Standing between pillars of maroon and gold balloons Monday at his introductory news conference, new Gophers volleyball coach Keegan Cook said the chance to replace Hugh McCutcheon and take over a high-profile program was exactly what he wanted next.

"Who doesn't want to be held to the highest standard of coaching?" Cook said. "I have never understood how someone would look at a program that has had great coaching and think, 'I don't want to be a part of that. I don't want to be held to that standard.' "

Over the past eight years, he created a track record that backs up that ambition.

Cook took over as coach at the University of Washington in 2015, when he was 28 years old. He noted Monday that he didn't even get a news conference when he replaced Jim McLaughlin — who had spent 14 seasons as the Huskies coach, reached four Final Fours, won a national championship in 2005 and posted a 355-90 record before leaving to coach Notre Dame.

Cook didn't blink in taking over that program, winning four Pac-12 titles, reaching the Elite Eight four times and the Final Four once while going 198-56.

"I followed one of the greatest coaches in our game," Cook said. "I went through an experience that I can laugh about now and smile about now but as you can imagine as a 28-year-old was quite jarring. But on the other end of that is the confidence that I am the best person for this current situation."

It is the right attitude because the current situation for college volleyball and the Gophers is ever evolving.

The transfer portal creates a ceaseless churn of player movement at the end of the season, and personnel moves have been happening behind the scenes.

At the annual AVCA banquet at the Final Four last week in Omaha — at which Cook served as president — Big Ten Player of the Year Taylor Landfair was given her first-team All-America award, alongside McCutcheon. One day later she ended any speculation about her future, posting on Instagram that she would remain with the Gophers.

"Change to me is a good thing," she wrote. "Next year starts right now and our best is yet to come. I'm here for new beginnings and hopefully a bright future with this amazing program!"

But others have departed — either by choice or circumstance.

It was officially announced Sunday that associate head coach Matt Houk and assistant coach Jen Houk will not remain with the team. The married couple had taken on crucial roles in player development and recruiting under McCutcheon, and Matt was in the running to take over the program after spending eight seasons with the Gophers before Cook won the job.

“Who doesn't want to be held to the highest standard of coaching?”
Keegan Cook

At the news conference Monday, athletic director Mark Coyle said McCutcheon had input into the search process. But McCutcheon was absent from the event, which is perhaps not surprising given his relationship to the outgoing staff and his new role in the athletic department as an assistant athletic director.

"Our goal was how do we help this program take the next step?" Coyle said of the hiring process. "And we feel like that next step is a national championship. They went to three Final Fours [under McCutcheon], which is awesome. … That's the expectation of Minnesota."

Whatever metric the Gophers use for success next season, it will be with a reshaped roster.

Jenna Wenaas announced Sunday that she will transfer. A junior, she was an indispensable part of the team, ranking third in kills and digs per set this year. She was arguably the best player on the court in Minnesota's Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State.

Just as important, the departure of seniors CC McGraw and Rachel Kilkelly — plus the decision by top libero recruit Laney Choboy to switch her commitment to Nebraska after McCutcheon left — creates an immediate area of need. The Gophers have one defensive specialist remaining in Skylar Gray. The Maple Grove native had a stellar prep career but has played three collegiate sets while waiting behind McGraw and Kilkelly on the depth chart.

So Cook, who received a five-year contract worth $425,000 per year, has a coaching staff to build and roster space to fill. But if he can keep the remaining players from transferring and get them to buy into his vision for the program, it will be nothing short of a major accomplishment.

"I believed in my heart that the student athletes here at Minnesota deserved someone who had the same aspirations as them and would take the same level of risk and encourage them to reach them," he said. " ... I left a lot back in Seattle. But we're meant to walk the path we're meant to walk. That path continues here at the University of Minnesota."