Story by Jacob Young / Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics
Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor contributed to this story
Middle Tennessee Volleyball is on their third head coach in less than a year with Jeff Huebner taking over as interim head coach. Previous head coach Dan Ahiers resigned Sept. 27 after being suspended for “alcohol-related behavior.”
The team has had their struggles on the court as well with a record of just 4-13 this season. Coach Huebner is stepping into a difficult situation and sat down with Sidelines to discuss his new role as interim head coach.
Sidelines: You’ve been announced as the interim head coach halfway through the regular season with a lot left to play. Are you going to change any of the team’s schemes, personnel or philosophy at this point of the season?
Huebner: Well, I think that when we all got together in the beginning of the season, it was a group decision on how we were going to play offensively, how we were going to play defensively and what our systems were going to look like. So, the word change isn’t really an appropriate word, but I think we are pretty committed as a staff. We can see the direction of our kids and we can see they’re improving. The data supports that we’re improving. We played a great match against Western Kentucky and had our highest hitting efficiency in a while. So, I think we’re going to stay the course. I think process is always the most important thing when you’re looking to build a program.
Sidelines: Are you viewing this opportunity of being the interim coach as an audition for the long term?
Huebner: I think that’s a fair question, but I also think that the most important thing to me is the kids. If I do a great job and we do a great job as a staff, then I hope that of all things the kids enjoy their experience, and I hope that the administration can see that. But, really, my life is not as important as what matters for the volleyball program. I hope that we can take a tough situation and turn it into a growing experience and into a situation where we can really become the best version of ourselves. If we can do that in my tenure, then I think that we’ve done a good job.
Sidelines: You’re the third coach in less than a year and you mentioned the importance of your players. That can take a toll on them and also the program. It helps that you’ve been on the staff this year, but what can you do in your time here to stabilize this team and get back to MTSU volleyball?
Huebner: Sure. Well, I think one of the big advantages is that I’ve been a head coach before. So, this role is not new to me, and it’s not something that I’m unfamiliar with. We built a program from scratch at my previous job, so we’ve got a lot of experience in that. In order to stabilize the program, I think our job is to listen, and to be there for the kids, and to build great relationships and to do the right things as MTSU citizens. For us, it’s a lot about ‘What is our community service is going to look like? What our academics are going to look like? How we are going to be productive members of Blue Raider culture?’ And if we do the right things over time, the results will come. I think that’s our big focus is making sure that we are being attentional every day and that we are doing our best to represent our university with great pride.
Sidelines: Focusing more on the court stuff, it’s obviously been kind of a rough season. What do you think is the most glaring weakness and how can you improve the team as you finish out the rest of the year?
Huebner: I think to call it a rough season is tough because I think we’ve played a great schedule. We’ve got a lot of top 150 teams on our schedule already, and I think we’ve learned a lot about our program. From a specific standpoint, I think we have some places to shore up in serve receive. I think we can serve receive the ball a little better. We’ve made great strides in the past couple of weeks in attacking and being engaged in the game plan and kind of executing in that way. And if we can continue to make good communication strides, since we understand our system better, as we understand our offense better and the defense better, I think we’ll see the results. But I think the most important thing is to understand that the results are secondary to the growth that we’re making as a program. In a lot of ways, we took over a program that was behind, and we’re doing everything that we can and we can see it in the numbers, we can see that ourselves improving.
Sidelines: What’s the dynamic like when the assistant coaches are your peers and suddenly they’re answering to you as the head coach? How does that go?
Huebner: Well I think that you live your life in a way that every day they can see that you’re doing the right things, and hopefully they respect you enough to follow your lead and put the team in a situation to be successful. So, for me, it’s about preparation, it’s about doing the right things over time. I really believe that my previous experience has prepared me for that. It certainly doesn’t hurt at all that we’ve got great people in those assistant coaching roles and our kids have responded well.