Legendary USC coach Mick Haley called him “one of the best prepared young coaches in the nation” and said that he will “provide an environment for the student athletes where they will improve and enjoy the game daily. He will demand a culture that will allow success yearly.”
Wake Forest head coach Bill Ferguson tabbed him as “one of the bright young minds in our game, who has the unique ability to see the game at a high level and articulate it to the student-athletes.”
Former player Alexis Olgard, an All-American at USC, said “I have seen all the qualities of a ‘dream’ head coach in Jason. He is honest, dependable, incredibly hard working… a true leader and manages to foster positive relationships, bringing out the best in the players with whom he works.”
That coach is former USC associate head coach Jason Kennedy, who was tabbed as the head coach at Boston College earlier this month, taking over a program that hasn’t experienced a winning season since going 20-12 in 2004.
The Honolulu native, Santa Clara alumni and long-time Californian with coaching and technical advising experience at USC and as a scout coach for the U.S. Olympic Beach teams sat down with VolleyMob last week to talk about his journey. Kennedy shared with VolleyMob about what made him leave the comforts of home, his plans to plans to face all challenges ahead and what fans can expect to see out of BC as it seeks to rise in the ACC and nationally.
Most of your experience has been coastal. You are from Honolulu, played as Santa Clara and have coached mainly in California, what drew you to the East Coast and Boston College in particular?
I wanted an opportunity, at the end of the day, to try to build something really special. There are a lot of people that told me how big of a challenge this would be and I fully understand that. I don’t think that they are necessarily incorrect, but I was ready for a challenge. California and Hawaii became very comfortable for me and honestly, I wanted to do something really, completely differently.
The biggest draw to me about Boston College was the people. I don’t know anything about living on the east coast, literally nothing. But, the people I talked to throughout the interview process or when I came out here for my interview on campus, the people are what make this school really pretty special. There is a new athletic administration in place that has certainly showed a commitment to the volleyball program that was probably not there in the past, so I feel like I am getting the resources and the tools to be successful.
Talk a little about that challenge. You had to have a plan in place of how to build a program, especially one that hasn’t had a winning season in 13 years. What was your vision for building a program, specifically at BC?
I think you have to be able to recruit BC nationally. I think BC really does have, from an academic standpoint, a name brand that is recognizable throughout the country. There are I believe more people from California right now that attend Boston College than any other state. There are probably 20-30 people every year from Hawaii that come to BC. So, the brand is there. What hasn’t been there in the past is that I don’t think the volleyball program has had a national brand.
For me, having been at a school like Southern California, I have been fortunate to be able to recruit throughout the country and build connections there. I feel that there is so much talent in different pockets across the country that if you can draw a couple of kids from California or Texas or Chicago, all of which are already on the roster right now, that there is a chance to be pretty good.
Having a history and tradition of success at USC probably made it a little easier to recruit and also sell that California experience of sunshine and palm trees. Besides academics, how do you plan to get those California or Texas kids to come to the land of snow?
It is going to be people that have a chip on their shoulders. It is going to be people that want to grind and be a part of something special. This is not going to be easy. There is nothing about this place that screams easy. Yeah, sure, it is cold, but I grew up in Hawaii and so far I haven’t frozen to death, so I think you can get over that part of it.
It is not USC because it doesn’t have the history on the volleyball side, but every year you start with something new. I think the biggest thing for me is finding people who want the chance to prove people wrong. One of the things that I know stuck with me throughout this process is people telling me that I wasn’t ready to be a head coach or this, that and the other. And Boston College took a chance on me and I would like to take a chance on other people to be able to build something pretty special.
You said there is a commitment to the volleyball program at BC now. What did you see that makes you think the future is bright for BC volleyball?
People are excited for a change. There have been more resources kicked into financially. There is more flexibility to work around some of my demands. There are certainly efforts to create a better atmosphere for matches. Really the whole athletics department under this leadership is going in a positive direction. I think there is about 250 million dollars worth of athletic improvements in buildings going up. As I look out of my office I see a new practice facility going up for football and I believe basketball is going to be on the agenda next, which would free us up to have a volleyball only gym. So, there is certainly progress being made to boost the entire athletics department around Boston College.
What did you take from your time in California, whether as a player or as a coach with the men’s or women’s teams at USC or club teams, etc., that you are bringing with you to build that type of program at BC?
The biggest thing is going to be work ethic. I have always been someone who has been willing to put in the time. When I was the technical coordinator for the men’s and women’s and sand programs at USC and the U.S. national teams on the beach all at the same time, it was a lot of work. The time demand was huge, but I never shied away from the work. And I understand that this is certainly a building process here. It is not going to happen overnight. It is not going to happen in a year, but I think over a few years there is a good chance for some of that effort and a lot of that work to eventually pay off.
How does that start in the gym? How do you take a team that hasn’t experienced success and bring them around and make them believe?
