|City/State:||San Diego, Calif.|
|Alma Mater:||San Diego (1979)|
• 4 National Championship teams (2000, 2006, 2015, 2017)
• 6 NCAA Finals appearances
• 9 NCAA Semifinals appearances
• 18 NCAA Regional appearances in 19 years at NU
• 12 Conference Titles at NU
• 55 AVCA All-Americans at NU
• 19 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans at NU
• Nation’s best win percentage while at NU
• 721 career wins (560 at Nebraska)
• 17 top-10 final rankings since 2000
• Fifth-winningest coach in NCAA history
• AVCA Hall of Fame (2017)
• USA Volleyball All-Time Great Coach Award (2008)
• AVCA Division I National Coach of the Year (2000, 2005)
• Volleyball Magazine National Coach of the Year (2008, 2018)
• AVCA Division I Region Coach of the Year (1997, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2016)
• Big 12 Coach of the Year (2001, 2005, 2008, 2010)
• Big Ten Coach of the Year (1997, 2016, 2017)
• NACDA/USOC Collegiate Coaches Award (1997)
The philosophy of John Cook can be summarized in two simple words: Dream Big.
When John Cook took over the reins of the Nebraska volleyball program in 2000, the challenge facing him was daunting. Cook replaced one of the sport’s legendary coaches in Terry Pettit, who won 694 matches and guided the Huskers to 18 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and six national semifinals. Cook, who left an emerging power in Wisconsin to guide the tradition-rich Husker program, had his own vision for Nebraska volleyball. He saw a program that had even more potential to grow.
His goals included consistently selling out home matches at the NU Coliseum, expanding the media exposure for his program and most importantly, continuing the tradition of athletic and academic excellence started by Pettit nearly a quarter of a century earlier. His vision catapulted the program to a new phase in 2013, as the Devaney Center underwent a $20 million renovation and became the new home for Nebraska volleyball. Moving to the Devaney Center increased the capacity crowd for Nebraska volleyball matches from 4,125 at the Coliseum to nearly 8,000 in addition to 400 standing-room-only tickets. In addition, five suites that give a private and expansive view of the action were built on the south side of the building and student seating was drastically increased.
Cook’s vision is for the Huskers to remain at the forefront of college volleyball to enhance the sport at both the local and national levels. The Huskers have done just that, reaching the NCAA Semifinals in each of the last four years - with two NCAA Championships (2015 and 2017) - under Cook and leading the nation in attendance for the past five seasons. In 2017, Cook's Huskers put together one of the most remarkable seasons in school history. Despite losing three AVCA All-Americans to graduation, both assistant coaches to Division I head coaching jobs, and entering the season with eight first-year players in the program, the Huskers defied all odds to win the program's fifth national title. Nebraska dropped its first two matches of the season but went 32-2 the rest of the way, including a 19-match win streak to end the season. The Huskers avenged one of their early-season losses with a 3-1 victory over Florida in the title match in Kansas City in front of an NCAA Tournament-record crowd of 18,516.
The national title capped off a dream season for Cook that also included a Big Ten Championship, a Big Ten Coach of the Year accolade and induction to the AVCA Hall of Fame. Cook joined Russ Rose as the only coaches to win four national titles since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1998. He also became the fourth coach in NCAA history to win four national titles and the third to win four national championships at one school.
The fan support continues to be unrivaled in the sport, as the Huskers have sold out 253 consecutive regular-season matches since 2001, the longest sellout streak in NCAA women’s athletics. Since the move to the Devaney Center in 2013, the Huskers have led the nation in attendance every season, including an NCAA-record 8,210 fans per match in 2016.
Cook saw the long-range potential of building the audience across the state. He also believed Nebraska could shine by hosting the sport’s championship in the largest setting college volleyball had ever seen.
When others saw risks, Cook saw opportunities.
In 2006, Cook’s dream was realized, as Husker Nation had an opportunity to see Nebraska raise the bar in college volleyball. From record-setting, sold-out crowds at the Qwest Center Omaha, to a team that maximized its potential in winning the school’s third national title, the Huskers enjoyed a remarkable season.
