Kasey Crider does things a little differently than most coaches.
He hadn’t been on the job as UMBC volleyball coach long when Retrievers athletic director Brian Barrio walked into his office and overheard a discussion on statistical probabilities of how the percentage of winning a point changed on each successive touch during a rally. Analytics? Yes, but oh, so much more.
“Every time I either walk into his office or into a practice, I hear something fascinating,” Barrio said. “It’s a level of sophistication and a really innovative approach to coaching.”
And that’s why Barrio couldn’t pass on the chance to bring aboard the Miami (Fla.) associate head coach in February to take over the two-time defending America East championship program. Their careers had briefly crossed when Pepperdine alumnus Crider served under Waves coaching legend Marv Dunphy and Barrio was associate athletic director.
That didn’t play as much of a role in Crider coming to Baltimore County as what Barrio heard from others in the game when he began searching for former UMBC coach Cristina Robertson’s replacement after she left for Florida International.
“Mostly, we had a shared connection with Marv Dunphy,” Barrio said. “I know the culture Coach Dunphy created and I know the standard of excellence Marv set and when I called people in the volleyball world and asked who we should try to get in the pool, [Crider’s] name came up from everybody.”
Dunphy wrapped up a 34-year coaching career in 2017, looking back on more than 600 career wins, four national championships and the 1988 Olympic gold medal in Seoul. Crider was a two-time All-American for Dunphy, playing from 2008-2011. He was a volunteer coach at Pepperdine from 2012-2013 and then moved on to help guide the Stanford women’s team in 2014, when the Cardinal won the Pac-12 and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Miami was the next stop for Crider. He was integral to the Hurricanes becoming a power as associate head coach from 2015-2021. He was even recognized as an AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) Thirty Under 30 Award recipient as a top up-and-coming coach nationally in 2015. But he has never had his own program before, something he has dreamed about since he was a teenager.
After arriving as the director of all things UMBC volleyball, Crider is thinking outside the box from most who reach this lofty level.
“I find myself thinking about how I avoid the feeling that this is my deal and not the athletes’ deal — us together — is maybe the best way to say it,” Crider said. “My whole life I couldn’t wait to coach and thinking here’s how I would do it. Now all I think is it’s not about what I think and feel but how can I translate those thoughts into wins and a good experience for [the players].”
It’s part of the changing nature of the way the games top athletes play at this level and professionally. Leather-lunged coaches in sports yelling and ranting at athletes is relegated to the black-and-white highlight reels. Today, it’s about a collaborative process among coaches and athletes. Think of the Golden State Warriors and Steve Kerr presiding over an array of diverse personalities and using those individual traits to manifest team goals. It’s Phil Jackson Burning Incense at Practice 2.0.
“There’s this image on every college campus that over here in the athletic department that we’re old school gym coaches with this whistle around our neck, yelling at kids,” Barrio joked. “[Crider] is an example of how this is higher education in the athletics realm.”
Dunphy was a pioneer in this players-first style or the pedagogy of coaching, in creating a culture of caring and ownership within a team framework. For Crider, it’s more than carrying forward Dunphy’s doctrines, though.
“Pedagogical design in sports is a passion for me,” he admitted. “It’s what I like to do in my free time. I’m working on a doctorate in it in my spare time. Some people like cars or things like that. I like reading articles on differential learning and stochastic resonance.”
Here’s a coach who will send sportswriters to the dictionary or Google regularly. Let’s play that last point back: Pedagogy refers to methods of teaching. Differential learning is about catering to individual needs. Stochastic resonance is about receiving specific signals, especially in challenging circumstances where the focus can be attuned.
About challenges and things sportswriters are much more comfortable chronicling: Four starters are gone from last year’s 19-12, undefeated-in-conference team, but everyone agrees the Retrievers are in pretty good shape to again to compete at the tip-top of the America East, including Crider. How he will get them there seems to be the most interesting part of the equation and something making the Retrievers worth watching this fall.
The first indication of a different coaching pedagogy might have been the way the new coach started his first practices. He didn’t install anything out of the gates, instead watching the team play and seeing how they liked to operate.
“It gave me a sense of where we were and then you build activities and practices to move forward,” he said. “It appeals to my nerdy side.”
The Retrievers’ righteous ability to record side outs also appeals to Crider. He has several stalwarts back, including:
- Redshirt sophomore Michela De Marzi, a 6-foot middle blocker who was on the spring 2021 America East All-Championship team;
- Reigning America East Rookie of the Year Mia Bilusic, who led the conference in kills and kills per set in league play;
- Remarkably versatile Aysia Miller, who was on last year’s all-championship team, too;
- And defensive ace Kayla Tomas, a junior out of Silver Spring.
“I like winning,” said Crider, sounding more like a more traditional coach. “It was really attractive that there was an undefeated conference season, and that the roster was still in good shape because of the work the previous staff had done.”
Crider has always been drawn to metropolitan areas, too — the Bay area in California, Miami and now Baltimore/D.C. He had been picky looking for his first head coaching assignment. No doubt Crider’s familiarity with Barrio and what the enthusiastic AD was trying to build at UMBC was the biggest attraction.
“Brian was really transparent with me about what he expected and his vision,” Crider said. “This wasn’t like some of the places I had been where there was lots of money to just make things work. We have to be a little more creative, and to do what we want to do, there has to be trust. I believe in what we’re doing here and that I have the full support of our administration.”
As for Barrio, he and his staff were blown away on their first Zoom interview with Crider, who came at them with a lot of specifics about what he wanted to do and exactly how he wanted to do it. Barrio’s brain was already in high gear about the possibilities.
“Kids want the most sophisticated coaching they can get, and we can already see it with our players,” Barrio said. “[Crider] is bringing out new strengths in many of them we hadn’t seen before.”
Good thing, too. The more things change in coaching, the more one thing doesn’t — expectations.
“We expend a lot of resources in volleyball,” Barrio said. “Around our league and to date, the teams that win [the conference title] go to the NCAA Tournament and come home the first weekend. This is a gambit to say, ‘Can we get past that first weekend and win a game?’ I think we can.”
Crider — oh, sorry — Crider and the entire team wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photo Credit: University of Miami Athletics