TEMPE – From Olympic gold medalists to national championship winners, Arizona State Vice President for Athletics and Athletic Director Ray Anderson has set a distinctive precedent in hiring head coaches to lead Sun Devil athletic programs.
Anderson’s track record of high-profile hires include United States national team coaches in swimming’s Bob Bowman and wrestling’s Zeke Jones, collegiate national champions in men’s basketball’s Bobby Hurley and women’s golf’s Missy Farr-Kaye, and well respected program builders in baseball’s Tracy Smith and women’s lacrosse’s Courtney Martinez Connor.
In early February, just 25 months into his tenure, Anderson made his 10th head coaching appointment, selecting Penn State assistant coach Stevie Mussie to guide ASU’s women’s volleyball program.
A national champion as a player at Washington in 2005 and a title-winner as an assistant coach with Penn State in 2014, Mussie possesses the type of championship credentials that have defined Anderson’s coaching searches.
“The qualities we seek when we’re looking to bring leadership to our teams, you’ve heard me say this before–intelligence, intensity, integrity, energy, experience in the trenches, passion, a team orientation, values, compassion, character, competitive nature and a burning desire to lead and to build programs,” Anderson said.
Aside from locating leaders with title aspirations and the know-how to achieve at a high level, Anderson routinely searches for coaches with a trailblazing spirit and a pioneering passion, and Mussie certainly fits the bill.
As a first-time head coach, Mussie joins former ASU assistant and first-year North Carolina State University head coach Linda Hampton-Keith as one of two women of color leading a Division I, Power 5 conference volleyball program.
“I think it’s a very special thing,” said Mussie of the opportunity to pave the way for African-American women. “So (Hampton-Keith) and I talk about it all the time. What does this mean to us? How can we continue to pave the way for everyone else?”
Mussie, 30, is dead set on taking the ASU program to even greater heights after the Sun Devils reached the postseason in each of the last four seasons under Jason Watson, who left ASU to take the head coaching position at Arkansas.
The seventh head coach in Sun Devil volleyball history said the opportunity to show her team it’s possible for women of color to succeed in a high-profile role drives her.
“I think (success) is important when you’re given an opportunity to do something like this,” Mussie said. “Is it more pressure? I want to be successful regardless, but it definitely kind of gives you that little extra boost because I want my girls to see that it’s possible.”
Mussie received the job offer from Anderson, who himself is a trailblazer within collegiate athletics. Of the 128 athletic directors in charge of programs at the FBS level, Anderson is one of only 12 African-Americans in his position.
Anderson said the chance to provide Mussie with her first head-coaching opportunity was something “we were proud of,” but said the overall goal of the coaching search was to find the best possible candidate for the position.
“Diversity and inclusion is certainly something that are our core values and to have the opportunity to kind of hit on all of them was a real joy for us,” Anderson said. “But make no mistake about it, Stevie Mussie is our head volleyball coach because she was the best person available out there and that’s what we did. We brought the best person available into this position.”
Mussie inherits a program graduating five seniors, including three of its top five kills leaders in 2015. Among the departing players are local products Macey Gardner, ASU’s all-time leader in kills from Mesa, and Bianca Arrellano, a three-year starter at setter from Phoenix.
In her introductory press conference, Mussie outlined the importance of capitalizing on the emerging local talent in Arizona, suggesting the state’s pool of players has evolved to levels that put it on par with traditional volleyball hotbeds like California and Texas.
“I think it’s really important to understand that volleyball is huge in this area,” Mussie said. “You have probably 10 kids going to top 25 schools in the country within a two-hour radius. So the fact that if we’re able to keep kids here, which is going to be our number one goal as a staff, that’s how the excitement is going to come.”
The emergence of Arizona’s youth volleyball scene coinciding with the hire of a young, vibrant head coach like Mussie could create the perfect storm for the Sun Devil volleyball program.
Though ASU has never been a traditional volleyball powerhouse, Mussie is determined to change the program’s culture, and she’s already drumming up expectations and excitement for the road ahead.
“Everybody here is so excited about this place and what it can do,” Mussie said. “I couldn’t be more excited, the club coaches couldn’t be more excited, I’ve talked to alums and they’re super into it and that just makes it that much more exciting. They want to be a part of this.”