Head Coach John Cook

Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook looks on as his team comes in for a timeout during the game against Wisconsin at the Bob Devaney Sports Complex on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Penn State’s Russ Rose and Nebraska’s John Cook are some of the most respected coaches in college volleyball, both coaching for at least 35 years. They are both over 40 years older than their players yet produce fan-loving results every season.

To say these two coaches are legends is a disservice when the two have been instrumental in college volleyball and breaking down the West Coast’s dominance over the sport.

Rose’s coaching start was as an assistant coach at George Williams College from 1976-77. In 1978, Rose went to a volleyball program that would later join the Big Ten.

Penn State is the wrong guess here, as Rose stopped at none other than Nebraska in 1978. He was an assistant for one season under Terry Pettit and coached Nebraska’s defense that season.

Rose joined the Nittany Lions in 1979 as the second-ever coach in program history. Rose’s first season saw the Nittany Lions go 32-9, but that was only the beginning of his reign.

Penn State has made every NCAA Tournament since its inception. The streak started in 1981, but Rose could never bring the coveted championship to Happy Valley. Texas was the first non-West Coast school to win the championship in 1988. 

Like Rose did a decade earlier, Cook joined Pettit’s coaching staff in 1988 and stayed there for three years. In 1990, Penn State joined the Big Ten and played Nebraska in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Cook was just an assistant, but Nebraska won the match in the regional final and advanced to the Final Four. That was Rose and Cook’s first match against each other.

Rose’s team brought the Big Ten from a respectable conference to a top conference in the college volleyball world. The Nittany Lions quickly adjusted to the new conference and won their first Big Ten title in 1992.

In the same year, Cook joined the Big Ten as Wisconsin’s head coach. At Wisconsin, Cook finished 14-17 in 1992, which stands as his only losing season as a head coach. Cook bounced back and built a contender, following how Rose did it at Penn State.

Rose’s team is designed to handle the stress of conference scheduling with players that can play matches on consecutive days. At Penn State, a deep roster is the key to wins, as the Nittany Lions can’t run the same players every night. Building this depth translated to Cook as well.

Cook’s first stint in the Big Ten was at the same time as Penn State’s dominance over the conference. From 1992 to 1998, Penn State won the Big Ten title every year except 1994 and 1995. 

Rose’s coaching superiority over the rest of the Big Ten proved that the Nittany Lions were not just a bully of a smaller conference, but a team that belonged with some of the top squads in the country.

Cook’s Badgers rose in prominence during that time but struggled against the more experienced Rose. Despite the quick rise to success, the Big Ten had not won a national championship and with Cook’s 1998 departure to Nebraska, the weight of the conference was on Rose.

With no Cook, Penn State cruised to another Big Ten championship by going 20-0 in conference play. The Nittany Lions put it all together and won their first national championship in 1999, going 36-1.

Nebraska was the first Midwest school to win the title back in 1995 and four years later, Pettit stepped down. Cook took over in 2000 and won a national championship in his first year, the year after Rose’s first.

The back half of the 2000s was the era of Penn State volleyball. The Nittany Lions won eight straight Big Ten titles and, more impressively, went on a 109-match win streak that will most likely never be topped.

Cook and Rose only met three times before Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. Cook had the upper hand and was Penn State’s last loss before its winning streak started. Rose had five national championships to Cook’s two before Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011.

Since 2011, the two are the only Big Ten teams with national championships, but Cook is one of Rose’s biggest thorns. Cook is 11-5 against Rose since 2011 but the matches have been tight and neither coach has shown a slip-up.

No. 8 Nebraska plays No. 7 Penn State at the Devaney Center on Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m., and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.