Don Hardin's teams have averaged 20 wins per season.
Dec. 1, 2008
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois head coach Don Hardin not only has developed winning volleyball over the years, but also quality people and successful leaders. Hardin has announced he will retire from coaching at the end of the season following 21 years as head coach, including the past 13 at Illinois.
"This announcement comes as no surprise to our players, recruits, staff or those close to our volleyball network," said Hardin, who wants to, among other things, pursue teaching at the college level. "This has been part of a plan for me to transition on to other things while I have the energy and time to do it. An important component to that plan was to leave this program in great shape."
Hardin has had a reputation of leaving a program in solid footing and this is no exception. The Illini finished third in the Big Ten this season and are the ninth national seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Illinois loses just one starter for next year with many of the returnees members of the 2006 sixth-ranked recruiting class.
"As insiders know, much of the credit for our recent success is due largely to my incredible staff," Hardin said. "In particular, Kevin Hambly has helped bring new life to our recruiting and to the team."
Hardin's teams have averaged 20 wins per season, having posted a 424-238 record overall - 192-76 at Louisville and 232-162 at Illinois. Hardin was named conference coach of the year four times -- Metro Coach of the Year in 1991, Conference USA Coach of the Year in 1995 and Big Ten Coach of the Year in both 2001 and 2003. He has guided the Illini to seven NCAA appearances, including a pair of Sweet 16 berths, in 1998 and 2003 after leading Louisville to six post-season appearances. Hardin has also coached three All-Americans at Illinois- Lisa Argabright (2003), Jessica Belter (2004) and Erin Virtue (2004).
"Thirteen years ago Don Hardin was our first choice to return to his Alma Mater as our volleyball coach," said Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther. "He was a part of our Final Four Teams and proved himself as a head coach at Louisville. He has done an exceptional job not only with the wins and losses, but also with our young women who have had many positive experiences both on the court and in the classroom. Don leaves the program primed for success in the immediate future. We wish he and Kim the best of luck as they move into a new phase of their lives."
"This has been part of a plan for me to transition on to other things while I have the energy and time to do it. An important component to that plan was to leave this program in great shape."
"The University of Illinois and our Athletic Department are incredible organizations with caring and motivating leadership," Hardin said. "I have been very fortunate to work in such a wonderful community and for my Alma Mater. My wife, Kim, and I hope to continue our immediate professional and personal futures here in this community."
Prior to taking over the head coaching job at Illinois, Hardin served in the same capacity at the University of Louisville from 1988-1995, where helped put that program on the map. 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. 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.
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's philosophy has always been to use volleyball to teach life lessons and prepare his athletes for their futures. He has had nearly a 100 percent retention and graduation rate in his 13 years at Illinois. He has coached 34 athletes who have collected a combined 67 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 55 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.
Belter echoed that sentiment. "Don was dedicated to us not just us as players, but also as students," she said. "He invested his time and energy into our lives on and off the court. I would not have made it through my four years at Illinois if it had not been for his attentiveness to my health and academics."
Hardin also made it a point to include his players in community activities. For example, several players are regular classroom visitors and tutors at Westview Elementary School in Champaign.
A native of Indiana, Pa., Hardin played volleyball as an undergrad at both Pittsburgh where he was an Eastern Collegiate League All-Star and at Ohio State, where he helped the Buckeyes to a pair of Final Four appearances in 1981-82. He served six years in the United States Air Force, stationed in Germany from 1972-78.
"I was honored to be recruited to play for Don Hardin," said All-American setter Erin Virtue. " As Don would always say, I was an underdog out of high school and was undersized for the Big Ten, but he believed in me and gave me a chance. Don has an excellent way of getting the most out of his players. He challenged me to be the best that I could be and I will be forever grateful to him for that. Don had a wonderful career and I am proud to have shared four special years with him as my coach."
Although Hardin has been dishing out life lessons his entire career, he plans to enter the education field full-time, teaching at the college level. He and his wife, Kim, also plan to pursue the many passions they share.
A national search will begin to fill the vacant position.