Randy York’s N-Sider
The Terry Pettit/John Cook combination is volleyball’s version of Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne, and never will that be more compelling than Friday night when those two NCAA coaching legends gather at mid-court in the Bob Devaney Sports Center to honor the past and invent the future. A dedication ceremony to name The Devaney Center volleyball court “Terry Pettit Court” will precede the first serve of the Nebraska-Villanova match and give a season-opening sellout crowd the unique opportunity to cheer for both teams. Pettit’s daughter, Emma, is Villanova’s setter, and Coach Cook sees Friday night’s ceremony as a sign of the stars aligning for all the right reasons.
Pettit, after all, launched Nebraska’s national volleyball reputation, leading the Huskers to their first national championship in 1995. In 23 seasons at the helm of the program he built – brick by brick and season by season – the Huskers won 21 conference titles, earned 18 straight NCAA Tournament bids, made six Final Four appearances and posted 649 wins, 44 of which came in the NCAA Tournament. Pettit also coached 35 AVCA All-Americans, two AVCA National Players of the Year and three Olympians. The day before this special ceremony, made possible through the generosity of Bill and Ruth Scott, The N-Sider asked Coach Cook to help frame up another historic volleyball moment at the renovated Devaney Center, which is also the new home for Nebraska wrestling and men’s and women’s gymnastics. Read on and you'll find a little bit about a lot of things, from the impact the new Devaney Center might have on recruiting to a new and upgraded Tunnel Walk for volleyball.
Q: From an emotional standpoint, what does Friday night’s dedication mean to you, your team and your staff?
A: It’s another step in honoring the past while we’re trying to invent a new era of Nebraska volleyball. We’re officially moving into The Devaney Center after a storied history at The Coliseum, and we’re naming the new court Terry Pettit Court to continue on the tradition of great Nebraska volleyball. Moving over there is overwhelming. There are still a lot of steps. We had a walk-through today, so we'd know how to turn on the lights. It’s like building a new house, and you’re finally ready to move into it. Tomorrow night is going to be a historic night. It’s going to be history in action with a sold-out arena of more than 8,000 honoring a former coach who had the best volleyball in the state, and with his daughter playing for Villanova, the stars are really aligned on this historic night.
Q: What’s the greatest thing about Terry Pettit as a coach?
A: We always talk about dreaming big, and Terry would just never settle for allowing volleyball to be on the back burner. He came through the Title IX era, and he was innovative and creative in so many different ways. He did things to help promote the sport, and he did everything he could to move the sport ahead and help make volleyball important to this state. He worked hard with the high school coaches in building it up. I think the coolest thing he ever did was make volleyball important on the same day as football. Most universities shy away from that, but he embraced it and encouraged fans walking out of the football game at Memorial Stadium to stay and watch volleyball in the Coliseum. He'd even put signs in rest rooms promoting the match. That’s how he built volleyball in Nebraska. Innovation and creativity were probably his greatest strengths.
Q: Was Coach Pettit instrumental in picking you to succeed him?
A: Yes, and I was grateful for the opportunity to come back to Nebraska (from the Wisconsin head coaching job), and (former AD) Bill Byrne had a lot to do with that as well. It was Pettit’s idea for me to come here to be an associate head coach with him for a year before and help transition the program. We were fortunate to win a national championship that next year (2000). He wanted the best for Nebraska volleyball, and that’s what I want, too. Every decision we make takes into consideration what is best for Nebraska volleyball.
Q: What will be the greatest advantage of the new Devaney Center from the standpoint of a coach, a player and a fan?
A: It’s a beautiful arena. Every seat is a great seat. The concessions, the rests rooms, the concourse, the skyboxes, the lighting, the sound system … everything is top notch. I think the biggest winner is the Nebraska fan. There will be a whole new generation that gets to experience Nebraska volleyball. That’s one of the things we worried about – losing a generation of fans because nobody could get tickets. We’ve been sold out for more than 12 years. I think the fans and all of Husker Nation win in this deal.
