When Keegan Cook was a Bay Area middle schooler, he played “all the usual sports.” But on many
-photo courtesy Don Eng
“I got dragged to so many tournaments,” Cook remembers, “that, one day, I picked the ball up and said, ‘I can do this better than you!’”
Meghan was four years older, and (as Meg Hauser) earned a scholarship at nearby St. Mary’s College, a budding mid-major powerhouse. Cook entered high school at the same time, “and volleyball kind of took over.”
Cook was just 5’6 in high school (he’s since grown to 6’), so he wasn’t in line for one of the scarce men’s college volleyball scholarships. He decided to attend the same school as Meghan, where he could major in math, minor in religious studies and play setter on the school's collegiate club volleyball team.
“My original plan was to graduate from St. Mary’s and get my teaching credential in math, and go back to high school and teach and coach high school volleyball. That was my plan, up until the point where I met Rob.”
Rob Browning was St. Mary’s women’s volleyball coach. He agreed to let Cook, the math major, compile the team’s statistics. “Math is huge,” Cook says. “Math has given me the ability to see the game objectively and fairly.”
That objectivity turned out to be important. In addition to crunching numbers, Cook was coaching local high school and club teams. Like many young coaches, he was initially impatient with his players. “I’d say, ‘Why don’t you understand? Why don’t you know how to do this?’ My emotions would get thrown through a loop, high and low.”
But Browning, a disciple of the numbers-focused Gold Medal Squared system, helped Cook learn to focus primarily on things that might improve a player’s chances of success. He taught concepts like the geometry of defense and the calculus of a hitter’s approach.
“It really gave me peace of mind,” Cook says. “I could look at things as they really are, and not as I think they are.”
In time, Cook earned greater responsibilities. By his senior year, his career plans shifted. “Teaching was always a big part of me and a big part of what I knew I wanted to do later in my life. I just didn’t know that I would be teaching volleyball.”
Browning hired Cook as his second assistant, and the Gaels enjoyed a long string of success, including several NCAA tournament appearances. Three years ago, at age 24, Cook was elevated to Browning’s top assistant. Although the West Coast Conference includes strong programs like BYU, San Diego and Pepperdine, Cook began to cast an eye toward job openings in more marquee leagues, like the Pac-12,
“There were a few other programs that I told myself, if they opened up, I would take a look. Washington was certainly one of the top two or three.”
Last month, Washington assistant Keno Gandara accepted the head job at Miami. UW coach Jim McLaughlin is another leading member of the Gold Medal Squared fraternity. Cook, however, didn’t consider that an advantage.
“Their affiliation with Gold Medal Squared actually worried me,” Cook says. ”I was afraid that we would be too like-minded. That maybe when we went through the interview process, they would think that I was just trying to say all the right things and try and fit into what they’re doing.”
So why even apply for the position? “What attracted me to Washington was that there were two assistants (Gandara and Leslie Gabriel) who had been there for a long time. And there had been a bunch of success. And there’s a head coach that had been there for a long time.” They’ve all stayed at Washington, he decided, “for some pretty powerful reasons.”
“It’s just an amazing place.”
Gandara was famous for his dedication to watching and breaking down film. It’s a passion Cook shares. “I’m really excited to get my hands on their film from last year. Particularly their Pac-12 matches. It’s gonna be one of the first things I do when I get up there. I’ll run it through the same analysis I do with St. Mary’s after every season.”
The Gaels had one of the nation’s top offenses in 2012, and Cook thinks, at first glance, that the Huskies have room to improve in that department. “We’re gonna make a big jump moving forward here in these next couple of seasons. I’m excited to give my input in those areas.” He also cites better serving as another opportunity.
With the first day of spring practice just ten days away, Cook is scrambling to make the move north. But he’s clearly excited to get in the UW gym and start, well … teaching.
“I believe everything is a skill,” he says. “I believe everything can be taught, if someone wants to make a change bad enough. I believe in people’s ability to make changes.”
“I think Washington is in a position to win Pac-12 title and get back to the Final Four. With just a few small changes, day in and day out, that will add up to some big changes down the line.“
- Cook already knows one Huskies player, sophomore defensive specialist Kim Condie. “Kim was on the second club team (NorCal) I ever coached; she was 13 years old. I had two other chances to coach her, when she was 16 and when she was 17. Kim’s a stud.”