McCutcheon going for his and her gold medals
LOS ANGELES - Hugh McCutcheon paces along the baseline as his United States Women's Volleyball Team takes on Bulgaria in the USA vs Bulgaria Challenge Series at the Galen Center on Monday night.
With an iPod in his left hand, he observes the play on the court with an earpiece in his right ear and a microphone that extends down his right cheek with the look of a telemarketer. Whatever he's selling, the players are certainly buying. He carries the conviction of a man that knows what he's doing.
The U.S. would defeat Bulgaria 25-14, 18-25, 25-17, 25-21, with an offense McCutcheon says ran with a lot more freedom than it did when the two teams last met on Saturday night.
"That's what we want to do – run fast and hit high and hard," McCutcheon said.
The gadgets that are a part of his coaching wardrobe are as close to flair as you're going to get from McCutcheon. He's a straight shooter and one who's been to the mountaintop.
Under McCutcheon, the U.S. Women have moved to No. 1 in the FIVB world ranking – a spot that had been held by Brazil for the past four years. The Brazilians are currently second. The Americans have held the top spot since last November.
McCutcheon doesn't put much stock into it. They aren't a part of what he deems valuable to the U.S. psyche.
"It's an algorithm made by some random entity," he said. "It doesn't mean much."
It's that kind of thinking that has McCutcheon in the middle of one of the best sales jobs of his career. He has the team but believing it can win an Olympic gold medal later this summer in London, a feat that's never been done in American history.
There are no Lombardi-like pep talks or locker room ploys to brew the belief, he's kept it simple.
"All we did was help them to figure it out themselves," McCutcheon said. "They're good. We got a ton of great athletes. We got a ton of great volleyball players. They just got to go out there and play together. I hope that they believe it's possible. That's half the battle. You don't win a gold medal unless you believe you're worthy of being out there and earning that."
McCutcheon's team had that half of the battle won in 2008, when he led the U.S. men into the Beijing Olympics with the No. 3 ranking in the world. The other half, they handled on the court, leaving Beijing with the gold medal.
McCutcheon is looking to join Brazil's Jose Roberto Guimaraes as the only coaches to win a gold medal on both the men's and women's side. However, he's not motivated by joining that exclusive club.
"It doesn't drive me at all," McCutcheon said. "What drives me is getting a group like this team together. You see the way they play, how passionate they are and trying to get them to achieve something they've never done before. That's fantastic."
Shortly after leading the men to gold in 2008, McCutcheon was named the U.S. Women's head coach for the 2009-2012 quadrennial. He wanted a change of pace.
"I always like a new challenge. I thought it was, for sure, an uphill battle with the men. No one was expecting us to do much in 2005 but by 2008, we were probably the best team in the world that year," McCutcheon said. "Just doing it all over again didn't hold the same appeal as maybe taking a lot of the lessons learned and applying them to a new population and having a completely different experience and a different journey but still being in the world that I felt pretty comfortable in."
As the women's head coach, McCutcheon has increased the win total by at least 10 wins in each of the last two seasons. This includes two wins over former No. 1 Brazil in 2011 -- all the while, keeping it simple.
"We have a philosophy that you just go for every point, every play, you stay and do everything that you can to better the play and be focused on the next point," said middle blocker Danielle Scott-Arruda, who will be making her fifth Olympic team in London.
The simplistic approach has the Americans as one of the favorites to win gold in London, but the mindset of the team heading into the Olympics is not on gold or the results.
"Obviously, it's a goal," said outside hitter Logan Tom, who is headed to her fourth Olympics. "You don't do that just for that, because you'll never get it.
"We do it because we made a commitment to each other. It's going to (stink) really bad if we don't get it and it's going to hurt but what I feel with this team is we've done everything we possibly could."
Said McCutcheon, "With this group, I think it's not so much about the result but it's about being good over time and making all of those things happen that we've practiced day in and day out now for four years."
In London, the Americans will be in Pool B with Brazil, China, Serbia, Turkey and Korea. They'll open pool play against Korea on July 28.