On Monday the Minnesota Gophers announced that Keegan Cook would be the new head coach of the Gopher volleyball program. Cook comes to Minnesota after eight seasons as the head coach at the University of Washington where he won four Pac-12 titles and took the Huskies to the NCAA tournament in all eight seasons in charge of the program.
Cook is only 37 years old but has over 15 years of collegiate and international coaching experience. The past eight seasons he has been the head coach at Washington where he led the Huskies to four Pac-12 Championships and eight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Washington advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight four times and the Final Four once. Cook posted an overall record of 198-56 at Washington and went 107-33 in conference play.
He was an assistant at Washington for two seasons before that where the Huskies has their first back to back 30 win seasons in program history. Prior to Washington, Cook was an assistant coach from 2007-12 at his alma mater St. Mary’s College of California. Cook helped the Gaels win their first West Coast Conference title in 2009 and saw the team compete in the NCAA tournament three times.
He also has spent time with USA Volleyball in the summers the past few seasons. In 2016, he was the head coach for the U.S. Collegiate Women’s National Team for its tour of China, and in 2018 Cook led the U.S. Junior Women’s National Team to compete in the NORCECA Championships in Mexico. In the summer of 2022, Cook was an assistant on the U.S. Girl’s U19 Team that won gold at the Pan American Cup in Tulsa, Okla.
The 2022 Washington Volleyball team was their least successful in several seasons, but was marred by injuries. They still made the NCAA Tournament before falling in the opening round to TCU. Their three best players were named All-Pacific North Region and will all graduate with their eligibility exhausted. The Huskies has a senior heavy team this year and do not have many candidates who may decide to join their coach in Minneapolis.
Mark Coyle described Cook’s coaching style as holistic in the press release announcing his hiring. It’s not hard to see how he has a similar look on volleyball and life to Hugh McCutcheon.
Cook was a math major at St. Mary’s and he uses his interest in math with an analytical eye on the volleyball court. In 2019 he was quoted in an article on Washington’s website about his philosophy of coaching “I was a math major and this is harder than some of my math classes,” Cook says of how volleyball lends itself to statistical analysis. It’s something he’s embraced and utilized to his teams’ advantages throughout his coaching career and as a Volleyball Information Supervisor (VIS) for the FIVB, the international governing body for the sport.
“[Volleyball] teaches you the importance of consistency—whether you’re working on your serve or trying to create some habits in your life where you just show up day after day,” he says. “When you start to do a little behavior over and over again, it turns into a powerful force in your life. Compound interest is one of the most powerful forces in the world. If you do something day after day, all of a sudden it will turn into something that just takes you places you never thought you could go.”
Telling isn’t teaching and listening isn’t learning,” Cook says, adding that that message of “showing and doing” has emerged as one of his core tenets as head coach. “Telling an athlete what to do is a really archaic way to teach. You have to be great at showing.”
Cook’s coaching ability should fit in well in the Big Ten, where he and the Gophers will need to keep up with an ever growing set of national powers in the sport. Besides perennial Final Four contenders Nebraska and Wisconsin, there are teams just a blip behind like up and coming Ohio State (who eliminated the Gophers in the Sweet 16 this season), Purdue, and historical successful schools like Penn State. Where Cook will need to prove he belongs with the big boys will be in his recruiting prowess. Minnesota has a slate of great recruits committed for 2024 and forward, and Cook will need to both keep them committed and look to find others both in the high school ranks, but to hit the transfer portal hard. Minnesota needs help on the back end with the graduations of CC McGraw and Rachel Kilkelly, and there will be plenty of named who can help in the portal. If Cook can add a few pieces to the current roster and keep Minnesota’s current stars in the boat—Taylor Landfair, Jenna Wenaas, Carter Booth, and Melani Shaffmaster, then this Gopher team should not miss a beat.
Congrats Keegan, hopefully you will go down as another successful coaching hire by Mark Coyle.