COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Newly hired Texas A&M head volleyball coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn met with the media for the first time since accepting the position late last month and arriving in College Station on Monday evening.
Kuhn, a former American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Assistant Coach of the Year, and previously the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Kansas, became the sixth volleyball head coach in Texas A&M program history when Director of Athletics Scott Woodward announced her hiring on December 30.
Woodward and Senior Associate Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator Lori Williams, who is the volleyball team administrator and led the hiring search, joined Kuhn in the meeting with the media.
Complete audio of the question and answer session will be available at 12thman.com.
Below are selected quotes from the meeting.
How did you get your nickname?
“You guys can call me Bird. My real name is obviously Laura Kuhn. But a lot of people don’t really know my full name. My dad named me. Ever since I was little, I was born bird legs. No calf muscles. Obviously, I work out now, so they’re there, but bird legs my whole life. So it kind of stuck.”
Why was this the job that you chose over other offers?
“There are certain things that I was looking for when I finally decided to make the next move, and I think it was kind of surprising to the staff at Kansas, and the people around me because there were future plans that I was probably going to stay there. When this job opportunity came up, it was the foundation. There were certain things and certain expectations and standards and goals for myself in my career and what I think for the certain programs that I interviewed at that were attainable. It just became obvious when I was down here. It was in my gut, the first job that I was like, 'I want that job.' And just coming down here and meeting the people and seeing everything, the support that we will have through and through, it was a no-brainer to me.”
What was your feeling stepping on campus for the first time?
“It was crazy because it was a week's span of time, and I went on three different interviews. So where as I am like 100 percent extroverted, it was fun for me, and I was meeting people. I think you feel that in athletics, so there always an energy. But that ‘s what was cool here. You connect with certain people. You meet people. You connect with them. That is inevitably what you are going to build your decision on. Fortunately for me, I had those opportunities, and it was a very fast thing, and I wanted it to be that way. I didn't want to drag it out. I wanted to make the decision for the team, for the players, for my future staff. It wasn't something I wanted to drag out at all. I put a timeline on myself actually.”
“But you just feel it. You feel it when you are here. You feel the tradition. You feel the people that I know that have been a part of the program here and just the athletics here. There are people at Kansas that have been here before, so that made it more exciting, even when I had left the interview.”
When did you decide this was the right place for you?
“Aside from when the actual job opened up, and I knew I was going to go after it, it was the Friday at the Final Four. That is when I made the decision. Inevitably, throughout that whole week, I was feeling it and then made the actual decision that Friday.”
Coming into a program that hasn't seen a new head coach in 25 years, how do feel stepping into that?
“Me being a relationship person, I always think about the Corbellis, because inevitably in our volleyball community, it's pretty small. It's nationwide, but it is a small community. We all know each other even if we are not super close, so I've always respected them. But to me, that's exciting. It was the same thing when Dave Shoji retired at Hawaii. A lot of people didn't want to follow in the footsteps. People kind of steer away from that. To me, and even with that I was like, ‘That's a foundation.’ It doesn't matter the ups and downs, whatever might have happened. That is a foundation that has been laid here, and that is to me a very positive thing. They know that I respect them, and I appreciate this opportunity because I get to work with something that has already been established. So to me that was a huge positive.”
What were the keys to Kansas' turnaround?
“I think it was culture. I loved working for Coach B (Ray Bechard). He was great, and we learned a lot from each other. I give him props for allowing just the training changes that occurred and us working together and developing those things, because it was the culture. And it wasn't like we ever cleaned house. We trained the kids that were there, and we built the culture and then we recruited. So it was a natural transition and they are great people, amazing kids, amazing recruits just like I'm sure we have here, just a couple of conversations I've had on the phone with them. So I foresee the same transition. You are going to establish the culture and your style of play mixed with that relationship and the dynamics that you are going to build as a staff. With everyone. Not just the volleyball staff. I'm talking strength and conditioning, athletic training, academic advisers, everyone that is hands on with our program. It is going to be a special connection that our kids will feel.”
With all the resources that are here, is this program a sleeping giant?
