose retired after 43 seasons as head coach of the Penn State women’s volleyball program, announcing the news on December 23.
Rose finished his coaching career as the NCAA’s all-time wins leader with a 1,330-229 record and guided the Nittany Lions to seven national championships. After a busy 2021 that featured two seasons, Rose decided it was time to step into the next phase of his life.
Rose kindly took the time to answer a few questions over the phone Tuesday evening, discussing a variety of topics, including Katie Schumacher-Cawley’s promotion, Salima Rockwell’s first head coaching job at Notre Dame, his recollections of the 2007-10 championship run, and more. Check out the full transcript from Rose’s interview below.
First off, I wanted to ask you your thoughts on Katie being hired. How pleased are you for her to get that opportunity?
“I’m thrilled that a number of our former players are electing to take positions in coaching. Certainly, Katie at Penn State and Salima [Rockwell] at Notre Dame and Nic Fawcett at Ohio State, as well as two or three other players over the last couple of weeks who are changing positions and doing things in the game. I think it’s a great indication that they had good experiences and want to continue in the industry. I think that’s a source of pride for me and others who have been involved in the program for a long time.”
What do you recall about Katie as a player? What qualities do you particularly admire about her as a coach?
“I think probably things that I think of are she always had an incredibly strong arm and loved to attack, went hard every day, and was an individual who cared about the team, was focused on what was best for the team, and not necessarily what was best for her as an individual player. I admire the fact that Katie as a player was committed to the team and was a key contributor to the team’s success, and as a coach understands the various roles that each player needs to embrace for the group to succeed.”
When did you decide to retire? What made this the right time to step away?
“I had been thinking about it. You know, I’m 68, so I didn’t feel like it was premature. I think the COVID year with two seasons in one year, as well as some other factors that just kind of coincided at the same time. I don’t really like the shift that I’m seeing in the game where players can just opt to say, ‘Well, I want to go in the portal. I want to go somewhere else and be happy or I want to go somewhere and win a championship,’ as if it’s that easy to just make that move.
My principles were always about the team first. Everybody mattered, but it was the team first, and the goal was to be the best we could be as players and as a team. I just thought, you know, it was a shift that I wasn’t really comfortable with endorsing, but I have terrific memories of all the players and teams, not necessarily the wins. I look at it as, success was a byproduct of all of the things we were doing.
I know I never lied to any of the players in 43 years as their coach. I get it that sometimes people don’t like what they hear, but our best teams were made up of people who always cared about the name on the front of their uniform and not asking if they could put their name on the back.”
Did you have a chance to provide your input during the hiring process?
“I spoke with Sandy [Barbour] and Lauren [Rhodes] and the search firm on maybe the initial call, and then after that, I wasn’t involved at all.”
What was it like hearing from so many people in the volleyball community and elsewhere when the news was announced?
“Obviously, it’s heartwarming in a lot of ways. I’m sure a lot of people don’t experience something like that unless they pass away, and then everybody has the opportunity to comment on the impact that you made and the experience they had and how they’ve been able to transfer things that they experienced to life lessons, which is always something I wanted to identify is that the goal was always to win. There was never a time where I would say, ‘Oh, let’s just have some fun out there.’ I thought it was up to the players to have fun, but it was up to me to set the expectations and the bar for what should be happening in our program.
I’m still hearing from a lot of people. It’s embarrassing to a certain extent, because I never wanted it to be about me. I always wanted it to be about the team. I always wanted it to be about the players. I knew that, if anything, I was a common denominator over the last 43 years. I never served a ball or hit a ball in a game that impacted the outcome, but I know from how many messages I’m getting from people and how many of our players are still involved in the game that their experience was a positive one.”
What are your plans for retirement?
“I think I’ll just take a little time off right now and watch from the sideline. Like I said, I’m not a fan of the transfer portal. NIL has some shaping to go through. I think I’ll take some time off, and if I get the itch to get back in, I’ll look for the coaches’ portal and find a job where I can be happy.”
What kind of contributions do you see yourself making to the athletic department in that advisory role discussed in the press release?
“That will be up to Sandy what she would like me to do. I have some thoughts on what I would like to do, but she’s the one who will decide what use I might be able to provide, and we’ll go from there.”
Are you planning to be at Rec Hall for Katie’s first match as head coach?
“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t plan on it. If I had to be at Katie’s, I couldn’t be at Salima’s, and Jesse Tupac just got the job at North Dakota. [It will be] their first matches in their new jobs. That’s like asking somebody, ‘Who’s your best player? Who’s your favorite child?’
I’ll try not to make any plans to be specific, but as always, I’m a phone call away. I heard from Lima today and I heard from Katie today and I heard from Abby Detering today. I’ve heard from a lot of our people who are still asking me my opinion on things, but no, I’m not going to schedule something in my calendar to be there. I’ve seen enough matches in Rec Hall that I don’t need to see one more.”
What do you enjoy most about playing golf? What would be your dream foursome?