The Huskers entered the 2006 campaign with many questions, as they were forced to replace three All-Americans, including AVCA National Player-of-the-Year Christina Houghtelling. With four first-year starters on the court, including freshmen at setter and middle blocker, and sky-high expectations with the NCAA Championship in Omaha for the first time, 2006 shaped up to be Cook’s toughest coaching job to date. Nebraska took on all challenges head-on, going 33-1 and becoming only the third team in NCAA history to be ranked No. 1 the entire season. The Huskers went on the road and overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Minnesota to reach the national semifinals, marking the first time that Nebraska had won a regional outside the state. That victory set the stage for a watershed moment in college volleyball. Behind sellout crowds of over 17,000, the Huskers captured the school’s third national title with victories over No. 4 UCLA and No. 2 Stanford. Four players earned AVCA All-America honors, including Sarah Pavan, who became NU’s first Honda-Broderick Cup winner.
Two years later, the NCAA Championship returned to Omaha with another Husker team taking center stage. A then-all-time NCAA attendance record of 17,430 traveled through a winter storm to witness one of the greatest matches in Nebraska’s illustrious history. After dropping the first two sets to No. 1 Penn State, Nebraska fought back, winning the next two sets to hand the Nittany Lions their only set losses of the 2008 season. Although the Huskers were unable to complete the comeback, the performance symbolized a never-say-quit attitude that fueled the team’s success. Despite losing a pair of performers to season-ending injuries, the Huskers went 31-3 and won their fifth consecutive conference title.
For the third time, the final four returned to Omaha in 2015. And once again, the Huskers made good on their goal to get to Omaha. After home losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin in October, the Huskers dialed in and did not lose a match again in 2015. In fact, only one of the Huskers’ final 16 wins went five sets, and Nebraska did not need five sets to win any NCAA Tournament match for the first time during a championship run. After opening-round wins against Harvard and Wichita State, Nebraska avenged its 2014 regional final loss to BYU by sweeping the Cougars in the Lexington (Kentucky) Regional. The Huskers then knocked off top-ranked Washington, 3-1, in the regional final to reach their destination: Omaha.
But the job wasn’t done, as the Huskers turned their goal toward winning the national title for the first time since 2006. Nebraska blew past Kansas, 3-1, in the NCAA Semifinal to set up a winner-take-all match against Texas. The inspired Huskers played their best match of the season to sweep the Longhorns. The attendance for both NU matches (17,551 against Kansas and 17,651 against Texas) set then-NCAA all-time records.
In 2016, the Huskers won the Big Ten title for the first time since 2011 and finished with a 31-3 record for the program's best winning percentage (.912) since 2008. Nebraska advanced to the NCAA Semifinals for the second straight season. Cook was rewarded for his team's season, as he was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and the AVCA North Region Coach of the Year. Nebraska's four AVCA All-Americans were their most since 2007, and Kadie Rolfzen became the 19th CoSIDA Academic All-America selection in Cook's tenure at Nebraska.
Following up on their 2017 NCAA title, the Huskers weren't expected to come close to repeating as national champions in 2018 with eight new players - five of them freshmen - and a new assistant coach and a freshman starting at setter. After hitting a rough patch in October that had the Huskers at 16-6 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten, the Huskers improved more than any other team in his tenure at Nebraska, according to Cook. NU won 13 straight matches to make it to the national championship match for the third time in four years. The seventh-seeded Huskers went down to the wire in five sets with No. 1 Stanford before falling just a few points shy of back-to-back national titles. But for the remarkable season and a fourth straight trip to the final four - a first in program history - Cook was named the national coach of the year by VolleyballMag.com.
Consistent excellence has been a hallmark of Cook’s Nebraska squads. Since taking over the program in 2000, Cook has guided the Huskers to four national titles, nine NCAA Semifinal appearances, nine Big 12 titles and three Big Ten championships. His teams have compiled a 560-76 record, owning the nation’s top winning percentages (.881) during his tenure. Cook has also excelled against ranked teams, compiling a 191-62 record. The Huskers have appeared in an NCAA Regional 24 times in the last 25 years, including 18 of 19 during Cook’s tenure.
With Cook at the helm, Nebraska has produced numerous individual honors, including five Olympians, a Honda-Broderick Cup winner, three AVCA Division I National Players of the Year, two NCAA Top Ten Award winners, two Senior CLASS Award winners, 55 AVCA All-Americans, three CoSIDA Academic All-Americans of the Year, 19 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, one Big Ten Player of the Year, six Big 12 Players of the Year and three Big 12 Co-Players of the Year. Husker volleyball players combined for 40 first-team All-Big 12 awards and 61 academic All-Big 12 certificates in Cook's tenure, while the Huskers have earned 25 All-Big Ten honors and 49 academic All-Big Ten accolades since 2011.
