Don Hardin and Illinois volleyball are deeply intertwined. In five years as an assistant coach and 11 more as head coach, Hardin has been a part of half of the 34-year history of Illinois volleyball. Over that time, Hardin has been a part of eight of Illinois' 16 NCAA appearances, including the 1987 Final Four.
Through the years, Hardin has put into practice all the aspects that make a successful program, and as Illinois begins its fourth decade, the Illini program continues to be a national leader. Hardin believes in the connection between the entire Illinois volleyball family -- players, coaches, fans, parents, support staff, administrators, faculty, community, and the student body.
After storming into the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2003, Hardin garnered Big Ten Coach of the Year honors for the second time in his career. Then in 2004, he helped engineer a 3-2 comback win over then-No. 1 USC in the championship match of the Illini Classic. The win ended USC's NCAA -record 52-match winning streak.
After suffering through some injury-plagued seasons in 2004 and 2005, Hardin elected to plan for the long term instead of putting in a quick fix. The result is a recruiting class ranked in the top ten nationally and includes one of the nation's top three setters, three top-50 and five top-100 recruits according to prepvolleyball.com.
Hardin, who finished his career with 426 wins and 234 victories at Illinois, guided Illinois to its best season since 1992 in 2003, with the Illini going 26-7 and tying for second in the Big Ten. The Illini finished ranked No. 15 in the nation. In 2008, the Illini returned to national prominence
In 2001, Illinois finished 20th in the nation and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual Final Four participant Arizona. Hardin was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by his fellow league coaches after directing the Illini to a 21-9 record and a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten.
The Illini have participated in the NCAA Tournament five of the past nine seasons under Hardin, while teams coached by Hardin have reached the NCAA Tournament 11 of the last 16 years overall. In 1999, the Illini compiled an overall record of 17-11 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, narrowly missing a trip to the Sweet 16 in a hard fought five-game loss to Florida.
Hardin's 1998 squad finished the season ranked 14th in the nation with a record of 22-11 and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion Long Beach State in the NCAA Mountain Regional semifinals.
In his first two seasons at Illinois, Hardin always produced competitive teams. This occurred despite the fact that he had only one junior and one senior in the program when he took the reins on Jan. 19, 1996.
In 1997, Hardin's squad, which included only six upperclassmen, won four more matches than the prior season and was ranked among the AVCA Top 25 on two occasions.
In 1996, he led his first Illinois team, with 10 players on the roster and eight underclassmen, to a 13-15 record. He posted a dramatic win over 15th-ranked Louisville on the road and then led his UI squad to the championship of the Illini Classic. When Illinois defeated Indiana at Huff Hall on Nov. 8, it was Hardin's 200th career win as a head coach. Overall, Hardin has a 384-217 record in 19 years as a head coach. He is 192-141 in 11 seasons at Illinois.
In addition, Hardin emphasizes academic performance with this student-athletes. In his first ten seasons, every player has returned in good academic standing. he has coached 28 athletes who have collected a combined 55 Academic All-Big Ten honors at Illinois. Melissa Beitz earned GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-District honors in 1998 and '99; Shadia Haddad was named Verizon/CoSIDA Academic-All District in 2001, and Kathleen Bazzetta earned that distinction in 2003. Hardin has had 50 players earn the university's George Huff Award, recognizing excellence in academics and athletics, while middle blocker Betsy Spicer was named the 2001 Big Ten Medal of Honor winner. Middle blocker Kelly Scherr also was a Medal of Honor recipient in 1997.
Hardin has also made it a point to include his players in community activities. Several players are regular classroom visitors and tutors at Westview Elementary School in Champaign and Thomas Paine School in Urbana. In addition, he stresses the importance of volleyball's presence at UI's Hometown Heroes program, where student-athletes visit children throughout the year and talk about the importance of staying in school and away from drugs and alcohol. Hardin has also taken it upon himself to initiate a mentorship program for his players with female business leaders in the community. Like his players, Hardin is a frequent speaker in the Champaign-Urbana area. He has spoken at over 250 social and business clubs over the last ten years and is a regular at charity events and on local radio and television shows. In return, fans have continued to pour in to watch Hardin's teams. In his first 12 seasons, over 243,000 fans have packed into Huff Hall to watch the Illini. Illinois finished the 2004 season ranked 10th in the nation in attendance.
