Aird says Hoosiers need a little sauce

During his first few weeks on the job, new Indiana volleyball coach Steve Aird has tried to teach his players a lesson.

There is a difference between juice and sauce.

It is, at first glance, a lesson that seems a peculiar fit for the realm of athletics, but it is one Aird insists is important, nonetheless.

Allow Aird to explain.

“Juice has shelf life,” Aird said, “but over time, it expires. It’s done. Sauce is different. Sauce is thick. It can hang out in the fridge for months. We need a little sauce. We need girls that walk in the gym with a chip on their shoulder and have a little energy about how they go about their business.”

Aird is trying to build a program with staying power, a program that can compete in college volleyball’s most challenging conference.

At IU, he sees the resources to accomplish those objectives.

With a long-term contract, fertile recruiting grounds and a new $17 million multi-purpose arena named Wilkinson Hall set to open this fall, Aird is laying out a plan to make Indiana relevant for years to come.

And with Aird’s track record, Indiana athletic director Glass believes he’s the one who can get it done.
“I think he’s gonna be a real coup for us,” Glass said.

Aird, who replaced ousted former coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan in January, came of age at Penn State, where he was a two-year captain and helped the Nittany Lions’ men’s team to three appearance in the Final Four. Later, as an assistant with the women’s team, Aird was on a Penn State staff that guided the Lions two national championships.

But it was what Aird did during the past four seasons as head coach at Maryland that solidified Glass’ decision to make the hire.

In College Park, Md., Aird took over a program that posted 10 wins overall and only three in the Big Ten during his first season. Last season, Aird’s fourth guiding the Terrapins, Maryland won 18 games — its most since 2010 and finished as the first team left out of last fall’s NCAA Tournament field.

On the floor, it was a slow build. Everywhere else, signs of a breakthrough emerged rather quickly.
Aird recruited at a high level, signing the nation’s No. 16 ranked recruiting class in 2016. A year later, he inked Maryland’s first top-10 class.

“All those objectives attracted me to him, but what really sold me were the subjectives,” Glass said. “When I met him, the guy’s like a force of nature. He’s larger than life. He’s very dynamic, yet grounded, which is an unusual combination when you get someone who has both of those kinds of qualities. I was like, ‘Is this guy for real?’”

Personality and people skills have served Aird well during his career, especially in the recruiting realm. After achieving previously-unseen success on the grassroots level at Maryland, Aird is already following through on his mission at Indiana.

This week, Aird landed a commitment from Louisville setter Abigail Westenhofer, a second-team Under Armour All-American.

“I’m just a little tired of other schools in this state having a ton of success and getting all the best kids in Indiana,” Aird said. “We have a rightful place for that. The years of dominating and saying, ‘Indiana’s not gonna get the best.’ That’s over. … This area, you’re an easy car ride away from some of the best players in the country, period.”

Of course, patience will be an important component to Aird’s rebuilding project. That’s why Glass gave him a seven-year contract. Aird’s deal will pay him $231,000 in base salary during his first season, according to the contract obtained by The Herald-Times via open records request, with an escalating rate of $5,000 per season.

For Aird, starting from scratch was part of the attraction at Indiana.

With the 3,000-seat Wilkinson Hall, which is currently under construction adjacent to Cook Hall on 17th street, Aird has big plans — plans he’s organizing in his own image.

“You want the crowd to be interactive, you want them to be participating in the event,” Aird said. “So for me, there’s gonna be music in between points. The student section, we’re gonna want to tailgate beforehand and give them an opportunity to eat and hang out. There’s preliminary talks to almost turn it into a South American feel with drum lines. It’ll almost be a Brazilian kind of deal. It’s just gonna be different, and it’s gonna be different in a way where people are excited about it, students are excited about it.”

And sustaining that excitement over the long haul, both inside and outside his program, is Aird’s chief objective.

One comment

  1. This is a huge get for IU volleyball. Aird is probably in the top 10 of coaches and probably the best at building a program. With the new facility and top prospects in and around Indiana, we will see a huge swing in results. Plus, his teams will put Butts in seats. Just look at Maryland.

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