The great thing about being a boss is you can call a meeting pretty much any-time, anywhere. So at 3 a.m. on a Saturday Hugh McCutcheon rolled over and told his wife, Wiz Bachman, the former volleyball star from Minneapolis, that he wasn’t going to fly to Massachusetts for one of the greatest honors of his career.
‘‘Much to my wife’s chagrin we talked about it at that time, and then chatted a little more in the morning,’’ McCutcheon said. ‘‘And even then it wasn’t an easy decision.’’
McCutcheon arrived at the University of Minnesota with a stunning résumé. The Gophers’ volleyball program was already successful. It’s not surprising that McCutcheon has succeeded on campus, but even he might not have been able to envision this month’s events.
He won the Big Ten coach of the year for the second time. Friday night the No. 2-ranked Gophers play in the NCAA tournament at the Pavilion. In two weeks, the Final Four set for Target Center.
Before taking the Minnesota job, McCutcheon won a gold medal coaching the USA men’s team at the 2008 Olympics, and a silver coaching the USA women at the 2012 Olympics.
That’s why this summer, McCutcheon — a New Zealander who played at BYU — was voted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, which is located in Holyoke, Mass.
And that’s why McCutcheon found himself waking up his wife at 3 a.m. on a November Saturday.
“I’m very honored to be a part of that,” he said. “It’s a big deal to me, and it’s a big deal in our little volleyball world. So I had every intention of going, and I thought it was the right thing to do and I thought the team would be fine. I think they announced the class sometime in July so when we were looking at it then, it made perfect sense.
“Now fast forward to the weekend before we’re going to play Purdue and Indiana, both teams playing well, Purdue was ranked 12th, I think, at the time, and we were on an unbeaten streak. We talked on Monday with the team and my administration and the coaches about how I was going to take off on Saturday morning. The problem was me. I woke up at 3 in the morning thinking, ‘What on earth are we doing here, this doesn’t make sense anymore.’
“It is such a significant honor, and I really wanted to be there with that group of people in particular, they’re phenomenal. But the right thing to do was to be here, so that was that.”
Like many successful modern coaches, McCutcheon believes in judging process over results, and judging process as a means to long-term success. He sounds more credible than many when espousing this philosophy because of his résumé, his soft-spoken confidence and his obvious connection with his players.
I was in Beijing when McCutcheon won gold, and I met him in Los Angeles when he was training the USA women’s team for the London Olympics. Security wasn’t exactly tight at the massive gym where the team trained. I wandered in, said hello to a few players and watched practice. I was struck by McCutcheon’s approach: completely relaxed and yet intent on details.
After practice, he invited me to his office and told his life story, how he played the then-not-so-popular sport of volleyball in New Zealand, and a chance meeting with a USA volleyball official led to him signing on with a fledgling BYU program.
His expertise served him well on the international stage and his demeanor has served him well in managing talented kids.
Now he faces the enviable possibility of winning four home matches and two more across town at Target Center to win a national championship.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” McCutcheon said. “We’ve spoken often about the fact that volleyball is so popular in this state, but to have marquee events, not just first or second round or possibly the regionals, but the Final Four — it’s great for the sport and great for the Cities.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org