Illinois volleyball names new head coach

By Kate Munson

When former Illinois volleyball head coach Don Hardin announced that he planned to retire following the 2008 season, he emphasized that the plan had been in place for several years.

But the rest of the plan wasn’t revealed until Thursday when Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther announced that assistant coach Kevin Hambly would assume the position of head coach.

“Five years ago, we started talking about life after coaching and Don (Hardin) said, ‘Maybe we should come up with some kind of succession plan,’ so he’s the guy that put the pieces together in the beginning,” Guenther said. “Like most things, you can never guarantee, you don’t know if succession plans are going to work or not work. But I can tell you that this one definitely worked.”

And spending the last few seasons with this plan in place gave the former head coach Hardin a unique opportunity to leave the team in a great position.

“It afforded me a wonderful opportunity to end on a good note,” Hardin said. “I know I could not have done that without Kevin and Mary and Jen (Oldenburg). They gave me this wonderful gift and opportunity to be able to end things on a good note and really jump off the ship when it’s moving in a good direction and give it a push.”

Hambly has been an assistant coach at Illinois for the past five seasons during which he has played an active role in every aspect, especially recruiting.

“This is an incredible opportunity, not only to take a program that ended up ranked 11th in the country and is returning most of their players, but also I’ve been able to recruit those players,” Hambly said. “I’ve been in that process, and know what those players are about.”

Not only does Hambly have an understanding of the current Illini, he also understands the tradition surrounding Illinois volleyball. His wife, Mary Coleman, was a stand-out player at Illinois and continues to be involved with the program. And both are alumni of the University.

“I’m really humbled by the honor to be the next head coach at Illinois,” Hambly said. “I’m very aware of the traditions and the coaches that have preceded us.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to try to fill those shoes.”

The search now begins for the rest of the coaching staff. But Hambly announced at Thursday’s press conference that he would like to retain current assistant coach Jen Oldenburg.

Because Hambly already has an understanding of the Illinois volleyball program, the transition will be easier. But there is still a big difference between an assistant coach and a head coach.

“It’s not a position of complete anonymity and there are going to be a lot of pressures on Kevin early, and I think there may be some adjustment for him to get used to that,” Hardin said. “But everyone else is on board and ready to go and I think the adjustment period will be very short.

“I think Kevin will handle it gracefully and things will move along and be, perhaps even more successful than they’ve ever been here.”

For his part, Hambly is looking forward to the task.

“I feel so fortunate and so lucky for someone my age to be in the Big Ten as a head coach. It’s a league full of great coaches,” Hambly said. “There are going to be a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I’m excited and ready for the challenge.”