By Jonathan Okanes, Athletic Communications
BERKELEY – Rich Feller is about to embark on his 16th season as Cal’s volleyball head coach. He is, without question, the most successful coach in school history. His 301 wins is the most all-time at Cal and he’s led the Bears to a pair of Final Four appearances, the only two ever by the program. Throw in his 14 years at Colorado State, and Feller has 600 career victories, one of only 29 Division I coaches to ever reach that mark.
With training camp in full swing, Feller sat down with CalBears.com for this week’s Coaches Corner.
CalBears.com: What is the most redeeming aspect of being a coach?
Rich Feller: At its purest, you are educating young people. You’re teaching them skills that improve their physical and sport activities, but in the teamwork area, you’re also teaching them skills of cooperation and life skills that they’ll carry on after they leave sport or after they leave college. Probably the most redeeming thing for me is when a former athlete or a current athlete recognizes the values that they’ve received within the team concept that I’ve coached.
CB: What is most redeeming about coaching at Cal specifically?
RF: Sitting in this office and walking around campus and seeing the history of the campus itself – all the nobel laureates, the free speech movement, Telegraph Ave., the beautiful campus and the hills – it’s kind of magical. It means so much to be part of this campus environment that it’s kind of a treasured experience. Not everyone gets to be here. By and large, the coaches stay here a long, long time. It’s not without its challenges, but the rewards are such that coaches want to stay.
CB: What are some highlights of you coaching career?
RF: There are a lot of highlights. Our first winning season in our fourth year. Our first NCAA Tournament. The first time we actually won an NCAA Tournament match was huge. The first time we beat Stanford was gigantic (in 2003) – on our home floor and beating them for the first time in 21 years. The first time we beat UCLA (in 2005). We had never beaten UCLA. I think the match that stands out most in my memory is the Nebraska match in the NCAA regional finals (in 2007), where we were going to the Final Four for the first time. It was like a dream come true. When I started my volleyball career, my goal from Day One was to get to the Final Four and of course win a national championship. That didn’t happen in 14 years at Colorado State and it didn’t happen for nine years here. That was like a dream looking back on it now. I can almost remember that match point for point what was going on, my timeouts, his timeouts, and the final celebration when we won. That has to be kind of a pinnacle of my career. Getting to the final match obviously was a huge career and program marker that I’ll never forget. It keeps you hungry for more, knowing that it’s possible. When you look at the number of programs and the number of coaches that have been in that position. It’s a really, really small number. There are just not that many programs that have been to the Finals. There have not been many programs that have been to two Final Fours. As a milestone, if I never get there again, it will be something. I’d certainly like to put one more mark in the records book and do it again.
CB: What are some things coaches do behind-the-scenes that fans don’t see?
RF: A lot of people will ask, when the season is over, ‘what are you going to do?’ It’s really a 12-month-of-the-year job and many more than 40 hours a week. There is a lot that goes into the business side of running a program. Overseeing the budget, managing who we are recruiting, interactions with peer groups and coaching associations – there is just a myriad things that go on behind the scenes.
CB: How would you describe your coaching style?
RF: We’re educationally based. We believe in teaching our athletes skills on and off the court, and teaching them volleyball on the court. We want to make sure that our athletes have a high volleyball IQ, so they not only learn the skills but they understand why the skill is there. I really believe in bringing in experts from any field that I feel my team might need. I’m an expert in coaching, but I’m not an expert in sports psychology or weight training or life skills management. So I will seek out outside sources to help educate my team.
CB: How do you motivate players?
RF: Motivation has to become from within. You have to give the athletes the tools to understand what is motivation, what is self-desire, what is teamwork, what is leadership. Working on those aspects to help them self-motivate is the biggest key. I used to be a big rah-rah speaker. Through the years, I’ve gotten less and less like that. I find that’s more valuable when it’s done less often. I want to instill in them a lot of pride in what they do, self-satisfaction in what they do, so they can have the realization that they’ve done everything possible to improve in a certain area. Just trying to instill that kind of work ethic and give them the chance to motivate themselves. We do that in a lot of different ways. Some of it is by education but some of it is by allowing them to have a big say in rules and regulations, in practice behavior – giving them the responsibility to find their own way in certain areas and bring it back to the coaching staff as feed back. We have lots of individual meetings, lots of group meetings, team captain meetings. But we give them the tools to find ways to motivate themselves.
CB: Coaching is such a demanding profession. What do you do to find balance in your life?
RF: You can really get consumed, particularly during the season with working every day and every night and taking it home with you. I’ve been really fortunate that I have a super-understanding and fan for a wife (Stacey). She loves volleyball. She’s always loved volleyball. It just so happened by meeting me that she got to go back into the volleyball world. She’s super supportive. She understands the priorities that I have to set in my life regarding volleyball. It so happens she’s kind of a workaholic in her world, so that sometimes is OK that both of us are like that. When I find the time, I find balance by getting into the outdoors, being as active as possible. I used to play sports a lot. Now, it’s more exercise-related activities that are involved in the outdoors – swimming, snorkeling, hiking, biking – the kind of things where you don’t need anybody else or maybe just a partner. I do that a lot, but I can also just be a couch potato. I can sit on a couch and watch a movie or a TV show for many hours a day. It takes me into a fantasy world. It takes my mind completely off anything else that I have going. That for me really helps balance my life – going totally into some kind of little fantasy.
CB: You have 19 players on this year’s team, your biggest ever. How is training camp going so far?
RF: We’ve talked a lot about the management of such a big roster. It’s been interesting, but the captains and the coaching staff talked the other day about the luxury we feel of having enough subs to do what we want to do. If someone is slightly hurt or someone has to leave for a class, we’ve got a luxury of having other people so the level of practice doesn’t go down. We’ve been able to maintain a high level of practice. That luxury has made this camp pretty special so far, pretty unique. I’m enjoying it and I think the team is enjoying it.