Iowa took its time searching for the right person to lead their volleyball program and on Tuesday announced that they've found that person in former Tulane coach Jim Barnes.
Barnes joins the Hawks after six years at Tulane and 24 years of coaching experience. In his career, he's amassed over 450 wins and nine 20-win seasons. Barnes has also spent time at Baylor, Wyoming, and Lamar, and led the Baylor Bears to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2009.
There were a lot of open coaching spots across the college volleyball landscape and Iowa looks to have done fairly well for itself in its hiring of Barnes. He's shown an ability to turn around and build programs throughout his career, which is certainly a necessary part of the Iowa coaching job at this point. Of course, building a competitive Wyoming or Tulane squad isn't the same as building a program that can compete in the best volleyball conference in the country.
Competing in the Big Ten is going to take a massive effort from Coach Barnes and his staff and recruiting will be as important as development. The Midwest, and Iowa in particular, has some of the best high school volleyball players in the country, but far too often in Iowa's volleyball history, the best recruits haven't chosen to come to Iowa City. Convincing top talent to come to Iowa over reigning national champion Wisconsin isn't going to be easy, but Iowa should be able to pull in more of that talent than they are currently. If Coach Barnes can sprinkle in some recruiting from a bit closer to his home in the Southeast as well, Iowa could start to show improvement quickly.
If recruiting is the biggest key to improvement, retaining the talent already in-house is a close second. Coaching changes often come with a flurry of transfers, but Barnes should make an effort to retain as much of the current Hawkeyes roster as he can. As much as the team underachieved, it's still easier to work from a foundation, especially in a sport as reliant on team chemistry as volleyball, than to start completely from scratch. The setter-hitter connection, and even the passer-setter connection, is similar to that between a QB and a wide receiver. Changing the "playbook" with the onboarding of a new coach is far easier than having to rebuild chemistry between players. Augmenting the team with strong recruiting classes can help raise the overall level of the program, but in a developmental sport, there's something to be said for having some continuity on the roster as well.
Iowa continues to have a clear path to competitiveness, even if it's not an easy one. They play in the best conference in America, are situated right in the middle of a recruiting hotbed, and have a brand new stadium to show off. There's no reason the program shouldn't be in at least in the middle of the Big Ten, if not pushing towards the top quarter of the conference.
Coach Barnes has shown a strong ability to make an early impact with rebuilding programs. Here's hoping he can do the same at Iowa. Congratulations and welcome to Iowa City, coach. We're excited to see what you can build here.