With the team playing its best volleyball of the season, spending an inordinate amount of time observing head coach Jerritt Elliott during a match is not the most fruitful use of one’s time.
After all, Elliott does not draw much attention to himself. He opts for a white shirt with a conventional tie and black pants during games, leaning formally compared to most of his counterparts, but simple all the same. He does not have a beard or a mustache, and there is not much he can do with his hair.
During matches, Elliott rarely paces, usually sitting with a slight slouch in the seat closest to the scorer’s table. Occasionally, Elliott will stand up and yell out instructions, covering the net-side of his face so the other team cannot see.
Consequently, trying to define the 42-year-old coach and his decade of brilliance at the helm of the Longhorn program is difficult at best. Thus, the rest of this story is built by taking various statements Elliott has made during press conferences and media appearances, creating a word cloud out of them and using some of the more frequently appearing words as building blocks of the story. Here goes:
After playing collegiate volleyball at Pepperdine and Hawaii, Elliott joined the coaching staff at Cal State Northridge in 1993 as an assistant while finishing up his degree. His former colleague on the bench and current head coach of the Matadors men’s volleyball team, Jeff Campbell, said he still remembers Elliott’s determination.
“He just wanted to be a great coach,” Campbell said. “He really wanted to learn and learn from the best. That was apparent from the very beginning. It’s not surprising he’s doing well.”
Elliott joined USC’s women’s volleyball coaching staff in 1995 and served as the interim head coach in 1999 and 2000, where he led the Women of Troy to the NCAA semifinals.
Elliott arrived at the 40 Acres in 2001. Texas was coming off a 10-18 finish and had failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
The team made the NCAA tournament in Elliott’s first year at Texas. In a near-perfect linear progression, the team made the NCAA Regional Semifinals in 2004, Regional Finals in 2006 and 2007, Final Four in 2008 and the National Championship game in 2009.
Through the last few years, Elliott has lured some of the nation’s top talents to Austin. The last two recruiting classes were ranked fifth in the country, and this coming year’s recruiting class could garner the top spot.
Part of playing at UT sells itself. But a big part of Elliott’s formula is simply being heavily involved in the process himself.
“He’s very active,” said Salima Rockwell, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. “It makes a big impact on the kids because they want to be in touch with him and want to connect with the head coach, and he does an excellent job.”
Elliott understands that the biggest lure is not himself but rather his team. Freshman libero Sarah Palmer said the team plays a big part in the courting process as well.
“[Elliot is] the one that tells us what’s going on, when they’re coming and what kind of people they are,” Palmer said. “When they come, we act like ourselves and have fun doing it.”
In a data-oriented world, it is unsurprising to see the extent of its use in the Longhorn locker room. It is a trademark of Elliott.
“It’s something I’ve been involved in over the years,” Elliott said. “It’s a training tool. It’s not meant to put pressure on the kids to be able to hit those numbers but teaching them how to be more patient.”
The coaching staff sets benchmarks or expectations of the percentages players need to be at to be successful. The benchmarks are broken down by position and style, and statistics are kept in practices and games.
Senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris remembers coming in as a freshman and seeing numbers across the board.
“I was like, ‘What are you doing? I just play this game for fun,’” Doris said. “But he’ll say that to win a national championship, we have to be at a certain level. He relates it to what we’re doing and tells us what we need to do better.”
The biggest difference between Texas now and when Elliott started is expectations.
“When you’re at Texas and you’re good, there’s lots of pressure to be successful,” Elliott said. “We can’t win every year — that’s reality.”
Doris said one of Elliott’s strengths is molding different personalities on the team.
“He knows how to push our buttons and get us to respond individually,” Doris said. “On the court, we’re very volleyball-focused, so if it takes him screaming and yelling at us to step our game up, that’s what it takes. Off the court, he’s very laid back and fun to be around.”
Boasting one of the highest winning percentages of active DI college coaches, Elliott has brought volleyball back to prominence. Elliott said it is the aspect of working with a staff and new players every year that makes the job enjoyable.
“I’m a manager of people,” Elliott said. “Each year, it’s a different team, and how to mold them and how to create leaders and roles is a critical part to being successful. That’s what makes it special.”