He hadn’t been named the Canadian national volleyball coach for long before Tom Black was bombarded with the same questions.
A) “How are you going to do both?”
B) “Do you know how far away Vancouver is?”
C) “Aren’t you busy enough?”
- He’s pretty sure he can, B) Yes, and C) Evidently not.
We caught up at the Triple Crown Sports NIT in Kansas City as Black hit the recruiting trail for Georgia, where he’s been the head coach the past two years.
The announcement by Volleyball Canada on just two weeks ago took everyone by surprise.
“About two and a half months ago I got an email from (University of British Columbia coach) Kerry McDonald and told me there was an opening and asked if I would apply,” Black said.
“But it was the last thing on my mind.”
Black — who is not Canadian — had spoken to Canadian coaches a couple of years and is friendly with members of the country’s volleyball community.
“As soon as I got the email I got really excited and went through a really long process of research and figuring stuff out, but that’s how it happened. I didn’t even know that job was open.”
Black, the former head coach at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, spent plenty of time with the USA women’s national team on different levels before moving to Georgia.
And Athens, Georgia, is even farther from Vancouver. No matter what, it’s the same drive — 72 miles — to the Atlanta airport no matter where he flies. But Atlanta to Vancouver on Delta, for example, requires a connection and basically nine hours or more of travel time.
“I’m super grateful to Georgia and Canada for being able to work it out,” Black said. “The two academic semesters will be all Georgia and in between will be Canada. Winters and summers. It will work out.”
Being a college coach and a national-team coach is not unprecedented. John Speraw does it for the UCLA and USA men. But his commute is from Orange County to Westwood and back.
“I definitely talked to John,” said Black, who said he also talked to his family. “There weren’t many people I could talk to, really. I figured most people I would talk to would tell me I’m crazy.”
That has a serendipitous side.
“My wife (Crystal) is actually from Seattle,” Black said. “So she’s got family where she’s going to be way closer to them. The benefits outweigh the sacrifices.”
The Blacks have two daughters, Kylin and Emerson. Of course, Black has a whole team of daughters at Georgia. He said they weren’t concerned.
“As soon as they realized it wasn’t going to impact them, they were just kind of like, ‘OK, cool,’” he said with a laugh. “I wanted them to know it was going to get out and they would hear a lot of people questioning it, but it’s not going to affect you.”
Black doesn’t have any Canadian players on his roster, but they’ve been an integral part of some teams’ NCAA success of late.
For example, Stanford’s star middle this past season when the Cardinal won the NCAA title was Tami Alade, who is from Calgary.
Middle Layne Van Buskirk, who is from Windsor, Ontario, was a key piece for Pittsburgh, which won the ACC last year.
Two seasons ago, when Florida made it to the NCAA championship match, its right side was Shainah Joseph, who is from Ottawa.
The list includes Penn State middle Tori Gorrell and Michigan middle Kiara Shannon. The most notable was Sarah Pavan at Nebraska (2004-07), while on the beach the McNamara twins are sand stars for NCAA-champion UCLA.
Not surprisingly, Indiana has an incoming Canadian freshman in libero Haley Armstrong, which is exciting for coach Steve Aird, who is from Toronto.
Black hired Ben Josephson and Shannon Winzer as his assistants. Josephson has been the coach at Trinity Western University in British Columbia and has previous experience with the Canadian national team. Winzer, also Canadian, has been the head coach of the Australian women’s national team. They will both start in April.
Black likes the potential north of the border.
“Just like in America, it’s one of the biggest team sports. There are a lot of good players, exciting young players. We’ve got to get the senior team better and get them more connected with Volleyball Canada as a whole. When we do that, the sky’s the limit.”
He said he’s been visiting with the Canadian national players one by one — “A lot of Skypes” — and setting the calendar and trying to find more players not in the mix.
“My position is I’m charge of volleyball from 18 years old up. I had to develop a plan of how we’re going to get better.”
Black, who played at UC San Diego, is committed to Canada through 2020, which, hopefully will include playing in the Tokyo Olympics. Canada — which also went in 1976 and 1984, has not qualified for the Olympics since 1996.
“We’ve got to get to work,” he said. “The U.S. is going to get in and at least one more team in our NORCECA zone is going to get in.”
Another way in is through FIVB competition by winning a tournament with Korea, Russia and Mexico.
“We’re not in Nations League and want to qualify for that,” Black said. “We have a lot of room to go up.”