You know it has actually been really interesting from that standpoint. I have had this group buy into a lot of the new techniques and the things that we are trying to train faster than about any team that I have ever worked with. They have been nothing but receptive and enthusiastic from the minute I stepped foot on this campus and really that has probably been the most refreshing thing for me. Obviously taking a new job where I am on a new coast, I am unknown to the east coast, I get all of that, but having so many California kids already on our roster, they understood the style, they understood a lot of the systems that I am trying to put in place and everybody has been really receptive to the change.
Do you think that receptive nature is because these players have a chip on their shoulder and they think you can get them there?
I think so. We sat down as a team and talked about some of our goals for the season and everybody wants to be better than they have been in the past. Nobody has backed away from the work that it is going to take to improve. I think this group as a whole is ready for something different and feels like they do have something to prove.
You coached under one of the most legendary coaches in America in Mick Haley at USC. What did you take away from him and other mentors you have had throughout your career that you will incorporate into your style as a head coach?
Mick has always been one of the most detail-oriented, organized people that I have ever come across and that attention to detail is something that I put into place immediately. Everything from travel itineraries to practice planning to having a calendar from now until May is something that we have already done and I think I have been here for four days.
So, the attention to detail and organization is something that comes in right off the bat. As far from a volleyball perspective, I have had the opportunity to work with several coaches that have all been very specific on technique and that is something we are going to put in play here. Like I said, we are going to be detail oriented and we are going to pay attention to how we are doing everything we do in the gym.
Your ability as a tactician and as a scout are the things that were most touted by those who knew you when you were hired for this position. Will you continue to do those things or will you rely more on your assistant coaches to do those things since you are in a different role now?
I am going to still do a lot of that. I think that is one of the things that I really enjoy about the game and I am pretty specific about the way I like to have those things done. So, in the beginning I am going to do most of that, but as I get more and more comfortable with my staff, I would like to start to get them a little bit more involved with that stuff on a week by week basis.
Talk about your staff. What do they bring to the table that is going to make you successful as a program and as a head coach?
I think everybody on my staff is going to be a great communicator. They know how to interact with the team, they are very precise about direction and instruction and I really think that is going to one of the biggest strengths we have as a staff. I think the other thing about my staff is that I am going to have a very energetic staff. Similar to me, they know this isn’t going to change overnight and this is going to be a process. And while we are going to be patient with the process, we are also very competitive and we are going to want to get this thing changed as quickly as we can.
You might be a little behind the eight ball when it comes to recruiting with so many early commits these days. Talk about the how the recruiting process may be a challenge in taking over a program after the early signing period is over.
The reality is that most Power 5 schools this spring will spend most of their time recruiting the incoming class of 2021. And coming into this situation, there are certainly gaps we need to fill before 2021 and a lot of it is going to be trying to find some athletes that have been maybe been overlooked that have the potential to grow into a role where they can contribute in the ACC. From a coaching perspective, I expect to be out on the road every weekend from now until May, but that is part of the challenge. That is part of what makes this exciting. I took this job fully knowing that was going to be the case. That wasn’t something that I was afraid of.
I think trying to fill some of those gaps and some of those spots that are open, we are going to have to be creative in the way that we do it and we really are going to have to find athletes that are maybe developing a little bit later but are willing to take a chance on us as well.
Do you sell the experience of being the player who takes the program to the next level, who can start the tradition of BC volleyball?
Absolutely. I think that is what really makes this kind of fun. If we can really get this going, it is going to start with a recruiting class or even with the kid that is in our gym right now that maybe other schools passed on. But it is going to have to start somewhere and there are certainly athletes out there that want to be able to prove something and want to be a part of something that they feel responsible for starting and building. I think that is a unique opportunity for someone to step in and be able to fill that role.
Looking ahead, what should we expect to see out of your program over the next five years. What is going to be the signature of the Jason Kennedy era BC volleyball program?
We want to be a team that never gives up. We want to make other teams earn each point. That means the defensive intensity is going to be high. That means the serving is going to have to be tough. We are going to have to choose smart shots offensively. But we don’t want to back down. Really, regardless of what the score is in the match or of what the set score is, we want people to understand that we aren’t going to back away from a challenge.
What is your forte when it comes to the game? Defense? Hitting? Serving?
I have always been told that I am a very analytical coach. The teams that I have coached have been pretty high volleyball IQ teams. We know what is open, we know how to play to a game plan, and we have been pretty successful at doing that at the various levels I have coached at. So, we are going to be well disciplined, have a high volleyball IQ and be able to make changes mid-match if we have to.
A lot of people came into this process to get you to this position, is there anyone you want to thank?
I think honestly the biggest thing is the administration here has really given me the chance to build something special here and I really appreciate that opportunity. When this position opened up, this was something that I really wanted, because it is in a good conference, in a good city with a good academic reputation. And really it is a good opportunity to try and build something and I am excited to be the guy that helps to do that.
Coach Kennedy FINALLY sporting some #BCEagles gear as he was introduced at last night's @BCMBB win over FSU! pic.twitter.com/8ZMEs0uARj
— BC Volleyball (@BC_Volleyball) January 16, 2018