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Jim McLaughlin
Position: Head Coach
Hometown: Malibu, Calif.
Experience: 12 Years

Media Bio

By Gregg Bell - Director of Writing

One of the most accomplished - and certainly most unique - coaches in his sport pulls up the projector screen in his office.

Jim McLaughlinis explaining a tool he has used to transform Washington into a volleyball wonderland in his time on campus.

He's showing one of his legendary dry-erase boards he uses for practices. The innovator who has taken the Huskies from last place in the Pac-10 in 2000 to three Pac-12 titles, 12 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and the national championship in 2005 has written countless numbers, sayings, formulas, pictures and angles on a three-paneled white board.

It's a kaleidoscope of pink, green, blue, black, purple and yellow. It's part Carl Sagan, part Jimi Hendrix.

"There is no magic to it," McLaughlin says. "There's just some order. You hear it, you forget it. You see it, you remember it. You do it, you understand it."

Oh, yes, his Huskies understand. McLaughlin is 324-87 since arriving at UW from Kansas State for the 2001 season.

He is pointing to the lower left of the board, at the statistics he keeps for each time each Huskies player touches the ball in every practice.

The white boards are on the sidelines at workouts. They are in the players' lounge. They are constant motivators that drive his Huskies.

"Every athlete has to come to grips with learning how to learn," McLaughlin says. "Mindfulness is the key to improvement."

America's volleyball community is mindful of what McLaughlin has built at Washington. Four Final Four appearances. Seven trips to the Elite Eight. Three national players of the year. Fifteen players who have combined for 31 AVCA All-America awards. A Husky has earned Academic All-America eight times under McLaughlin. His peers have named him the national coach of the year in 2004 and Pac-10 coach of the year four times.

Hall of Famer Paula Weishoff is a two-time U.S. Olympic medalist, the most valuable player of the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 2011 she was standing next to McLaughlin's mentor, Dr. Carl McGown, inside a gym in Anaheim, Calif., watching the women's national team train.

"She said to me, `I've been in so many gyms, but I've never seen any place as competitive and as focused as the University of Washington.' And we were standing in the U.S. national team's gym!" McGown says over the telephone from Provo, Utah.

"Jim has this unique gift, this unique ability that very few coaches have -- that none have, if you listen to Paula Weishoff."

McLaughlin smiles when I tell him that story.

"It's nice to hear," he says. "You need that edge for improvement."

That, and his white boards.

The left side has a chart of each player's uniform number and statistics in rows and columns, like a Keno game board at a casino.

To the right a series of hollow circles connected by dots of the same color form arcs on the board. The pink, blue, green, purple and yellow patterns look like hurricane tracks on the Weather Channel.

"These are the arcs of our sets," McLaughlin says. "We wanted to regulate our speed and force. And here is a zone that is a really good ball to hit."

There's a motivational saying, a schedule of practice, times, goals - everything except for what McLaughlin is having for dinner that night. Then again, that might be on there, too. I can't tell for sure.

"The first week I couldn't even understand it. I had to have the upperclassmen help me," then-freshman outside hitter Gabbi Parker said of the boards.

McLaughlin, a husband and father of three girls (Megan, Molly, and Marit), spends two hours every practice day filling out these boards, and on scripting each day's practice inside file folders. The script details agendas not just for the team, but for each player.

The inside cover of his folders have "big rocks," the team's focus areas for that day, and "little rocks," individual breakdowns of players' strengths and weaknesses.

After practice, he spends more hours reviewing practice video and updating the boards for the next day. The cycle continues daily from August through December.

McLaughlin is so influential on UW's campus, interim university president Phyllis Wise quoted him in one of her first speeches in her new job, saying: if you can't measure it, you won't get better at it.

The name for this quantitative analysis of volleyball is gold medal squared -- like a physics formula. And the man responsible for it is McGown, a former BYU human-performance professor and hall of fame volleyball coach. McGown has worked with the U.S. national team in seven different Olympics, including with McLaughlin in 1992 in Barcelona.

His gold medal squared combines human kinetics, organizational behavior, statistics, and psychology. It requires a thorough understanding of biomechanics.

"Of course, biomechanics applies to all sports," McGown says. "But not every coach has the education or training in it. They don't know about physics."

McLaughlin does. Each offseason, he's likely to be in seminars among physicists who may not know a volleyball from a ball of wax. He studies algebraic equations that solve the speed of a thrown discus and predict its path of flight.

"Most coaches say, `How does this apply to volleyball?' They don't see it," McGown says. "Jim sees everything."

It took him a while. McLaughlin was a surfer kid in Malibu, Calif., who finally went out for the football team late in his time at Santa Monica High School. Then he injured his knee. While strengthening the knee running on the beach, he became intrigued by friends playing volleyball. He went out for that team and continued playing volleyball at Santa Monica College for two seasons before UC Santa Barbara offered him a scholarship.

"My dad told me, as one of five kids, `You're taking it,'" McLaughlin remembers.

He became an All-American at UCSB. But he dreamed of being in the film industry. He was an intern for the NBC TV affiliate in Santa Barbara then accepted what he called a great job at a sound lab. That same day Marv Dunphy, the four-time national champion coach at Pepperdine in Malibu, offered McLaughlin an assistant coach's position for the 1986 season. McLaughlin jumped back home and, as he says, "got hooked" on teaching volleyball.

Dunphy, entering his 30th season leading Pepperdine's men's team, knew gold medal squared from living in McGown's house in Provo, while Dunphy was getting his doctorate from BYU.

Then-USC athletic director Barbara Hedges hired McLaughlin to be the Trojans' head men's coach in 1990. That's the same year McGown started BYU's volleyball program. When USC and BYU played each other in the early `90s, McLaughlin learned about the white boards McGown brought out of his human-performance labs and placed next to the court.

One offseason at USC, McLaughlin came to Provo, sat on McGown's back porch, and absorbed all he knew about his unique method of coaching.

"I was kind of going by the seat of my pants - hey, this coach said this, this coach said that. I said, there's got to be one right way," McLaughlin recalls.

He wanted to trust in what he was teaching when he recruited players, assuring parents that he would improve their daughters. McLaughlin said he learned more in those four hours on McGown's porch than he had in his career from all other colleagues combined.

Armed with a new way to teach, McLaughlin went to Kansas State and was 82-43 in four seasons there. Then Hedges, who'd become the AD at Washington, offered him the challenge of transforming the Huskies.

The first season McLaughlin went 11-16 while remodeling what had been the last-place team in the Pac-10 in 2000. Just one year later, the Huskies went 20-11 and made the NCAA second round. Since 2003, Washington has not won fewer than 23 matches or lost more than nine in any season.

"A lot of coaches believe they know it all, and because they know it they are not willing to change at all. Jim is immensely interested in change," McGown said. "It's not an ego thing with him. He just wants to always learn and get better."

McLaughlin says this is his last coaching stop, that his family loves Seattle and will stay. There is one job he would love: coaching the national team in an Olympics. He was offered that chance for the 2008 Games, but declined because he said the timing wasn't right with his family. The coveted job requires a half a year or more away training.

"Maybe someday," he says.

Until then, he seeks more knowledge for those white boards. He's been to NFL training camps in Cleveland and Seattle. He's seen offseason coaching with the Denver Broncos.

"I'm just always trying to get better," he said.

With that, he goes back to studying practice film. The sun is setting outside his window.

A couple hours after the sun rose Wednesday morning, McLaughlin was attending a lecture given by a man who studied hotbeds of elite performance entitled: "Groundbreaking Ways to Grow Talent." The coach was taking notes, leaning forward in his seat, nodding his head.

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