The Architect of Nebraska Volleyball

Aug. 16, 2018, 6:45 a.m. ·

Terry Pettit celebrates a win in 1999, his last season as Nebraska volleyball coach. (Omaha World-Herald photo)

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The Nebraska volleyball team begins its quest for a sixth national championship this week, with memories of the fifth still strong. Last year’s championship season was full of twists and turns, and is the subject of a new NET Television documentary “Nebraska Volleyball: Culture of a Champion.” The program premieres Sunday at 5:30 pm central on NET Television. In one of the interviews from this project NET producer Brock Lohr talks one-on-one with the architect of the Husker program, former coach Terry Pettit.

Brock Lohr, NET Television Producer: In 1999, you were able to hand-pick your replacement in John Cook. How special are John's accomplishments since taking over in 2000?

The new NET Television documentary, "Nebraska Volleyball: Culture of a Champion," follows the team's unexpected journey to a fifth national championship in 2017 and looks back at the origins of the program's success. It premieres Sunday at 5:30 p.m. CT on NET Television.

Listen tomorrow as Brandon McDermott of NET News talks with "Culture of a Champion" producer Brock Lohr about the documentary and Nebraska volleyball. That interview airs at 6:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. CT on NET Radio.

Terry Pettit was head volleyball coach at Nebraska from 1977 to 1999, compiling a career record of 694-148-12. (Courtesy photo)

Pettit guided the Huskers to Nebraska's first volleyball national championship in 1995. His teams also won 21 Big Eight/Big 12 conference titles. (NET Television image).

Terry Pettit, Nebraska volleyball head coach (1977-1999): Well, I think they're remarkable. I think you look for things like consistency, you look for things like developing players and staff, and he continued the tradition of our former assistants and former players moving into roles in volleyball as head coaches. I think he's continued the same things that I really learned from Coach (Tom) Osborne (Nebraska head football coach from 1973 to 1997). I watched how he carried himself, how he handled himself, how he handled success, how he handled things when they didn't particularly go well. Those things impacted me and I think John is a great student of those things. He understands what works in Nebraska.

Lohr: You hired John Cook to be your assistant the first time back in 1989, what do you remember most about John's first experience in Nebraska?

Pettit: I remember when he first came, we were riding in the car to go see a football gathering, and he asked me if there was produce in Nebraska. And I said, "John, what do you mean by produce?" And he said, "You know, food." And I said, "Where do you think this stuff comes from?" And the other thing I remember is he says "I'm so glad nobody has a nice car in Nebraska." And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, you don't see a Mercedes or Lexuses or things like that." He says, "Because I don't have a nice car." But he was eager to learn. I think it was probably harder to convince his wife Wendy that this is something he could take on because I think she saw it like spouses do. What does he stand to gain from this? There's a chance he could fail, and I just asked her to trust me that I wouldn't put him in a situation where I thought he would fail. I thought things would get better and better. Really, it began with Bill Byrne (Nebraska athletic director from 1992 to 2003). Eventually Nebraska decided to ride the horse in the direction it was going. The athletic department fully embraced the program and once that happens then you're really set apart from other schools.

Lohr: We saw that success and we see what this program is now, but tell me a little bit about what this program was like in the ‘70s when you took it over.

Pettit: At the time, in the ‘70s, if you looked at the top 10 teams they were all from California. We don't have an ocean so what do we have? We have a very successful football team and we can adopt some things from that model, and we have a culture here that is not afraid of work. So most of our kids were from Nebraska. We didn't have air conditioning. We have one or two showers in the locker room. But those weren't really handicaps. What you really need, you need players and a schedule. If you have that you can develop and get better, and as we got better and better, then the Coliseum became a wonderful place.

Lohr: Over the years the rivalry between Nebraska and Penn State keeps reaching new heights, but when did the matches start to intensify?

Pettit: I would say the Penn State rivalry probably really became intense probably in ‘94 or ‘95, somewhere in that area. And you always know you're playing a team that scouts well, prepares well. You have to win, you just don't luck into the win. You have to win. Then John was the head coach at Wisconsin and won the conference at Wisconsin, I believe it was his last season there, and of course the team he had to beat was Penn State. So as coaches, they had a rivalry long before John returned to Nebraska. Coach (Russ) Rose (Penn State volleyball coach since 1979) said when John came to Nebraska to be my assistant my last year, he said, "That's just great, the two people that I want to beat the most at the same place." So it's been there, but it wouldn't be there if those two teams hadn't maintained such extraordinary success well over 30 years. You can't just say, "Let's create a rivalry with somebody." I mean, the rivalry is based on excellence not on geography.

Lohr: You and your wife Ann are enjoying retirement now. Tell me what you are doing now, what's keeping you guys busy?

Pettit: We like golf to keep us busy, and sometimes our health allows that. I mentor several coaches, division one volleyball coaches. I help universities hire volleyball coaches and over the past time in Fort Collins, I've written three books and continued to write a lot. Ann retired from social security administration, she worked there for 15 years out here in Colorado. She'd done something similar in Nebraska. She's become an avid golfer. We get to see our grandkids. We get to travel as much as we can and keep one eye toward Lincoln. I always check in to see how, not only how they did but the box score, know that things are going good.