Hall-of-Famer Terry Pettit coached Nebraska to 21 conference titles.
By Randy York
Everyone who knows John Cook understands why he’s consumed with strategic details. He didn’t become Nebraska’s third head volleyball coach by accident. There’s a profound purpose that permeates every decision he makes for Nebraska volleyball, and the latest is no exception. As the Huskers continue their transition to the Devaney Center after 37 remarkable years in the NU Coliseum, they will bring a huge chunk of history with them … Terry Pettit’s name on the new volleyball court that will be surrounded by sold-out suites and nearly 3,000 new seats.
“As we prepare to move into the Devaney Center for the 2013 season, our theme is to ‘Honor the past and invent the future,’” Cook said while acknowledging that Nebraska’s program always has embraced its history, honored its tradition and felt compelled to establish the bar for what college volleyball could be. “While the Devaney Center represents the future,” Cook said, “it is only fitting that we celebrate the past by naming the court in honor of Coach Pettit. His unique vision for what Nebraska volleyball could be, along with the generous support of the Scott family (Bill and wife Ruth), makes it possible to celebrate both our storied past and our promising future.”
Most Nebraska volleyball fans know that Pettit was a true trailblazer whose era ended after the 1999 season when he decided to open his book on winning and share it with coaches/leaders across the country – a decision that came four years after guiding the Huskers to their first national volleyball championship in 1995. In 23 seasons at the helm of the program he built, the Huskers won 21 conference titles, earned 18 straight NCAA Tournament bids and had 649 wins, 44 of which came in the NCAA Tournament.
When Pettit passed the torch to Cook, the winning, believe it or not, went up a notch. Cook’s 83 winning percentage is fifth best in NCAA history. Pettit’s 82 winning percentage ranks seventh. The Terry Pettit/John Cook combination became volleyball’s version of Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne. Their respective legends are inextricably linked to each other and equally iconic. They are both the essence of championship legacies. Pettit and Cook lost a grand total of 38 matches in 37 home seasons in the NU Coliseum. Just like Osborne elevated Devaney’s two national championships with three more, Cook’s teams won two national titles to Pettit’s one, so you could argue that he perfected what his predecessor built. He not only accelerated the program in terms of winning, but also produced the longest home sellout streak in college volleyball history. That streak is also the longest sellout streak in any NCAA women’s sport.
Like Osborne likes to honor Devaney, Cook wants to honor Pettit, a true icon. “Naming the court in honor of Coach Pettit in the Devaney is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Cook said. “His legacy deserves a place inside the Devaney and thanks to the Scott family’s generous support, we will be able to honor the past in a meaningful and memorable way.”
Paul Meyers, Nebraska’s associate athletic director for the Husker Athletic Fund, said Terry Pettit Court inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center is just the latest example of Bill and Ruth Scott enabling Nebraska to do the right thing in the right way. “They’ve always been able to help us whenever there’s been a need, and this was the perfect opportunity for them because they’re such great volleyball fans. They absolutely love the sport of volleyball and wanted to do something to help us honor the past.”
Meyers remembers when his staff wanted to find a way to honor Nebraska’s commitment to athletic compliance. “Through the generosity of the Scott family, we were able to name our new Compliance Center after Al Papik because of the trail he left behind in that area. That worked out really well. We continue to have one of the best compliance programs in college athletics and every time someone walks into that area, they know who started us on that path to excellence.
“The Scotts are doing for volleyball what they helped us do for compliance,” Meyers added. “They’re making it possible for every fan that comes to a Nebraska volleyball match to know who started us on our continuous path to excellence … Terry Pettit. His name should be on that court, and it will be, thanks to Bill and Ruth. They’re good friends of our family, good friends of the Nebraska family and good friends of Husker volleyball. We’re all honored by their generosity.”
Earlier this week, Cook said he has great respect for moving into a building named after Devaney, the man who put Nebraska football on the map and created a brand for Nebraska Athletics at the same time. “Just like Bob Devaney built up Memorial Stadium and more than doubled the capacity, we feel like Terry Pettit laid the groundwork for us to do something similar with volleyball,” Cook said. “We’ve been selling out for years, and as great as that is, it hasn’t helped us attract younger people who want to experience what everyone who has tickets is already enjoying.”
Cook said Pettit built up Nebraska’s program so well that the people who came to watch never gave up their seats. “They haven’t left us,” Cook said. “Playing at the Devaney, we can come close to doubling our capacity and create new memories for a new base that will include younger fans that, in turn, will pass that on to the next generation.”
Terry Pettit was a pathfinder that made volleyball exciting, relevant and popular, and it’s only appropriate that his name honor the new court in a world-class facility. The goal, as always, will be to fill the stands to the brim. That is, after all, the ultimate salute to incredible history.
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