No longer spending time coaching with Australian national volleyball team,
Mitch Barnard has been fully committed to OSU since becoming head coach in June
Two years ago, Mitch Barnard was an assistant volleyball coach with Oregon State and he didn’t have any miles in his Alaskan Airlines Mileage Plan.
In the last two years, Barnard split time between Corvallis and Sydney with the Australian national volleyball team, making the 15-hour flight once every three weeks during OSU’s offseason from mid-January to June.
Barnard was promoted to head coach with the Beavers in June after Taras Liskevych retired, and he’s been fully committed to OSU ever since. No more splitting time between multiple teams. Maybe the best part: no more flights
to Australia every month.
“I went from nothing in Alaskan Airlines to their highest award within six months,” Barnard said with a laugh. “It kind’ve shows the amount of travel that I did. I thought it would be easier, but it’s hard. It’s a long flight. But I don’t do that anymore, so I’m fully committed here.”
Luckily for Barnard, the transition to being a collegiate head coach for the first time was relatively smooth. He had already spent 11 years at OSU as an assistant coach under Liskevych, including the last eight as associate head coach, and he already had head coaching experience with the Australian National Team.
“As far as moving into a head coach is concerned, I probably had one of the easiest transitions you could ask for,” he said. “Mainly because I had so much of the inside knowledge and had experience doing it before. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’d be good at it but I had experience, so I wasn’t necessarily drinking from a fire hose.”
“I think it’s been pretty seamless,” added sophomore outside hitter Lanesha Reagan. “Everybody is pretty much used to him. I think he’s a little more hands-on with his coaching technique, which is great. Just during practices if there’s a mistake, he’ll stop the drill,
fix it and adjust it.”
OSU missed the postseason last year, going 6-24 a year after winning 20 games in 2014 and making the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. This season, the Beavers have already won more games than all of last year with a 8-11 record.
Postseason appearances are not second nature for OSU. The 2014 appearance ended an 11-year drought, but Barnard is seeking more consistency in extending OSU’s season past Pac-12 games.
“I think we really need to establish this program as being a consistent postseason team, not once every four or five years,” Barnard said.
Even the thought of missing the tournament for 11 straight years bothers Barnard — “That’s too long between drinks,” he said — and his players are similarly thirsty for the NCAA Tournament.
“I remember my redshirt year when I didn’t get to play, just going was the greatest experience,” Reagan said. “I’d love to go back to the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8 and get a chance to play. I love this team and I think everyone works so hard. Getting to the tournament is the ultimate goal. Getting to the tournament every year, that would be ideal.”
It helps that Barnard has international coaching experience under his belt. While many players have only been accustomed to coaching from their high school or club teams, Barnard likes to bring a fresh point of view.
“It brings a completely different perspective on the way the game is played and taught,” he said. “For the players, they’ve grown up with a particular way things are done. There are so many good volleyball countries throughout the world that do things differently, yet they’re all good. So it provides a different way for the players to learn, and maybe being said in a different way is what triggers them.”
Barnard isn’t the only coach with international experience on the staff: assistant coach Ron Zwerver had an illustrious playing career overseas and is considered one of the best Dutch volleyball players of all time. He was a three-time Olympian with The Netherlands, earning
a Gold Medal in 1992.
“I like Mark and the staff because we work well,” Zwerver said. “We discuss a lot and everybody has involvement in games and practices. That’s why I came to America, I like the atmosphere of being around a big campus. I don’t
see that around Europe.”
Barnard also pointed out how the international presence at OSU could help recruiting overseas. OSU already has three players from outside the U.S., and Barnard thinks that Zwerver’s prestige in Europe could be beneficial.
“Opening up Europe over there with Ron’s name helps, so there’s a two-fold plus with having international experience,” Barnard said.
“It’s been crazy seeing the highest level of coaches,” Reagan added. “I think it’s been really helpful with everyone.”
Postseason goals, recruiting aspirations and international experience aside, Barnard has a particular coaching style that players have already grown accustomed to.
“He’s very sarcastic and sassy, but always in the best way,” Reagan said. “It’s very entertaining.”
“He’s relaxed,” Zwerver added. “He doesn’t panic so much. A lot of coaches in
Europe are panicked.”
As Barnard puts it, it’s all about making personal connections with players while still fulfilling the role of a coach and teacher. The occasional sarcastic joke, followed moments later by stern criticism, is how Barnard simultaneously tries to encourage his players and
push them every practice.
“The players want to know basically that you care about them as people,” Barnard said. “They want that personal interaction. They don’t just want you as a coach. They don’t want you in their lives 24/7 either, but they want you to be someone that is in their lives just beyond volleyball. I think that’s an important thing. And I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, too. You have kids and you get used to interacting with them so that they know you’re there and that you care. That’s half of coaching. Lots of people can teach volleyball, but if you can relate with them, how much more can you get out of them?”