During the college volleyball recruitment process, coaches look for players who excel in several areas such as athleticism, strength and technique.
But to Ohio University’s volleyball coach Deane Webb, those attributes come second to his most important recruiting rule.
“I will not recruit you unless you can be a role model to my daughters,” Webb says in his soft, yet direct voice. “Whether you want to be or not is irrelevant. You will be a role model.”
Webb holds his players to that high standard because it’s the same thing his parents expected from him when he was growing up in the small town of Dayton, Texas.
Because his parents saw potential in him, they created steep consequences when he failed to meet their expectations. If Webb received a B in school, he’d be grounded for six weeks. If he got in trouble, he was only allowed to leave his room for school and dinner.
Although the punishments seemed extreme to Webb at the time, his parents succeeded in what they set out to achieve — making their son a role model. Now that Webb is an NCAA Division I volleyball coach, he’s determined to find players that young girls, such as his daughters, can look up to.
Webb considers the young women who play for Ohio to be just as much his daughters as his 11-year-old Ashlyn and 14-year-old Sarah.
“Usually you have that coach-player relationship whereas Deane you have that dad-daughter relationship,” senior Mallory Salis says. “When you’re away at college, having that person is a pretty cool feeling.”
Over his 19-year coaching career, Webb has found several ways to treat the players like one of his daughters, including what he created during his first year at Ohio — “Open Sunday.”
One Sunday every month, Webb and his wife, Rebecca, open their house to any player who wants to come over for a home-cooked meal and a few hours of relaxation. Meals are followed by anything ranging from dance-offs to pingpong tournaments in the basement, as well as the occasional group nap where Webb will find players sleeping in his living room.
“That’s just part of living life together,” he says with a smile.
While Webb enjoys the opportunity to bring his team closer together, the players appreciate the time away from school and volleyball.
“It’s very relaxing and you get away from everything,” Salis says. “The weight’s off your back for a couple hours and we have a really good time there.”
Webb wants to give his players a second family while they’re at college, and he tells the parents of each of his players that his job is to be an in-town parent while their daughters are at school.
Freshman Sara Januszewski can tell he means it after only being part of the team for a few months.
“The way that he handles things is just very unlike any other coach I’ve ever had,” Januszewski says. “He really wants to get to know you as a person. He asks you about your family and he’s good at having a family aspect in the team.”
The desire to play an important role in other people’s lives came well before he learned how to play volleyball. As a teenager, Webb planned to follow his father’s career paths of teaching and youth ministry. He kept that as his goal as he left for the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where he played on the men’s volleyball team.
His confidence and talent on the volleyball court impressed professional teams in Europe, and he was projected to play in Germany at 24 years old.
Despite the opportunity to travel overseas and play volleyball professionally, Webb applied to as many college volleyball coaching jobs as he could. He did so not as a backup plan, but rather to see if he could make his first dream of mentoring young people come true. Indiana Wesleyan University offered him its head coaching position for the 1997 season and after 10 minutes of thought and prayer, he accepted.
“I really felt I was called to work with young people through the avenue of sports and minister for them through that,” he says.
The decision to coach paid off. In 2010, Webb became the youngest coach in NCAA Division I history to reach 300 career victories.
He reached that milestone during his eighth year at Belmont University, which followed four years at Indiana Wesleyan and two years at East Tennessee State University.
He left Belmont after the 2013 season as the winningest volleyball coach in school history and led the team to three NCAA Championship appearances.
“There’s no luck honestly,” he says. “There’s just a lot of hard work.”
He’s continued to work hard at Ohio. During his first season with the Bobcats, they finished the MAC regular season undefeated, and they followed up the next season with an NCAA Championship appearance.
Coaching achievements such as that, however, mean little to Webb compared to the relationship he has with his players.
“When it’s all over and I retire,” he says, “I’m going to be a lot less concerned with [the wins] and more concerned about how many kids I’m hearing from, how many weddings I attended, how many kids of players I’ve met along the way.”
Players such as Salis have experienced Webb’s genuine care for them and they don’t take it for granted.
“Playing for a coach who not only values volleyball, but values you as a person is pretty important,” she said. “I think that’s a big part of how he’s coached me and shaped me as a person.”