Hambly back in help-wanted business
CHAMPAIGN — Only one job definitely could have lured David Kniffin from the University of Illinois.
That job now is his.
Kniffin, who as a first-year Illini assistant helped the 2011 volleyball team finish second in the NCAA tournament, on Monday was named head coach of the national champion men's program at Cal Irvine.
"Any other job that popped up, I think I would have dismissed," Kniffin said. "It's the one job that could have pulled me away from what we've got going here at Illinois. It's a special time to be at the University of Illinois."
But Kniffin's ties to Irvine run too deep to turn down this opportunity.
The Chico, Calif., native is an Irvine graduate who started at setter for the Anteaters in 2002 and '03.
After playing professional volleyball overseas, Kniffin returned to his alma mater in 2006 and spent five seasons as an assistant coach. During that period, Irvine won two NCAA titles, and Kniffin was named 2010 Division I-II men's National Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
"I'm excited for David," Illini head coach Kevin Hambly said. "I'm disappointed that we can't keep David around because he's good at what he does. But I'm happy for him. It's a great opportunity because there are so few jobs at the men's level. It's probably one of the top three (men's) jobs."
Kniffin is the second Illinois volleyball assistant in as many years to leave for a Division I head coaching position. Kent Miller, who spent two seasons on Hambly's staff, left following the 2010 campaign to take over the Saint Louis program.
"I think this says a lot about Illinois and the program," Kniffin said. "Everyone coming in here, player or coach, walks away in a better position in the field they're in."
Kniffin indicated he will fulfill his commitment to assisting with Illini summer volleyball camps, which run through July 22.
In the meantime, Hambly will begin his search for Kniffin's successor immediately. Kniffin's primary duties at Illinois were preparing scouting reports of opponents and helping with game plans, as well as recruiting and scheduling.
In contrast to the replacement of Miller, who left in April 2011, Hambly faces a short window for filling his latest staff vacancy by the start of practice on Aug. 8.
"It'll be a challenge, of course," Hambly said. "We're so late in the game — we get started in a month — so I've got a lot of work ahead of me in the next month to get this done."
Meanwhile, Kniffin prepares to take over an Irvine program that last spring won its third NCAA title in six years. He succeeds John Speraw, who left the Anteaters in early June for a similar position at his alma mater, UCLA. Speraw coached Kniffin during the latter's senior season and later hired him as an assistant.
Irvine must replace two senior All-Americans, including the MVP of the NCAA tournament, from its 2012 title team.
However, Kniffin is highly familiar with all of the returning players since he was involved in their recruitment as an Anteaters' assistant.
"It'll be a challenge," Kniffin said, referring to the player losses. "But the group coming back, it'll be a motivated group. Any time you change coaches, there are a lot changes, but I know these guys pretty well — all of them."