ODU Athletics

Minium: ODU has the Right Coach, a Smart Plan and the Perfect Facility to be Successful in Women's Volleyball

February 08, 2019
By ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

The press conference was held in the Big Blue room at the Ted Constant Center. There was catered food for the 300 or so people there, which included a who’s who from Old Dominion University and the Tidewater volleyball community

Why they were there was no surprise. ODU had indicated a week earlier that it had hired Fred Chao as its first women’s volleyball coach.

What surprised me was the pomp and circumstance, the large turnout of supporters for a team that doesn’t yet exist and the dogged commitment from ODU to field a competitive volleyball program.

“I guarantee you,” President John R. Broderick said, “Fred Chao will have the resources necessary to develop a winning program.”

Perhaps it hasn’t come as quickly as some would have liked. But after years of study and preparation, ODU has a smart, well-funded plan for volleyball that should eventually lead to a program that competes for championships.

When ODU added football, it immediately added rowing and built a rowing complex to increase athletic opportunities for women. It also promised to add another sport and hinted it would be volleyball.

Volleyball is expected to have a roster of 16 players. Beach volleyball, which appears likely to follow in a few years, will again increase ODU’s commitment to women’s sports.

Such should be expected from the first university in the commonwealth to offer women’s athletic scholarships.

President John R. Broderick introduces Fred Chao as ODU's first women's volleyball coach. 

Broderick said the second-most asked question he’s had about athletics in recent years was when the school would start volleyball. The other was about the renovation of S.B. Ballard Stadium.

It took a while to start volleyball in part because of the seismic shifts in college athletics since in the last decade, including a redistribution of TV wealth upon which Power 5 schools now gorge.

Mid-major schools such as ODU have seen TV revenue fall. There have been mandated cost increases, including paying the full cost of college attendance, plus a dip in income because of a state law requiring schools to reduce the percentage of student fees they spend on athletics.

ODU had to be at the right time financially to start volleyball and was wise to wait until it had the resources.

One of the 12 scholarships is already paid for. Ron Ripley, the former rector of ODU’s Board of Visitors and Scott Ripley endowed a scholarship in the names of Broderick and his wife, first Lady Kate Broderick.

ODU is spending $3.5 million to renovate the gymnasium at the Jim Jarrett Administration Building. It will install 840 chairback seats in a gym that in some ways reminds me of the old fieldhouse.

The acoustics aren’t great, and that’s perfect for a sports team. I walked in one day and yelled “Hickory,” mimicking the scene from the movie “Hoosiers.” The sound echoed back and forth.

If you ever attended men’s and women’s basketball games at the fieldhouse, you know of what I speak. A crowd of 5,000 sounded like 20,000, and capacity crowds at the Jarett will create quite a home-court advantage.

The Jarrett building will have a ton more to offer players. I haven’t been to many volleyball facilities, but this one will have coaches’ offices, a players’ lounge, locker room, training room and workout facility.

ODU will pay competitive salaries to Chao’s coaches, give them a good recruiting budget and fully fund the full allotment of scholarships allowed by the NCAA. They’ll have a $1.1 million budget.

Rick French, Jena Virga, Ragean Hill, Fred Chao, Carolyn Crutchfield and Wood Selig played huge roles in starting volleyball. 

Chao has yet hire an assistant coach, sign a recruit or coach a game, but from all appearances, his hiring appears to be home run.

ODU had the luxury of time to search for the right person. Athletic Director Wood Selig formed a committee headed by Ragean Hill, ODU’s associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, two years ago. They began brainstorming what ODU needed in the way of facilities and a coach.

ODU spent a year looking for a coach. Hill and Carolyn Crutchfield, assistant director of athletics for marketing and community relations, compiled a list of candidates which Selig indicated was several inches high.

“They had head shots, bios and resumes of every potential candidate,” Selig said.

Once the job was advertised, Hill and Crutchfield, a former Notre Dame volleyball player, began going through applications, then went to the volleyball Final Four in Minneapolis where they met dozens of potential candidates.

“He was the unanimous choice of everyone on the search committee,” Selig said. “He made the decision easy.”

Chao, 46, has a stellar resume and life story. His parents immigrated to America from Taiwan. They had four kids who are all successful. From an early age, they were taught the value of hard work and caring for each other.

His parents wanted Fred to become a doctor or a scientist, but his mother eventually relented and blessed his choice to go into volleyball coaching.

As he paid homage to his family, including his wife, Dana, and children, Keira and Kyler, he choked up just a little.

“Without you, none of this would be possible,”

Chao with his wife, Dana, and children, Keira and Kyler. 

He wasn’t the only one in the room who choked up.

The Silver Spring, Md., native played volleyball at Pepperdine, then transferred to George Mason, where he played and later became head coach for the men’s volleyball for 15 years. He also spent six years as an assistant for the women.

He was in his second year with the Duke women’s team, which advanced to the NCAA tournament, when he applied at ODU.

Broderick interviews every potential head coach and said Chao stood out.

“One of the things that most impressed me about Fred was that he was prepared and ready to talk about so many aspects of this University, which he is going to have to represent,” Broderick said.

“I was really impressed with his knowledge of the institution, with what he knew about our academics. And candidly, he took the time to learn a lot about myself and Wood.

“He’s not just somebody who talks about preparation. He does it.”

Broderick said much of their discussion centered around academics.

“I was impressed with his dynamic personality,” he said. “He will recruit well, engage the community and he’s all about academic excellence. For those of you who work here, you know how important that is to me.”

“The fact is,” he added, about a recent basketball game, “that in this building the other night we had more than 150 athletes who were dean’s list students that were honored. That speaks well for us as an athletic program and a university.”

Chao won’t have the advantage Bobby Wilder had when he began football in 2009. He has one season to recruit and practice with his players, then steps right into Division I with a full Conference USA schedule in 2020.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Chao said he hopes to sign six or eight players for next season. They will work hard and watch a lot of film. “I want them to know what we’re going up against,” he said.

He added that he’ll likely go after a couple of graduate transfers as 2020 approaches.

There is already a volleyball scholarship endowed in the name of President John R. Broderick and first Lady Kate Broderick. 

His goal is to have the best volleyball program in the state. That means knocking heads with James Madison and VCU, both ranked among the nation’s top 70 last season.

Conference USA is a strong volleyball league. Western Kentucky has been the traditional power, but Rice and Florida Atlantic also have outstanding programs.

Selig said as the selection committee was making a final decision, he received a text from Tom O’Conner, who was athletic director when Chao was at George Mason.

Selig read it aloud: “Fred is a great person. I’ve never had any issue with him. Excellent coaching and communications skills. You will have nothing to worry about. Hope all is well.”

Yes, volleyball is in an embryonic stage, but I think the “all is well” also applies to the start ODU has made with its 17th sport.

Contact Minium: hminium@odu.edu

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