June 23, 2014
By Steve Lewis, UConn Athletic Communications
STORRS, Conn. - Having spent 20 of the past 23 years coaching at a plethora of top-flight volleyball programs, with most being schools in the Southeastern Conference, the move back north for Kris Grunwald was surprisingly smooth and all too familiar for the new UConn women's volleyball coach.
Grunwald, who was hired in early April to take over the reins of the volleyball program, grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York and lived in the northeast until he left for college at George Mason. He continued his graduate work at Florida State, where he also served as an assistant coach from 1991 to 1993.
"It has been really fun to be back home," said the newly-hired coach. "Every day I experience a different little kind of déjà vu of something that rings a bell from when I grew up."
With Grunwald's sister in Philadelphia and his brother two hours away, the transition back to northeast territory has been efficient for Grunwald as he prepares for his first season as head coach in Storrs.
"The move has been great, the people have been amazing and helping me get organized and settled. Whether I need a piece of information or someone to lend me a hand, everyone has been great in helping me make the transition," said Grunwald.
Grunwald's most recent coaching job was a two-year stint at Auburn as assistant coach, though his history with the Tigers runs long and deep. Upon completing his graduate work, he became an assistant at Auburn in 1994, holding that title until 1997. In the 1998 and 1999 seasons, he led the Tigers as head coach, accumulating a 41-20 combined record in two years. Auburn won 22 games in 1998 under Grunwald.
"I wasn't looking for jobs, I wasn't applying anywhere, I was comfortable at Auburn," said Grunwald after the past two seasons with the Tigers. When the UConn position opened up, however, it gave him something to think about.
"One of the big things for me is surrounding yourself with good people," said Grunwald on the UConn coaching vacancy. "Immediately, I thought of Athletic Director Warde Manuel, who I worked with in the past. We were both at Michigan at the same time. Doug Gnodke, our [Senior Associate Director of Athletics and] CFO, he was at Michigan then too. I had a history of working with them and I knew they were taking UConn in a good direction."
Grunwald served as the compliance service coordinator in Ann Arbor from 2000-2002, the same time Manuel was Associate Athletic Director and Gnodke was Assistant to the Athletic Director for the Wolverines.
"My immediate boss now, [SWA] Debbie Corum, is from the SEC office, so I've known her for 15 years," continued Grunwald. "When I looked at the people I would be working under, there is not a better group."
Before his most recent tenure at Auburn, Grunwald was an assistant at Arkansas for four years (2008-2011) and an associate head coach at Morehead State for two (2006-2007). After leaving Michigan's compliance office in 2002, he returned to coaching as an assistant at Mississippi (2002-2005).
With all of his coaching experiences at different universities throughout the country, Grunwald has one big takeaway.
"One of the most important factors in this business is the quality of people you surround yourself with," said the Husky coach. "Not only above you from head coach to administrators, but as a head coach now, the quality of the assistant coaches I've been able to hire and the players you have."
To that point, Grunwald has tabbed former UConn assistant Ellen Herman and former Georgetown assistant Sarah Cullen to his coaching staff for the upcoming season.
Grunwald added, "I've learned something from absolutely everyone I've worked with, and for the most part, it's been good things. However, I've also learned things that I wouldn't want to carry over into my coaching profession."
The Huskies finished 14-19 (5-13 in The American) last season, leaving Grunwald an opportunity this season to help the team meet higher standards. The Husky coach was pleased when he saw the roster at his disposal next season, which includes a class of five seniors and a strong pool of young talent.
"There's a group that wants to stick together because they feel really strongly about UConn," said Grunwald of his players. "I knew the group that would be inherited is a solid volleyball roster."
As far as having a vision for the UConn volleyball program, Grunwald recognizes the importance of teaching in his profession and believes volleyball to be a vehicle for developing life skills, as well as academic and athletic progression.
"Ultimately, we're teachers. We're teachers that are trying to help young people grow and our job is to provide an environment and opportunities for our student-athletes to become the best people and players that they can be," said Grunwald.
From the start of the 2014 season, Grunwald wants it to be known that the Huskies plan to be contenders every year, eventually resulting in UConn's long-term success as a national power.
"We want to head out with the expectation that we're going to compete for a conference championship every year. That puts us in the mindset to be in the NCAA Tournament. That's our primary goal and ultimately we feel we can build this into a Top 25 program," said the Germantown, N.Y. native.
One of the things that the women's volleyball coach is most looking forward to is recruiting players to UConn, due to the school's nation-wide brand as an institution that excels academically and athletically.
"I think there's not a part of the country you're going to go and you won't be able to sell the name `University of Connecticut' to a prospect and their family," said Grunwald. "UConn offers what our prospects think is important. That's obviously the volleyball, the academics, the safety and the opportunities."
Grunwald enters his first season at the helm for UConn women's volleyball and with the 2014 schedule recently released, he is ready to get moving in the right direction.