Jan. 11, 2017
New Head Coach Tom Black makes the rounds on his first day on campus.
By John Frierson
UGAAA Staff Writer
New Georgia volleyball coach Tom Black is still getting acclimated to his new surroundings, though for a lifelong southern California guy, Wednesday's sunny, upper-60s January day probably felt a lot like home.
Black was announced as the Bulldogs' new coach on Dec. 22, making for an extra-exciting holidays for him and his family. Black arrives in Athens after seven seasons as head coach of Loyola Marymount, which he led to a record of 127-86 and three NCAA Tournament appearances.
He also comes to Athens not long after serving as an assistant coach on the U.S. women's volleyball team that earned a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. Before coaching at LMU, Black spent five seasons at UC-San Diego, his alma mater. A native of Encino, Calif., about 20 miles from the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, Black also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at USC.
Through and through a southern California man, Black sat down for a quick chat Tuesday to discuss his roots, moving across the country to Georgia, the holidays and much more. Here's some of what he had to say:
Frierson: How much did you know about Athens, Ga., say, six weeks ago?
Black: I did a lot of research, obviously, when the interview happened, and I didn't even hear a mild adjective about this place. All I hear was, "It's great, it's the best, I love it."
It's been incredibly consistent; you'd think at some point someone would kind of roll their eyes, but everyone seems to love it here, unless I'm getting a huge con job. [Laughs]
Frierson: Before that research it was what, R.E.M. and Georgia football?
Black: I knew that and I knew the B-52s. Honestly, I hadn't thought about it a ton until the last couple of years, when I started to become more aware of the SEC. I was probably like most people in L.A, you know Georgia but you don't spend much heavy thought on it.
Frierson: You've got L.A. right there, why would you worry about a place 3,000 miles away. Speaking of, what will you miss most about L.A.?
Black: I've been around the ocean my whole life so that will be an adjustment, but there's benefits to everything. I'm excited to have a really different change here; you always grow a lot when you go into a new environment and I'm looking forward to that.
Frierson: From a coaching standpoint, what is the challenge of moving across the country to terrain you probably don't yet know that well?
Black: I don't know if it's a challenge but it's the job, making sure people know we're here and pounding the pavement. We have a lot of the relationships already, it's more of with the Georgia [gear] on and just being visible and getting out there.
Honestly, the biggest [recruiting] challenge is getting next year and 2018 organized, but it's all stuff that we'll get done.
Frierson: Georgia's program has been able to put together some good seasons, but has struggled to put them together and build one of the top programs in the SEC. Have you gone into detective mode at all to see what exactly has been holding the program back?
Black: A little bit. For me it was more what I believe as a coach and what the opportunity is here, and putting it together I thought it was a good fit. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
Once I got here and saw this and put things together in my own here, it was like a no-brainer. This place could really be great. I think there's a low level of national awareness of volleyball here; there's a high level for football and other programs, and one of our biggest challenges is getting the spotlight on us, and the kids will come.
Frierson: What was your experience like in Rio, both as a person taking in the Olympics and as a volleyball coach?
Black: I think the once-in-a-lifetime feeling was the opening ceremonies. That was just incredible; it was all the cliches you hear about sports coming true: it's bigger than you, the spirit of sports and why you're playing, the spirit of competition. That was an indescribable feeling walking through the tunnel and into the stadium.
The experience of coaching was in a lot of ways similar to coaching in other international tournaments. I was a little surprised in that way, because there definitely was a "business as usual" feeling to it.
I think the one part that was unique was, the Olympics are a different format, where you go 6-0 in your pool and arguably you're playing the best volleyball you have in four years, and then you have this dominating win in the quarters, but then you have this five-point run where you don't play well in the semis and suddenly your chance at a gold medal is over.
It was all good volleyball and this just this little bit, that kept you from playing for a gold medal. That part, that was hard, but that's part of the deal, too.
Frierson: What's the most creative thing you do? Or what's something creative you wish you could do?
Black: I wish I was able to play guitar more. That's one of my goals -- I have a four-year-old daughter and I want to play with her when she gets old. I used to play a lot more when I was single.
Frierson: I'm guessing getting a new job right before the holidays made for some excitement around the house.
Black: My parents live right above San Antonio, so we were out there, and day two of that trip I got hired. All of a sudden I'm employed in Athens and I live in L.A., and I'm not in either one of those places. It was a crazy eight days.
(This Q&A was lightly edited for length and clarity.)
John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men's Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He's also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.