Thursday, December 17, 2009
With the correct strategic process and good performance data, Coach Russ Rose usually assesses the opposition by identifying their tendencies.
His next step is to position the team with a plan that focuses on creating technical mismatches against the opponent and prepares his team to align with his plan by explaining why it will work and why their team will be victorious.
Rose's influence prevails when his team wins.
December 8, 2009
For Penn State’s Volleyball Coach, the Streak Is Beside the Point
By JOHN BRANCH
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It can sometimes be difficult to determine just who is coaching the Penn State women’s volleyball team to this seemingly endless string of victories. During matches, when most coaches are pacing and shouting instructions, Russ Rose is usually sitting quietly, scribbling into a notebook.
Plenty of others track numbers, too, feeding them into a computer until they spit out of a printer as official N.C.A.A. statistics. Rose’s numbers and notes go into blue three-ring binders that few others ever see.
“My decisions in coaching are based on these statistics,” Rose said.
He pointed to shelves in his office lined with binders, filled with decades of handwritten scribbles and diarylike entries. Then he held up a computer printout from a recent match.
“Not these,” he said.
In 31 seasons at Penn State, Rose, 56, has always done things different from most, reflected in his droll, straight-faced sarcasm and his penchant for sweats, swear words and cigars.
“He’s like that black-sheep uncle,” said Adam Jarrett, a volunteer assistant for the program for 13 years.
But Rose’s success is registered in numbers, not quirks.
In the late 1970s, Rose wrote his master’s thesis on volleyball statistics. Today, he has a higher career winning percentage (.862) than any Division I women’s volleyball coach in history — and more than 100 points higher than the .751 of Joe Paterno, the far more famous football coach of the Nittany Lions. Rose’s top-ranked team is in the N.C.A.A. tournament for the 29th year in a row, on to the regionals, hoping to win its third consecutive national title this month.
Yet the number garnering the most attention is 98. And counting.
That is how many consecutive matches Penn State has won, dating to September 2007. It is the longest winning streak in N.C.A.A. Division I women’s sports history, and the second longest over all, trailing only the Miami men’s tennis program, winner of 137 straight from 1957 to 1964.
In recent weeks, Penn State volleyball passed, among others, the 88-game winning streak of John Wooden’s U.C.L.A. men’s basketball teams from 1971 to ’74, and the North Carolina women’s soccer program, which won 92 in a row from 1990 to 1994.
Count Rose as one person not keeping close track.
“The statistics that I’m interested in are performance-related, not historical,” Rose said. “The streak is historical.”
Rose says he considers each season’s team distinctly different and largely unrelated to earlier teams. By his calculation, there are three winning streaks: one of 26 matches in 2007, after two early losses; the 38-0 season of 2008; and this season’s 34-0 record heading into Friday’s Round of 16 match against Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
“I’ve heard people say that maybe we’d be better served had we lost,” Rose said. “I was kind of wondering what profession they were in. I wouldn’t want a lawyer representing me to think like that. I wouldn’t want a doctor operating on me to think like that.”
His office windows were open to a brisk afternoon. Rose was trying to clear the air of the smell of cigars sitting on the desk. (“Cuban contraband,” he called them.) He usually smokes them on the plaza outside Rec Hall, an old brick gym where thousands fill the bleachers for each volleyball match. He says he does not know if that is allowed and does not seem to care.
Rose, who arrived at Penn State in 1979 with bushy dark hair and a Tom Selleck mustache, now has close-cropped gray hair and glasses. He usually wears a blue sweater to matches — a well-worn blue sweater, occasionally mended by his wife. He has a closet full of sweaters that people give him. They share space with suits that Rose avoids wearing.
He prefers shorts and sweats. This day, he wore a sweatshirt and sweatpants.
Raised in Chicago, Rose does not believe in schmoozing or sugarcoating. (Several players, asked to describe their coach, used one word: honest.) He rarely rants and yells, teaching instead in whispers, smirks and knowing glances. He swears in casual conversation. His players seem unfazed by it.
“My grandmother might be a little upset if she came to practice,” Blair Brown, a junior and one of four all-Americans who returned from last year’s team, said with a smile and a shrug. “But it’s Coach. You can’t ask to change who he is. It’s working.”
Administrators ask Rose to watch his language at matches. Rose will sometimes lift his notepad in front of his face and bark an expletive into it. Before a televised match recently, he spotted a courtside microphone near the Penn State bench. He unplugged it.
Rose thought he would be a gym teacher, maybe a basketball coach. But at George Williams College, he began playing volleyball under Jim Coleman, a former Olympic team coach and a future volleyball Hall of Famer. Coleman is credited with creating the modern volleyball statistics system, among other innovations.
Rose then spent two years at Nebraska, where his master’s thesis examined the skills most associated with winning. (“Passing predicts the level of play,” Rose said of his conclusion. “Hitting and blocking are most correlated with winning.”)
Official statistics have always bothered him. Most sports tally what the player did, not what he or she failed to do. He sees that as only half the equation. What about the rebound the basketball player should have had? Or the ground ball the shortstop did not reach? Or the dig that the volleyball player blew?
“On that sheet,” Rose said, pointing to a match’s official N.C.A.A score sheet, “if you don’t hit the ball, you don’t get a statistic. On mine, you do. You didn’t hit the ball.”
Most of his scribbles in the notebook reflect missed opportunities, what his players call “error control.” Rose grades each play, too, on a scale — not just whether the serve was in, for example, but how good the serve was.
“He keeps stats and gets stats of every play,” said Kaleena Davidson, a former player at Penn State who is in her first season as one of Rose’s assistants. “He knows everything you’d want to know. And everything you don’t want him to know.”
During matches, Rose will coax with sarcasm and freshly computed numbers.
“He’ll say, ‘You’re hitting negative right now,’ ” said the all-American setter Alisha Glass, meaning that a player has more errors than kills. “ ‘You might want to do something about that.’ ”
Glass said that “it’s all about the numbers” for Rose.
“His degree is in volleyball statistics or something,” she said.
“It is?” outside hitter Megan Hodge, widely considered the best player in the country, asked with wide eyes. “That explains a lot.”
Rose’s coaching strategy is largely one of playing devil’s advocate, a lonely role when thousands of fans see his team as unbeatable.
Since the winning streak began on Sept. 21, 2007 — after a loss to Stanford six days earlier — the Nittany Lions have won all 98 of their best-of-five-sets matches. They have won 294 sets; opponents have won 15.
Those numbers are not in any of Rose’s scribbled notebooks.
“I have my own stats,” Rose said. “Because I want to win.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 11, 2009
An article on Tuesday about Penn State’s 98-match winning streak in women’s volleyball described its competitions incorrectly. It plays best-of-five-sets matches, not best-of-three-sets matches.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Information links on the Russ Rose, the head coach of the Penn State Women Volleyball team and the Penn State Women Volleyball team