One of the most riveting stories of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China was the gold medal triumph of the U.S. Men’s Volleyball team which had to overcome not only a stellar field of opponents but the tragic death of Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon’s father-in-law just prior to the start of the volleyball competition. American Assistant Coach Ron Larsen, who spent six years as the head men’s volleyball coach at UC San Diego before accepting a position on McCutcheon’s national team staff, stepped into the breach and served as interim head coach until McCutcheon was able to return to the bench. Larsen, who led the Triton men to the 2000 Division III national championship and won UCSD’s Excellence in Coaching Award in 2004, recently took time to look back on the Olympic sojourn.
Q: How did your 2008 Olympic experience compare with the other aspects of your professional career?
LARSEN: Of course, it is one of the highlights. I had the opportunity to coach on the largest stage in men’s volleyball. However, it is still coaching. I had as enjoyable time coaching the UCSD men’s team. The level was different, but the rewards were just as great. I think that coaching is about being in that moment...no matter who or what level you are coaching.
Q: How did you and the U.S. team respond in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy that befell Coach Hugh McCutcheon's family?
LARSEN: We were all shocked and sad for Hugh and Wiz (McCutcheon’s wife) and her family. But, we also knew that we were there for a purpose and that we needed to continue with our goal and that was to continue to compete and improve for each match.
Q: How did you feel when you stepped onto the court as the head coach of the U.S. Men's team in the first round match against Venezuela?
LARSEN: It was a euphoric feeling. I was immensely proud that I had been given this opportunity, but I would have been just as happy to be on the bench and making my suggestions to Hugh. I knew that I had a great staff to lean on during this time. It is not often that you can look over and have as your assistants two coaches who are each participating in their seventh Olympics (Marv Dunphy and Carl McGown) and a NCAA winning coach (John Speraw). I knew that we had prepared well and were ready for any eventuality.
Q: Going into the Games, was the gold medal something you thought was attainable for this group? Why?
LARSEN: Clearly, we were one of the top team’s at the Olympic Games. We had just won World League by beating Brazil in Brazil in the semi-finals and Serbia in the finals. We were playing as a team and each player was focused on the team and not his individual agenda. We had a shot and that is all that we wanted.
Q: What were the keys to reaching and winning the gold medal match?
LARSEN: Team, playing in the moment, and constantly improving.
Q: How did the team celebrate its triumph?
LARSEN: After the initial running around it was a time to be with their families and celebrate individually. Since our return there have been a number of events that the players and coaches have attended (Oprah, Bonnie Hunt Show, City of Anaheim Celebration, etc.)
Q: Did you personally receive a gold medal? If not, how do you feel about that?
LARSEN: No! I think that it doesn’t matter. The game of volleyball is about the players. They are the ones who win the matches.
Q: Are there one or two "behind the scenes" experiences from Beijing that you could share?
LARSEN: I think that the one thing that is not understood very well is that when you are a coach at the Olympics that you don’t have the time to go and enjoy the Olympics. You don’t go to other events or see the city. You see the arena, practice gym, Olympic village, your room, and lots of video. Perhaps for those sports that end early you have some other opportunities, but volleyball started the first day and the Gold Medal match was on the last day...prior to closing ceremonies.
Q: How much have you stayed involved with UCSD Volleyball since taking the position with the national team? What are your impressions on the jobs being done by Triton head coaches Tom Black and Kevin Ring?
LARSEN: I have often talked with Tom about his program. I enjoy coming down and spending time with Tom and helping him in any way that he see’s fit. He is a terrific coach and has done an exceptional job in coaching and building the women’s program. It is not often that you find a coach that will do all of the things that Tom will do. He has shown creativity and been innovative in his approach to the game. They are in great hands.
I have spoken less with Kevin, but that is because we spent so much time together during the six years that he served as my assistant coach. I just have to look at how well he did last year to know that they have the right person for this job. He loves UCSD and the men’s volleyball program. His recruiting class for this year is perhaps the best of all time. His team will continue to improve.
Q: What lasting memories do you have from your time at UCSD?
LARSEN: I think that UCSD was one of the highlights of my coaching career. While it was not the easiest place to win matches at, it was a great place to be. The athletic administration and coaches of all the sports were supportive and great friends. It is not often that you join an athletic department where you like everyone. That was the case for me at UCSD. It was a joy to come to work. And, of course, the memories will include all of the athletes that played for me.
Q: What do you like the most about your current position? Do you have aspirations to be a head coach again?
LARSEN: It is an honor to coach the very best players in the USA and to coach against the very best coaches, volleyball players, and teams in the world.
Of course, being a head coach is great and I enjoyed it. But, more important is to be a part of something that is bigger than you. Right now I am...tomorrow who knows?
Q: Do you think you'll ever have another experience like that which you experienced this past summer in China?
LARSEN: Who knows? If I am around here for London maybe it will be fraught with as much excitement as Beijing; however, without the tragedy.
Previous Q&A Articles:
Jessica McGovern (Women's Soccer) October 6, 2008
Bre Schofield (Cross Country) September 26, 2008
Tony Fernandez (Men's Soccer) September 18,2008
Kimberly Carpenter (Women's Volleyball) September 12, 2008
A.J. Kotanjian (Men’s Water Polo) September 2, 2008
Peter Akman (Men's Soccer) August 21, 2008
Natasha Belak-Berger (Women's Soccer) August 15, 2008
Jake LaVieux (Men's Cross Country) August 8, 2008
Dr. Penny Rue (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs) July 30, 2008
Michelle Torres (Women's Volleyball) July 15, 2008
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer Head Coach) July 1, 2008
Julie Ertel (Athletics) June 16, 2008
Clint Allard (Men's Basketball) June 9, 2008
Jen Myers (Women's Crew) May 27, 2008
Casey Ryan (Men's Track and Field and Men's Basketball) May 21, 2008
Keith Noe (Baseball) May 13, 2008
Liz LaPlante (Women's Tennis Head Coach) April 30, 2008
Sydney Gstettenbauer (Women's Water Polo) April 22, 2008
Sarah Hendy (Women's Track and Field) April 17, 2008
Eric Leserman (Men's Volleyball) April 9, 2008
Danielle Lukk (Softball) April 4, 2008
Chris Franco (Baseball) March 24, 2008
Dan Perdew (Swimming) March 18, 2008
Evan Hsiao (Swimming) March 9, 2008
Eric Rubens (Men's Tennis) February 27, 2008
Melissa Ward (Softball) February 20, 2008
Cameron Sprowles (Fencing) February 13, 2008
Kim Hockett (Women's Water Polo) February 6, 2008
Trevor Decker (Baseball) January 31, 2008
Jordan Lawley (Men's Basketball) January 23, 2008
Jason Spangler (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2008
Andrew Skewes (Men's Diving) December 26, 2007
Alexis Gaskin (Women's Basketball) December 17, 2007
Aubrey Panis (Women's Swimming) December 2, 2007
Andrew Hatch (Men's Basketball) November 26, 2007
Kevin Klein (Men's Cross Country) November 12, 2007
Kim Adams (Women's Volleyball) November 7, 2007
Ben Miller (Men's Water Polo) October 31, 2007
Alie Avina (Women's Soccer) October 19, 2007
Charity Elliott (Women's Basketball Head Coach) October 15, 2007