In an announcement that sent shock waves throughout college volleyball, Hugh McCutcheon said Sunday that this will be his final season coaching the Gophers.
Reached by telephone, McCutcheon, who turned 53 on Thursday, declined to comment outside of a statement that was released by the University of Minnesota, saying that he wants the focus to remain on his team and players for the rest of the season.
But for people around volleyball, it was hard not to comment — to try and express the competing emotions of sadness and gratitude to a coach who helped shape volleyball in the United States for over 20 years.
"I'm just really bummed," Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said.
That sentiment was uniform.
This is McCutcheon's 11th season with the Gophers, and in that time he has only added to a sterling reputation from his career with USA Volleyball that preceded his arrival on campus in 2012. He led the men's national team to an Olympic gold medal in 2008 and the women's team to silver in 2012.
In December, McCutcheon had agreed to a contract extension through 2025.
Over the past 10 seasons, the Gophers have reached three NCAA Final Fours, five Elite Eights and nine Sweet 16s. His current team is 10-6 and ranked 10th in the country with more than a month left in the regular season.
The Gophers athletic department said a nationwide search would get underway after the season to find McCutcheon's replacement and that associate head coach Matt Houk would serve as interim head coach at that time.
Vicki Seliger-Swenson, whose daughter Samantha was a four-time All-America under McCutcheon and whose twin daughters, Stella and Olivia, have committed to the team for the 2024 season, said the emotional confusion was immediate when her family received the news in a phone call before the public announcement.
"I think first and foremost we love Hugh McCutcheon as a human being, he is just such a quality person," she said. "But we are absolutely devastated because he is such a special coaching talent.
"We know how great my daughter [Samantha] was treated — take away all the awards, all the success, take away all of that, because at the end of the day none of that matters. You think at the time that it's everything and that it means everything, but honestly looking back that's not what matters, what matters was how my daughter was treated as more than a commodity."
Part of McCutcheon's focus as a coach has been that exact concept — believing fundamentally in a holistic approach to development that prioritized mental health and well being along with individual and team goals.
Sheffield has gotten to see McCutcheon's style closely since taking over as coach of the Badgers in December 2012.
"Him and his family have given so much to the sport in this country, so much of their time, and have had such unbelievable, profound impacts on the sport here," said Sheffield, whose team is the defending national champion. "He has made me a better coach, immensely, immensely studying his teams. He doesn't owe the sport anything. The sport at all different levels is just better because he has been in it."