“I'm sure people are going to use their own terms in the way perceive it, but yes. Like I've said, the foundation has been laid and established here. I fully intend to compete at the highest level, top of the SEC, competing for championships, going deep into the tournament. Across the board, that is what we talked about when I interviewed. Those are expectations for myself in leading a program. And to me, Texas A&M bar none should be competing at that level, consistently. We share that vision from administration through and through. So I'm excited about that. To me, that's why this job was No. 1, and that's the vision I want to carry out.”
What is your personal timetable to compete for SEC and national championships?
“I think with the recent success, in 2015 of winning the SEC, it's not like it's some far-off feat. I think once we get our culture established, and we get our system and what we are going to train, I don't foresee this long, lengthy [process]. It could be just a couple of years. It's right there. It's a buy-in. It's a culture. It's getting everyone on board. I think the success can happen pretty fast, especially with this group. It will be exciting, and it is going to be challenging. There is a lot of personality, a lot of training and things to get done this spring, so I'm up for the challenge, but it's going to be really fun. They have great energy just talking to them on the phone.”
On the search and why was Bird the choice:
“First of all, kind of as a preface, I have such an incredible staff. This was very much a group effort led by Lori (Williams), and as you well know, Stephanie Rempe played volleyball in college, and the best comment came from my CFO, Jeff Toole. The first day she was on campus, he said, 'Don't let her get out of here without hiring her.' I said, 'Calm down, Jeff. We have time.' But this is how we do things. We have expertise in doing it, and there was unanimity in that. Lori was sold. Obviously, Jeff was sold, and Stephanie was. We had this kind of consensus that was. And then I met her one-on-one, and I was sold. You just want to make sure you are thorough and that you go through this process and that you think about it and that you do it right, and that you see what is available. Everything that she talked about aligned with everything that we are about -- giving our kids the first-rate education that they can get and that being important, because that is going to carry on the rest of their lives; and secondly, being able to compete at the highest level and not being afraid of it, and that is what she is about. I've been around championship volleyball and watched a national championship at my former employer, and I know it and I know what good volleyball is about, and she reeked of that; and then thirdly, she talks about it more of relationships. I talk about it more as the experience and what our kids are about and who we are as Aggies. You know that. You’ve heard me say it a million times, 'It's imbedded in our core values and who we are. So from that standpoint, she got it and we were aligned. It was just how we talked about it differently. . . . She was highly, highly regarded by my staff coming in, so I had high expectations and she met them. For us, it became essentially like she said a no-brainer for us.”
Do you see this program as a sleeping giant that you can build and win SEC championships?
“Yes, I do, and that's in every sport we do. Frankly, I just think as a conference, like softball, we have to get better in volleyball. We watched it happen, and Bird and I talked about it. I'm not worried about the rest of the conference, but usually when you have better competition in your conference, it helps everyone. So I think that is going to happen, and I think it is going to transcend. But we have a great advantage here being such a good university with such a great amount of talent and ability in the Texas area that we can be very good, and that is our vision for what we are. But we do in my opinion have to get better as a conference in this sport.”
How many people did you consider and why was Bird your choice?
“We looked at a nationwide search to identify those individuals, and as Scott indicated, we looked at assistants as well as sitting head coaches. And so I'd say we looked at anywhere from maybe five to a dozen that we were really narrowing down and having those conversations, but again initially my first call was to Bird, because, to me, she rose to the top as being the top assistant coach in the country, and so because I had an opportunity to work with her briefly at Kansas, we have that relationship. It was an easy first call to reach out to Bird. And from that conversation, I hung up thinking, 'OK, this is different.' And we talked about it. We are so comfortable with each other. ‘You're saying all the right things.’ We just gelled. Hearing that from such a relationship person, we had that already. But in my mind, I had to think, 'OK, there may still be other options.' As Scott indicated, we wanted to get the best coach for our program, and so even though we had those additional conversations and talks with other coaches who are running elite programs, doing amazing things, Bird still stood out. It was those intangibles. Her intensity. Her competitive nature. Her desire to win and recruit well, and do it well. That was what people talked about. We talked to people around the country, and that was Bird's reputation. She is a phenomenal recruiter, and she is a great trainer in the gym. Those are things that we need to move our program forward, and she had it. And then the personality was just icing on the cake.”