Volleyball coach ‘wired’ for success

Josh Johnston

Conley’s intensity, winning mentality lead to KSU victories

Kent State volleyball coach Glen Conley has led the Flashes to a 12-3 record so far this season after posting a 22-10 record last year. Conley came to Kent State in 2007 after spending 17 seasons as the coach of three other college programs, and he has

Credit: DKS Editors

Glen Conley sometimes takes a nap before volleyball matches.

While most coaches would take the time to pump themselves up to lead their team, the Kent State volleyball coach crashes on the black couch in his office.

“I’m pretty wired as it is,” Conley said. “So I have to try to calm myself down. So a lot of times I’ll try to take a nap before we play. If I have to take a walk to calm myself down, I try to do that.”

The world record holder in the 40-and-over high jump, Conley is not one to stand still while his team plays. The man who jumped higher than 7 feet at the age of 41 now shows the Flashes how to increase their vertical jump.

“I don’t know why I didn’t break down like most people do when they get to the age of 40,” Conley said. “I don’t know why. I was just blessed by the Lord.”

The Flashes move at Conley’s pace – always looking ahead, never behind. The team has started Mid-American Conference play at 2-0, but Conley won’t let the team rest. Monday, he already had the Flashes scouting Bowling Green, who they won’t even see until Saturday.

Student assistant coach Laura Jensen, who also played under Conley last season, said he’s completely changed the team’s outlook since day one.

“We had kind of gotten settled into the pattern of losing, sub-.500 seasons,” Jensen said. “He came in, and the very first day he’s like: ‘We win. We’re Kent State. We win.'”

Conley said he didn’t know what to expect when he came to Kent State. He didn’t bring any assistants with him from his former coaching position at Army. He didn’t even know what kind of talent the team had.

“It was basically me coming into a situation that I didn’t know a whole lot about,” he said. “I basically told the team: ‘You’ve got two weeks. Everybody’s in a tryout situation. If I like what I see after two weeks, I’ll keep you. If I don’t, you’ll be gone.’

“I didn’t get rid of a single player. Everybody was in because all they wanted to do was win. So it was a perfect situation.”

While she was intimidated by Conley at first, Jensen said she really enjoyed the year she played for him.

“Everything became so much more competitive,” she said. “If your stats weren’t good (and) if you weren’t winning in practice, you weren’t going to see the court. Obviously the results have been great, so it’s working.”

During practices, Conley fills both sides of a whiteboard with practice statistics. If he’s not happy with the results, the team hears about it – loudly. Conley never seems hesitant to stop a drill to point out mistakes. He said he always tries to keep a short memory, though.

“I don’t have doghouses or things like that,” he said. “If I get upset with a player, I’ll let them know about it, and then it’s over. It’s absolutely over. We have a completely clean slate, and we move forward from there.”

Conley said he forgives and forgets so his players will do likewise for him. He admits his intensity can lead to anger. Conley used to try to improve that quality, but over his career he’s learned to just ask for forgiveness.

“I’ve tried to change myself for years because I didn’t like it,” he said. “Now I just tell the team, ‘I’m sorry, I’m an idiot.’ Honestly, I just want the team to win. I want the team to do well. I want them to succeed.”

Even though he has led his teams to 16 winning seasons in his 18-year career, Conley is still humble. After the Flashes’ loss to Colgate earlier this season, he was quick to blame himself. Conley said he relies on the team’s forgiveness when he messes up.

“I beg for their forgiveness, and they’ve been great about it,” Conley said. “When I step over the line, they forgive me.”

Conley said his No. 1 rule in life is to surround himself with extraordinary people.

“Better people, better coaches, just people who are better than I am,” Conley said. “I try to ride their coattails as long as they let me. I feel like the best thing about the program is our assistant coaching staff.”

But as much as he focuses on coaching, Conley keeps his career in balance with his family. After practices, he rushes home to watch his kids play soccer. Once this season ends, he’ll have a conversation with his family that he’s had at the end of every season of his career.

“I sit down with my wife and my family, and we talk about whether I’m going to stay and coach again or not,” he said. “Was there stress on the family? Was it worth it? All those kinds of things. It’s a real strain on them as well.”

But Monday before practice, the black couch Conley normally naps on is cluttered with paperwork. With the help of assistant coach Tarah Beyer, he’s trying to get work done so he can catch his kids’ soccer games later that night. From his couch he can see the background on his computer – a cluttered, confusing read-out of the Flashes’ offense. The background reminds him constantly of his offense, and maybe his life: fast, intense, successful.

Contact sports reporter Josh Johnston at [email protected].