Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Thank John Cook's Wife for Making Nebraska Home

By Randy York

On Monday, football triggered John Cook's supreme attention level. A “teamwork makes the dream work” kind of leader, Cook watched Scott Frost coach the only unbeaten 2017-2018 Division 1 college football team in America.

With Frost at the helm of a Central Florida team that upset SEC power Auburn, 34-27, in Atlanta’s Peach Bowl, Nebraska’s 1997 national championship quarterback capitalized on one more enormous opportunity before returning to Lincoln to take care of business.

“I feel like Nebraska football won a bowl game today,” Cook told me Monday, joining a chorus of Husker fans throughout the country.

In Cook’s mind, big hits are crucial to national titles, even if the ones delivering the points are wearing shorts like Nebraska when the Huskers upset Penn State and outclassed Florida two weekends ago in Kansas City.

Cook started playing volleyball in his senior year of college when his family moved to Mission Beach, Calif. He punted basketball for beach volleyball and the simultaneous opportunity to coach football.

That unique combination worked wonders. Volleyball became a throw-down, knockdown kind of sport for Cook, who immediately embraced a steady barrage of physical spikes, amazing blocks and devastating digs.

Cook Has Coached Four National Championship Volleyball Teams

Small wonder why Cook has coached four national championship volleyball teams at Nebraska and still connects intensely with Tom Osborne, who became a central figure for Cook when the Hall of Fame football coach became Nebraska’s director of athletics.

Let the record show, however, that Wendy Cook, John’s wife, played the most pivotal role in his stellar career. She became a critical voice in her husband’s decision to make Lincoln home.

I figured that out reading “Dream Like a Champion,” written by Cook and Brandon Vogel. Page 11 was a favorite because it showcased the essence of why Cook wins B1G even when he loses three All-Americans.

Cook intrigues me. In 1990, he was considering two head coaching offers after serving as an assistant coach for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. One was Arizona in Tucson and the other was Wisconsin in Madison.

Cook and his wife made two visits to Tucson. After getting wined and dined, he was ready to call Arizona and tell the athletic director to draft a contract.

“Okay, we’re taking the Arizona job,” Cook remembers telling his wife. “It’s six hours to San Diego by car and only an hour-long flight. All of our family is out here, and it’s warm.”

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, Nebraska Volleyball Coach John Cook, NU Athletic Director Bill Moos.

Cook’s Sales Pitch to Move to Arizona Fell on Wife’s Deaf Ears

The Wildcats were poised for a quick turnaround. “I knew it,” Cook said. “In my sales pitch to Wendy, I told her that whoever took the Arizona job would win a coach-of-the-year award within five years.”

Cook's comments were much different than Wendy, who had fallen in love with the more traditional college-town life she had experienced when her husband was Nebraska’s assistant coach under Terry Pettit.

“You’re taking the Wisconsin job,” Wendy told her husband. “I’m not raising our kids out here in the cactus and the sand. I want a two-story house and a big lawn with a tree on it.”

That was persuasive enough, and the rest is history for Cook, who became Nebraska’s head coach when Pettit decided to retire and move into motivational opportunities to help coaches build championship programs.

Osborne Praises Cook’s Relentless Quest for Team Chemistry

Two legendary coaches had a profound impact on John Cook’s values and approach.

U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Head Coach Karch Kiraly raves about Cook. “Great coaches and teachers relentlessly strive for learning and improvement – in their people, in their teams, and in themselves,” he said. “John Cook’s story is permeated with that pursuit. What an innovator! If you crave the ‘better,’ you’d better read this book.”

Tom Osborne had rave reviews of his own. “John Cook has accomplished nearly everything a volleyball coach can achieve,” Osborne said. “He has done this not by focusing just on recruiting great players or the physical skills of his players. In ‘Dream Like a Champion,’ John reveals his relentless quest for better team chemistry, improving communication skills, proper goal setting, and attention to detail – which together result in peak performance.”

Talk about an endorsement from a Hall of Fame head coach, a University of Nebraska athletic director and a U.S. Congressman in one fell swoop. Osborne’s 1-2-3 shows how simple life can be in search of excellence – the same kind of belief he has in  returning to his alma mater.

“Courage is the word that comes to mind when I think of John Cook,” said Larry Widman, co-founder of Performance Mountain. “Over the years, I’ve seen John continually show courage, but never more than when he acknowledged his need to reinvent himself and to be open to others. It’s one of the most courageous things I’ve seen done by a coach, or by anyone, really, in all my years as a sports psychiatrist.”

Fellow legend Pettit, who was Nebraska’s volleyball coach from 1977 to 1999 before Cook arrived, has a keen sense of Nebraska history. “The thing that strikes me most about John Cook is the amount of thought and energy he gives to every possible detail in coaching,” Pettit said.

Former Navy SEAL: Cook Had an Unconventional Coaching Path

“John’s reflection about his own coaching and the Nebraska program frequently leads to action, which is how both an individual and a program stay ahead of the game,” Pettit said. “This is a very good book for anyone who has an interest in coaching and leadership.”

Jack Riggins, fellow co-founder of Performance Mountain, is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL and an assistant football coach at Midland University. “John Cook had an unconventional path into coaching,” Riggins said.

“John has incredible insight into building champions on and off the court,” Riggins added. “His growth mindset and his ability to constantly develop new leadership skills make him a special breed of coach.”

The 'Dream Like a Champion’ book covers wins, losses and leadership using ‘The Nebraska Way’ to understand Husker volleybalI’s overall success.

In my opinion, many of the same principles for high-level performance apply to ‘The Nebraska Way’ in football as well, and only time will tell how true that storyline really is.

Athletic Director Bill Moos: John Cook Is as Good as There Is

Moments after Nebraska beat Florida in four sets to win the NCAA Championship in Kansas City, Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos was visibly touched. “This has been a thrill and a great reward for a fabulous season,” he told me at the Sprint Center. “This is a great program. People thought we could win it, and we did.

“John Cook is as good as there is,” Moos said. “I loved the spirit of this team, and I’m glad I got to watch it. Because of everything that was going on, I didn’t get to see as many matches as I would have liked to see. I love volleyball. This state loves volleyball.

“It’s a great time to be in Nebraska,” Moos said. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. It’s phenomenal to see the way we support our programs. We have the greatest fans in the country, and it doesn’t matter what sport it is. Our fans are there, cheering them on.”

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