“I enjoy playing golf. I don’t know if I could pick a foursome. I like to play and we’ll see if I get better in retirement or if my game remains as it is. I know there’s a correlation between practicing and performance, just from my previous lifestyle, but I’ve never really taken to practicing golf, because I like to play. I guess, if I start practicing, then I’ll probably care about how I perform, so that might not bring me as much satisfaction, but we’ll see. I’m not picking a foursome. I like playing alone a lot as well.”
Do you think you would enjoy being a volleyball analyst?
“I don’t think the compensation would be worth the preparation, you know? You get paid by the game, but you have to go the day before, you have the game, and then you travel the next day, so it’s three days’ work for one game, and there’s a lot of preparation. I’m not thinking that’s something I want to do. I turn the sound off on a lot of matches as it is already.”
Do you plan on heading overseas to watch any of your former players compete?
“I don’t know. We’ll see if we have any players in Paris at the next Olympics. I might have time. My wife loves to travel, so it might be a great opportunity for that. I spent the last 43 years worrying about other people’s children, so my kids are all older now, but I certainly feel that I need to pay closer attention to my wife and family and see if I can provide anything in their lives having missed everything previously.”
What was it like getting to know so many players and their families through the recruiting process and seeing them develop before graduation and into their careers?
“To me, it’s always been about the individuals. I always thought it was a privilege to be a college athlete. There’s a paradigm shift right now where it’s like the players themselves have more power than in their families. I like the individuals who make a commitment and honor a commitment. Again, we base things on loyalty and trust and the people who were committed to what our goals were and the pathways that we were going to take to try and achieve those goals, that’s what it was about.
When you were fortunate enough to actually win, or in our case, win conference championships and national championships, that, of course, was a great bonus, but the goal every time is to try and get the individuals to understand how life works, and it doesn’t revolve around them. There are so many great stories of players who committed to the team more than themselves. That’s what I believed in. I think that’s what most coaches believe in is they have a vision for what it should look like and they spend an awful lot of their time dealing with the perception that other people, all of a sudden, have.”
What stands out to you about the 2007-10 championship run given the chance to finally reflect and not be preparing for next season?
“I haven’t thought about that since we were in that, because I’ve always looked forward versus back, but I know it was an incredible collection of players and staff and we had a university that was committed to giving us every opportunity to be the best we could be. I know there were three players who won four national championships, and that’s going to be a record that’s tough to beat, but each team had its own story and personality, even though a number of the same players were involved or same staff members or the AD and president were all the same.
It still was various chapters in a book. You have to start the season, you have your preseason, then you have your conference play, and then you have the NCAAs, so I always look at the season in three ways. I was responsible for the preseason scheduling, the Big Ten was responsible for the Big Ten scheduling, and that changed significantly when it went from 11 teams and now up to 14 teams, because the unbalanced schedule I think always has a big impact in the final standings in the conference. The NCAA puts the bracket together and you have a dream of winning six matches in a row.
I have a great appreciation and respect for all the teams that we played and the stretch that we had where we won the championships, but I think those players would say the same thing, that every year we were talking about that year. If I were talking about last year, it would be talking about players and the evaluations that I had when I met with them about things that I thought they needed to get better at to help the team and, in some cases, prepare them if they wanted to play beyond college.
As far as not preparing for the upcoming season, I’m still on the email list, so I’m getting all the emails from all the recruits and I’m sending them on to Katie. I’m still doing a number of things to try and assist her in her preparation until she gets a staff lined up for herself.”
What do you remember most fondly about your time at Penn State and the relationships you were able to form?
“When you look at 43 years, I don’t think you can really put it into words. When I started, we had three in-state scholarships, no assistant coach, no volleyballs, no uniforms, so there was a total opportunity to alter the landscape and the future for the program. And yet, when I started when I was 25 years old, I was fortunate enough to share an office with Rich Lorenzo and Tom Tait and for a little bit Chuck Medlar and then Shorty Stoner, so I was fortunate enough to have a lot of veteran coaches at Penn State who could give me good guidance on how to navigate Penn State, as well as just kind of learn lessons about being a head coach.
When we look at Salima and Katie and identify, at least, in Salima’s case, it’s her first time being a head coach, it doesn’t mean that people don’t pick up lessons along the way, and you pick up lessons after you start working in that position. I could write a number of books. I’m not sure that I’m going to do that, just because what I might find funny, other people might not find so funny. I would just say that it was a terrific experience.
The coaches who I interacted with, the staff members who shared the vision for what Penn State volleyball was about, the players who listened to what was being said in the recruiting process and then honored their word, those are the stories that I’ll most keep in mind when I look back on the time. And the fact that I came in and my contract was I was two-thirds teaching and one-third coaching.
When I retired from my coaching position, I also retired after 43 years of teaching at Penn State. I also had lots of good mentors and opportunities to interact with young people in a different scenario, instead of just saying it was the coach-player relationship. Even in this last year, I had some people say that the class that I taught in the fall was the best class they had taken up to that point, so I just take great joy in knowing that.
You can’t reach everybody. I’m not naïve to think that’s the case, and that was never my goal. My goal was to be me and I appreciated Penn State letting me be who I was. I thought we had a really fine product. I wish Katie the best and will be available to help her in any way I can.”