Hugh McCutcheon's announcement that he's resigning as Gophers volleyball coach at season's end and moving into a newly created athletic department role had a whiplash effect that hasn't been parsed. That's primarily because he does not want to talk about the transition until after the volleyball season.
But a new book by McCutcheon out Tuesday, "Championship Behaviors: A Model for Competitive Excellence in Sports," provides a sense that he has a clear idea of what he wants to accomplish as an administrator.
It can best be described as refocusing the direction and meaning of athletics.
"Our world of comparison is increasingly fixated on outcomes — especially on winning. So much so, it seems, that anything less is often quickly dismissed as failure," McCutcheon writes. "It's as though doing your absolute best and finishing second is somehow an embarrassment or a disgrace.
"That doesn't sit well with me. … As much as we all want to win, we can't win all of the time. So there has to be more to it."
It is that element of "more to it" that illuminates McCutcheon's view of the purpose of coaching and participating in sports, and it gives a glimpse of what he might bring to his role as assistant athletic director/sport development coach.
His book questions the notion of the all-powerful coach, debunks antiquated ideas around gender, discusses how to handle disruptive players with empathy, zeros in on the mental and physical health of players and emphasizes the incredible learning opportunities that stem from failure.
So why the career change?
McCutcheon's writing shows he believes his approach to holistic player development — culled from neuroscience, physical science and philosophy — is transferrable. That any coach and player can apply it to themselves to create a better, healthier relationship to sports while also striving for excellence.
And, just as importantly, that coaches have a responsibility to share what they've learned to improve sports across a wide spectrum.
If this is McCutcheon's aim — to foster an environment where Gopherscoaches will work together in an attempt to improve the lives of student-athletes and breed success — then it becomes easier to understand the draw of his new role.
Throughout his book McCutcheon interviews former players, including Gophers standouts Daly Santana and Sarah Wilhite and members of the USA men's volleyball team that McCutcheon coached to a gold medal in 2008.
The interviews share a common thread: The players initially were questioning of McCutcheon's process because of stretches of futility. That eventually gave way to incredible success, which reorientated how the players viewed what they had experienced.
Can that process work at a university level?
That is the tradeoff risk for McCutcheon. He will lose the intimacy that comes with getting a volleyball team to buy into his process each season in the hopes he can use it to benefit the entire Gophers athletic department.
Will other coaches listen to his advice? Will players? Will U leaders consider holistic development as much as they consider wins and losses? Will they deploy resources to show that each student-athlete matters equally on and off the court?
Those types of questions in some ways provide an idea for why McCutcheon made the decision he did. Taking on new challenges is not just for athletes.
He writes that growth is deeply personal, and our traditional ideas of success are fleeting. So we should not shy away from the difficulty of trying to improve ourselves, because in that arena we can find a life well-lived.