Hardin began his head coaching career at the University of Louisville. During eight seasons, he built the Cardinals into one of the Midwest's most competitive programs. After leading his inaugural team to a record of 16-15 in 1988, the first winning season at Louisville in five years, Hardin amassed seven consecutive 20-plus win seasons. His overall record at Louisville was 192-76 for an impressive .716 winning percentage. By the time Hardin left Louisville, he had the highest winning percentage of any coach on that campus and had posted the most volleyball wins ever in Cardinals history. In eight years at Louisville, Hardin's teams won six conference titles. The 1994 team ended the season with a record of 29-5 while the '95 squad posted a 29-6 record. For his achievements, Hardin was named the 1991 Metro Coach of the Year and the 1995 Conference USA Coach of the Year.
In 1990, Hardin's Cardinals earned the school's first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The following year, in addition to posting an undefeated Metro regular season and postseason tournament sweep, Hardin's squad earned the school's first-ever national ranking and reached the NCAA tourney for the second time. All told, Hardin led the Cardinals to six consecutive NCAA tournaments.
Prior to accepting the Louisville position, Hardin served as an assistant coach at Illinois from 1983-1987. During his first stint at Illinois, he helped develop a Fighting Illini program that went from 5-25 in 1983 to 31-7 with an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1987.
During Hardin's tenure, Illinois won Big Ten titles in 1986 and 1987 and had a winning percentage of .709.
Hardin has always been known as a keen evaluator of talent and a strong recruiter, coaching Louisville's first Academic All-American, Laurie Maxwell. While at Illinois, he assisted in the recruiting of future All-Americans Nancy Brookhart and Laura Bush as well as future Honda National Player of the Year Mary Eggers. With Hardin back as head coach at Illinois, the Fighting Illini signed what Volleyball Magazine ranked as the second-best recruiting class in the nation in 1996. In 1997, Hardin inked three all-state players from Illinois and signed four-time Ohio state champion Shadia Haddad in 1998. He recruited Volleyball Magazine First-Team All-American Shelly O'Bryan in 1999. The nation's top high school libero, Ashley Edinger, joined the squad in 2006 and a top-ten recruiting class enrolls in 2007, solidifying the future of Illinois volleyball for the next several years.
Prior to joining the Illini staff as an assistant, Hardin served three years as the recreation and intramural program coordinator at The Ohio State University while attending classes full-time and participating as a varsity athlete. His coaching career actually began at the University of Pittsburgh, where he served as a player/coach for the men's volleyball team. He also assisted with the Pitt women's team, which won the 1979-80 Eastern Regional AIAW Championship. Hardin also made a name for himself on the playing court. While competing in volleyball at Pittsburgh, he was named an Eastern Collegiate League All-Star. Hardin went on to play two years at Ohio State where his teams won consecutive Midwest Regional titles in 1981 and 1982, finishing third and fourth, respectively, in the NCAA championships.
His collegiate playing days were separated by a stint in the U.S. Air Force, in which Hardin served from 1972-78. Hardin continued to play volleyball in the armed forces. While serving at March Air Force Base in Spangdahelm, Germany, Hardin served as tournament director for the USAF European Region of the U.S. Volleyball Association and was twice selected to the USAF All-Star camp. He also was awarded the European Services MVP award.
A native of Indiana, Pa., Hardin received his undergraduate degree in physical education from the University of Illinois in 1982. He and his wife Kim, who works as a physical therapist, reside in Champaign.
The Hardin Record
Year Team Record Highlights 2008 Illinois 26-8 NCAA Sweet 16 2007 Illinois 16-14 2006 Illinois 15-15 2005 Illinois 16-15 2004 Illinois 19-11 NCAA First Round 2003 Illinois 26-7 NCAA Sweet 16 Big Ten Coach of the Year 2002 Illinois 13-16 2001 Illinois 21-9 NCAA 2nd Round; Big Ten Coach of the Year 2000 Illinois 13-18 1999 Illinois 17-11 NCAA 2nd Round 1998 Illinois 22-11 NCAA Sweet 16 1997 Illinois 17-13 1996 Illinois 13-15 1995 Louisville 29-6 Conference USA Champions; NCAA 2nd Round; Conference USA Coach of the Year 1994 Louisville 29-5 Metro Champions; NCAA Tournament 1993 Louisville 23-13 NCAA Tournament 1992 Louisville 24-9 Metro Champions; NCAA Tournament 1991 Louisville 28-8 Metro Champions; NCAA Tournament; Metro Coach of the Year 1990 Louisville 22-8 Metro Champions; NCAA Tournament 1989 Louisville 21-12 Metro Champions 1988 Louisville 16-15