Q: Your 2013 recruiting class was voted No. 1 in the nation. Isn’t this new facility going to be a big draw for top-tier players?
A: Everyone is in awe when they see this facility. Recruits are very aware that there’s no place like this in the country, so if we can get them to come and look around, I think they will make the decision that they want to play in this environment every night. It looks like a new arena. It’s very attractive and something that no one else can offer.
Q: You’ve been huddling up with the planning group for a long time. How long do you feel like you’ve been planning for this?
A: I think it’s been three or four years since we first made the decision to do this. Everyone has been great to work with, and Coach Osborne was very instrumental in all of this. There was a point where we didn’t think this was going to work because we didn’t want to lose the game day experience that we had at the Coliseum. The main thing was wanting to make sure this felt like the Coliseum for our fans. It’s interesting that Coach Pettit made the same decision when they remodeled the Coliseum to move the court to the end zone and turn it. We wanted intimacy for the fans, and I think we’ve captured that at The Devaney Center. John Ingram and Maggi Thorne and all the architects have done a great job of doubling our capacity to 8,000 fans and still maintain the intimacy of the Coliseum. Even Chancellor (Harvey) Perlman commented on how much he loved bringing the Coliseum into our new facility. We wanted to honor the past and invent the future, and I think we’ve done that.
Q: The Tunnel Walk is football’s anthem. Now that you’re going to have a Tunnel Walk that includes video and audio for the first time on Friday night, how will it weave itself into the hearts of the most loyal fans in all of women’s athletics?
A: The Tunnel Walk is famous for football. We started a Tunnel Walk for our volleyball program several years ago. We played it on the scoreboard in the Coliseum, but it was so hard to see and didn’t have much of an impact. Now we have the big video boards, and we’ve created a new version of the Tunnel Walk. It will have some of the tradition of the old Tunnel Walk, but it’s going to be a new, improved version. I think it’s going to be really exciting. I think it’s cool when you look at The Devaney now. They’ve put new siding on, and it’s a futuristic looking building now. We’re right next to Innovation Campus, where they’re going to be conducting futuristic research. It’s just all very, very symbolic of what’s going on here in The Devaney Center.
Q: In a nutshell, what do you consider to be the ultimate experience for volleyball?
A: What’s not going to change since volleyball started nearly four decades ago is what goes on between the lines. What goes on between those lines is what the fans want to experience. They want to see athletes. They want to see passion. They want to see competitiveness. They want to see great student-athletes representing the University of Nebraska because they are role models that our youth can look up to, and they will compete with their heart and soul for Nebraska. That’s what I hope the fans experience, and that’s why Nebraska volleyball has been so successful and why there is so much interest. Our fans feel a connection, and they want to be a part of that. That’s essentially what it’s always been about – those athletes between the lines competing for the University of Nebraska.
Q: Is that why this state’s Governor, Chancellor, Director of Athletics and Athletic Director Emeritus want to go to every volleyball match?
A: Sandy Gingrich, the longtime Lincoln Northeast volleyball coach, said it best: “Nebraska volleyball is a state treasure.” She coined that, and I’m going to give you another example. I was up in the Sandhills this summer at the Prairie Club near Valentine. I was having dinner and was talking to the server, who was from a small town and drove 40 miles every day to work there. I asked her where she was going to school, and she said: “I’m going to be a freshman at the University of Nebraska, and by the way, I have volleyball season tickets.” She was so excited. That is one of the biggest things in this move to The Devaney Center. We want the students to be a really important part of it. We’ve given them the opportunity and a great location, so they can play a big role. At the end of the spring, I met with a student group. There was a volleyball tournament on a Sunday, and the leaders of several student groups were there. I told them one of my big, exciting dreams is to win a big match at The Devaney and then be able to celebrate with our students on the court. That’s never happened here before, but now it is definitely possible.”
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