With 721 career wins entering the 2019 season, Cook is one of 10 active Division I head coaches and 27 all-time with 700 career wins. His .830 career winning percentage is fifth-best all-time in NCAA Division I and third among active head coaches.
Cook’s accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed, as he is a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year, earning the prestigious honor in 2000 and 2005, and a seven-time conference coach of the year, including his selection as Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016 and 2017. He is one of only four active coaches - and one of six all-time - to be a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year and was honored in 2008 by USA Volleyball, receiving its All-Time Great Coach Award. In 2017, Cook was inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame, joining Pettit as former Husker head coaches in the hall.
Cook has also been instrumental in helping to expand the program’s visibility throughout the state and the Midwest. Nebraska played a regular-season match in North Platte in 2004, and the team has played exhibition matches in Kearney, Scottsbluff, Ogallala, Wayne, Grand Island and Norfolk over the last decade. In addition, Cook’s efforts have helped Nebraska enjoy one of the most extensive multi-media packages in the country, as every match is carried live on a state-wide radio network and nearly every contest is shown either live on television or streamed live on the Internet.
“It is a reflection of Nebraska volleyball and the program, and not about one person or one player,” Cook said when accepting the AVCA Coach-of-the-Year Award in 2005. “We’re trying to be a leader in the sport. We’re trying to take risks and dream big, and fortunately I’m surrounded by a lot of people who have that vision. I’m really proud of what we’re doing to try and enhance the sport.”
Cook immediately started to create his own legacy after taking over for Pettit. In his first season at the helm, Cook was named the AVCA National Coach of the Year after guiding the Huskers to a 34-0 record and the 2000 NCAA Championship. The Huskers, who became just the second team in NCAA history to cap an undefeated season with a national title, were ranked No. 1 in the AVCA/USA Today Top 25 poll for 14 straight weeks. Greichaly Cepero earned AVCA National Player-of-the-Year honors. Three Huskers claimed AVCA All-America certificates, and five Nebraska players were named to the All-Big 12 teams. Laura Pilakowski earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, and a conference-best seven Huskers earned academic All-Big 12 recognition.
Cook also brings Olympic and championship experience to the Husker staff. As the first assistant coach with the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball team, Cook aided the United States to a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. The team’s defensive coordinator, he was also in charge of scouting and supervising the team’s flexibility, strength and conditioning programs. For his Olympic coaching experience, Cook was honored in June of 1993 at the NACDA/USOC Collegiate Coaches Recognition Awards Luncheon. He also served as the head coach of the Women’s National Volleyball Training Team in 2004.
During his first tenure at Nebraska (1989-91), the Huskers advanced to the NCAA semifinals two of the three seasons, including a runner-up finish in 1989. Nebraska went 36-0 in conference play, capturing three Big Eight Conference titles. During that time, he served as Pettit’s recruiting coordinator, chief scout and strength and conditioning coordinator. Cook was also the liaison with the academic advising center.
In the U.S. Olympic Festival competition, Cook served as head coach of the bronze medal-winning North team in 1989 and was also an assistant coach with the third-place West team in 1987. A co-founder of the San Diego Volleyball Club, Cook served as a coach with the club from 1986 to 1988. The club won two Southern California Regional Championships and finished among the final four teams twice in the USVBA Junior Olympics for girls 18 and under.
Cook also served as the head assistant coach at the University of California-San Diego from 1983 to 1984, where he aided the Tritons to an NCAA Division III national championship in 1984 and a second-place national finish in 1983. Cook’s coaching credentials also include leading Francis Parker High School in San Diego to two California state championships. During his six-year coaching stint from 1981 to 1988, he had an overall record of 162-18, including a 90-match winning streak.
A well-known speaker on volleyball skills, Cook travels around the nation participating in clinics. During his stay at Wisconsin, he served as the host of the Badger Coaching Symposium every spring.
A graduate of the University of San Diego, Cook earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1979. He completed his master’s degree in teaching and coaching effectiveness from San Diego State in 1991.
Cook and his wife Wendy, a former two-time All-America setter at San Diego State, are the parents of two children, Lauren and Taylor. Lauren was a first-team AVCA All-America setter for the Huskers in 2012 and currently serves as the Huskers' color commentator on Husker Sports Network broadcasts.