UPDATED: Hambly leaving Illinois for Stanford

UPDATED: Hambly leaving Illinois for Stanford

What does this mean? Ask beat writer Scott Richey by clicking here

CHAMPAIGN — Nothing had changed in Kevin Hambly’s office at Bielfeldt Administration Building on Monday morning.

Books still lined the top of his cabinets along the north wall. Illinois’ 2011 national runner-up trophy — the one Hambly admits is one of his least favorite things — still sat on the window sill next to pictures of his family.

Recruiting plans for this offseason still covered the whiteboard on the south wall.

Nothing had changed in the Illinois volleyball coach’s office. Yet.

But change is coming for the Illini after a whirlwind change for Hambly that saw him contacted by Stanford about its head coach opening on Jan. 21, take a trip to Palo Alto, Calif., five days later and make a career-altering decision Saturday morning to accept the Cardinal’s offer.

Hambly’s hire as Stanford’s director of women’s volleyball became official at 11 a.m. Monday.

“I am thrilled to welcome Kevin, Mary and their daughters to the Stanford family,” Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said in a release. “Kevin is not only a great coach and teacher of the game, but he possesses the same values that make Stanford special. With a strong core returning from the national championship team, I have no doubt that Kevin will keep our women’s volleyball team among the nation’s elite.”

Hambly said he took his trip to Palo Alto on Thursday and Friday with Mary not expecting to take the job. But he had to at least see.

“It would take a very special opportunity for me to leave (Illinois),” Hambly said. “It had to be something like this, and I didn’t know if I’d be interested in Stanford.”

What he found in his chance to see the university, campus and town let him know he was, in fact, interested in Stanford beyond his thought the Cardinal represented the top job in collegiate volleyball.

“Having been there and seeing what it is and being a part of it, it just felt as we were going through the process like the way that their culture is is the culture I’m trying to put together here at Illinois,” Hambly said. “We were in concert. It just felt like a really good fit. Every conversation that happened was that way. I think for both sides it felt like it was right.”

Hambly informed his team he was leaving Illinois on Monday morning before the official announcement. Leaving the team — his players — and having to tell the group that stung.

Leaving Illinois and giving up the chance to continue building the Illini volleyball program alongside first-year athletic director Josh Whitman was the second half of the hardest part about accepting the Stanford job.

“Kevin Hambly has done an outstanding job leading our volleyball program to a position of national prominence during his eight years at the helm,” Whitman said in a statement. “He approached every day with passion, pride, and great integrity. His student-athletes performed as champions on the court, in the classroom and in their respective lives.

“We will miss Kevin, Mary, and their daughters in our program and our community, and we wish them the best as they return to Kevin’s native California. Here, we look forward to identifying the next dynamic leader who will continue the program on its upward trajectory. We are excited to usher in a new championship era of Illinois Volleyball.”

Hambly said Whitman made serious overtures from a financial and support standpoint to try and persuade him to stay at Illinois.

“I think he’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around,” Hambly said of Whitman. “It didn’t come down to money. It just came down to the opportunity that Stanford provides.”

Hambly had built the beginnings of an elite program at Illinois, but said there was more growth to be had. That was part of his conversation with Whitman in the last week. Hambly said he felt like he had maxed out what was able to be accomplished with the resources at his disposal.

“With the resources that we have right now and the facilities and things like that, I think we were hitting the limit, the edge, of what we can,” Hambly said. “I was pretty honest with Josh about that.”

And Whitman was receptive of that, Hambly said, and they discussed changes that could be made.

Changes Hambly still expects down the road for the program he guided for eight seasons, compiling a 178-86 record and making six Sweet 16 appearances and one trip to the national-championship match.

“I told (Whitman) after, what he’s trying to build here at Illinois is what Stanford has already,” Hambly said. “It’s just closer to a finished product there — the culture, the coaches, the facilities.

“I think Illinois could be a team that could be the same. But I feel like I couldn’t pass up this opportunity on the promise of that and the chance.”

After 13 total seasons at Illinois, including five as an assistant under Don Hardin, Hambly will inherit a Stanford roster that is set to return 14 players from the 27-7 team that beat Texas in four sets to win the 2016 national championship.

It was the Cardinal’s first since 2004, and the latest championship squad featured four freshmen regulars in setter Jenna Gray, outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris and libero Morgan Hentz.

The 6-foot-6 Plummer was named an AVCA first-team All-American as well as the AVCA Freshman of the Year.

With that talent, Hambly said Stanford should start the 2017 season as the No. 1 team in the country.

But a loaded roster wasn’t the deciding factor in his decision to leave the Illini for the Cardinal. Hambly knew this was his one shot at Stanford.

“Stanford’s not going to open again,” Hambly said. “It’s just not — not in my time of coaching. Whoever got the job was going to retire there. It was my one shot and the place where I hope to end my career.

“We’re going to approach it that way, and you can and lots of people do that. As long as I keep working and do the best I can, hopefully they’ll keep me around as long as until I can retire."

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Dr Freebird wrote on January 31, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Certainly Coach Hambly deserves my thanks for many exciting fall nights watching his team play, and for running a program with integrity--that we could be proud of. He stayed eight years as head coach, 13 overall; it's not like he bolted after two-and-a-half seasons. (*ahem*).  He did the things the right way. He gave us his best.

Stanford is an amazing offer, especially if you are a West-coast type of person.

(I am not.  Give me a cold fall day, and a hot, loud Huff Hall!!!!  And a victory over Wisconsin/Nebraska/Penn State!).

Looking to the future:

Hambly's comments in the article intrigue me, because I had this feeling the past few seasons that we had indeed stalled out; sometimes the team just seemed to run out of gas. Perplexingly so. We did well at times, but we often seemed to lack a smile.  Joy.  Bounce.  I dunno.  Maybe we played as well as we could, but we never seemed to overachieve either. 

17-14 last season was simply a puzzler.

Maybe next year's recruits would have brought the needed change had Kevin stayed. 

But, strangely, while I always thought that as a fan I would be heartbroken when Hambly left, under the sadness for the girls and for losing a guy I liked having around the community, as a fan, deep down, I feel like this is right.

Probably right for both the Hambly's and Illinois Volleyball. 

Maybe a new coach.  A dynamic personality.  A dynamic recruiter. is just what we need. 

I think the wave of the future is much more diversity in college volleyball.  Kids of color are picking up the game more and more, and I think it's great!

I'm not making any commentary whatsoever about Kevin Hambly, but I am just saying, I personally am hoping for a little risk here:  A foward thinking hire for a dynamic personality and recruiter who can roll with the new vibe and future of volleyball.


Salima Rockwell?


From the very, very little I know, maybe so, maybe so.


Good luck Hambly's.  


Best wishes to the Illini women, as this is always painful.


But, I think Josh might just strike with lightning again!