Hardin racks up 400th career win

Coach Don Hardin leads his team to victory over Southern Illinois in this Sept. 12 photo. Hardin recorded his 400th career win last weekend with a three-game sweep of Iowa. Erica Magda

Coach Don Hardin leads his team to victory over Southern Illinois in this Sept. 12 photo. Hardin recorded his 400th career win last weekend with a three-game sweep of Iowa. Erica Magda

By Meghan Montemurro

Attracting some of the top recruits in the country to come to your school is no easy task. The energy and time spent traveling and meeting with potential recruits is time consuming, especially when you still have to coach a college team.

For Illinois’ head volleyball coach Don Hardin, however, there is much more that goes on behind the scenes that has helped him become both a respected and winning coach.

After roaming the sidelines at Huff Hall in his orange and blue tie and khakis for the past 11 seasons, Hardin reached a major milestone in his coaching career. Against the Hawkeyes on Nov. 24, Hardin tallied the 400th victory of his career after sweeping Iowa.

“That’s a lot of high-level coaching and success, and it’s remarkable because he has done it in only two places,” assistant coach Kevin Hambly said. “That is a legacy and some day when I coach I hope to just get 100 wins.”

While Hardin has deflected the result of his success onto his players, few can say they accomplished such a feat with his professionalism and his emphasis on family.

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“When I think about 400, I give myself some kind of a B-plus grade,” Hardin said of his accomplishment. “While it’s not an A-plus, winning 400 matches in 20 years means you’re winning 20 a season, and if your average is 20 a season, that’s pretty good.”

The road to No. 400 began in 1988 at Louisville, where Hardin took the Cardinals to a 16-15 record. From 1989 to 1994, Hardin led the team to conference titles in five of the six seasons and also appeared in the NCAA Tournament each year as well.

After being named Conference USA Coach of the Year and leading Louisville to yet another conference title, his alma mater came calling in 1996. As he prepared to head back to Champaign, Hardin left Louisville as one of the top programs in the country. He compiled a 192-76 record with a .716 winning percentage.

With only 10 players on the Illinois roster, including eight underclassmen, Hardin led the Illini to a 13-15 record in his debut season that included an upset of his former Louisville squad – ranked No. 15 at the time.

Hardin has been no slouch at Illinois either, collecting two Sweet 16 berths as well as two Big Ten Coach of the Year awards while amassing a 208-155 overall record.

And his success goes beyond what he’s achieved on the court. At Illinois, 28 athletes have collected a total of 55 Academic All-Big Ten honors. Under Hardin’s watch, 50 players have earned Illinois’ George Huff Award, which recognizes excellence in academics and athletics.

An area of particular importance to Hardin is creating and emphasizing family. Redshirt junior Kayani Turner said that she has talked to other players that go to different schools and has been told that “once you arrive on campus, things would change.” That’s not the case at Illinois.

“A lot of coaches talk about family atmosphere, but Don really is that; he invites everyone over to his house, within NCAA rules, because he encourages that,” Hambly said. “He talks to parents more than probably other college programs if he needs to get them involved.”

Through these efforts, Hardin and Illinois collected the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation this past year as well as signing two top players, including the No. 1 player from Nebraska.

As Hardin began hearing people describe the atmosphere and team as a “family environment,” he asked people what that meant to them, and it turned out that the little things are what counted.

Said Hardin: “Giving someone a hug now or then or caring when someone isn’t doing well on or off the court, helping manage relationships with one another, helping them understand that we are in this together, including their families as part of ours. On our team, you couldn’t find someone that doesn’t know each player’s parents names.”

It is clear that Hardin has influenced the Illinois program for the past 11 seasons, in both the record book as well as in the team huddle.

“I’d like people to say that we gave people a pretty fair shake,” Hardin said of his legacy. “We treat people right and we are honest with them.”