Introductory press conferences, for the most part, are going to sound roughly the same in college athletics. All of athletics, really. And the job descriptions for any head coaching vacancies will read similar, as well. Proven winner, hard worker, good recruiter, so on and so forth.
When Scott Stricklin started looking for a new volleyball coach at Mississippi State, those were some of the qualities he wanted. And when David McFatrich was introduced as the person who best met those standards, he offered necessary but familiar refrains of competing in the conference, hitting the ground running, etc.
All things important, if not also expected.
But beneath the coach-speak and the standard-rule qualifications, McFatrich is yet another window into the brain of Stricklin and an example of the type of coach he (and others) have found fit for MSU.
When Stricklin introduced his newest hire, he didn’t mention recruiting, championships or other typical press conference fare. Stricklin talked about the Mississippi State mold.
“We want coaches who are smart, who have a great work ethic, who are competitive and who have an intensity that rubs off on other people,” Stricklin said. “We want charisma, that ability to lead people … I don’t think there’s any question we found a guy who fits those traits, and many others.”
Some of those qualities are more common than others, but they’re all important to Stricklin. The mold seems clear when you look around. People with relative youth, who are high energy and intense. Looking across the department, there are few coaches, if any, who aren’t intimidating in their own fashions. There are also few who don’t have the ability to be charming and personable whenever they like.
And intelligence seems to be one of the big keys. Stricklin wants smart people at MSU, people who can be creative and know how to do more with less. After all, while the school’s budget is growing, it remains one of the smallest in the uber-competitive SEC. MSU has to have somebody who won’t be held back by that.
After introducing McFatrich, Stricklin was chatting with reporters about Dan Mullen, his football coach who was on ESPN for a coaches film room broadcast of the National Championship game. He was talking about someone who found a way to maximize resources, identify talent and build something by being smart with what he has.
“I tell people all the time that Dan is a really bright guy,” Stricklin said. “They don’t always know what I mean, but that was a good example.”
Around the different sports, Stricklin has coaches with English degrees, backgrounds in applied mathematics, experiences and education across the spectrum of learning and culture.
It’s not just pure intelligence, though. Stricklin isn’t just handing out jobs to any coach who scores high on an I.Q. test. He’s looking for someone who does things differently, uses that intelligence for creativity. When he was in the process of hiring Mullen alongside then-A.D. Greg Byrne, Stricklin saw in Mullen someone who had a niche and who was doing things other people in college football weren’t doing at the time.
With McFatrich and the volleyball program it’s the same way.
“We want to do things maybe a little bit differently than everybody else,” McFatrich said. “[Players] might be trying something they haven’t done before, haven’t seen before.”
Scott Wetherbee, Senior Associate Athletic Director under Stricklin, spearheaded the search for the new volleyball coach and went into it understanding what he was supposed to be looking for, what Stricklin wanted and what fit the new and growing Mississippi State mold of coaches.
It came down to a few different things, Wetherbee said. Integrity first and above all else. But then, high energy. Similar to Vann Stuedeman, the softball coach Stricklin hired who hasn’t met a heart rate she couldn’t raise and has been to three NCAA Tournaments in three years at MSU.
They were looking for “a go-getter, someone to roll up their sleeves,” who would attack problems and come up with their own solutions, rather than let someone else deal with it. Similar to baseball coach John Cohen, whose mantra of F.I.O. (Figure It Out) is about getting things done and done well with no excuses.
Following qualities of personality, Wetherbee moved to the bottom of the résumé` – references.
“We look at what other people are saying,” Wetherbee said. “Scott believes a lot in calling other people. Are there any red flags anywhere? Everywhere we turned, it was all positive.”
When Stricklin announced the hire of women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer two-and-a-half years ago, that’s part of what he talked about. Every person in college basketball he contacted spoke highly of Schaefer, who now has MSU 18-1 and ranked Top 15 in the country midway through his third season.
And finally, Wetherbee said, came that last and important qualifier: be different, be unique.
“[McFatrich] runs a different kind of offense that nobody in the SEC runs,” Wetherbee said. “That’s our niche. We have to do things a little different here to make an impact.”
At the coaches convention in Oklahoma City a few weeks back, Wetherbee and Senior Associate A.D. for women’s sports Ann Carr met with around a dozen candidates over the course of a single day. McFatrich was one of the last they spoke with, but he was one of the first to stand out.
“Ann and I both looked at each other,” Wetherbee said, “and thought, he’s got a lot of energy. He’s somebody Scott would enjoy having a conversation with. We’ve gotta get him to campus.”
Doing so proved to be big in getting McFatrich to join MSU. The new head coach at State said he loved it as soon as he arrived, and he quickly saw the department-wide success Stricklin and his staff are building in Starkville.
“Every time I turned around, every person I met, it was good. In fact, it was great,” McFatrich said. “I felt an incredible amount of momentum and excitement from everybody … For two days, I was blown away.”
Then the announcement came and the obligatory press conference followed on Tuesday afternoon. David McFatrich has been introduced as the new leader of MSU’s volleyball program.
So here Stricklin is with his new coach, a man who fits the mold he and others have been shaping for the better part of the last decade at MSU. Does that guarantee success? Not at all. But, in a place where nearly every single program is on the way up and more teams than ever have been competing and winning in the postseason, a coach who fits the Mississippi State mold is a good start.