BEST COACH - 2005
Ron Gardenhire and the Twins are not the only overachieving underdogs around here. Up on the frozen tundra at the University of Minnesota, Mike Hebert has created a women's volleyball program capable of competing for national championships against the traditional copper-toned powerhouses from Hawaii and southern California. In 2004, Hebert led the Lady Gophers to their second straight Final Four appearance, where they beat USC in the semis only to bow to Stanford in the final. A year earlier, Hebert's 13th seeded squad became the biggest long shot in the history of NCAA women's volleyball ever to reach the championship weekend, earning him National Coach of the Year honors from Volleyball Magazine. But it isn't just the numbers that make Hebert impressive. In the late '80s, he made his reputation by taking the University of Illinois to back-to-back Final Fours on the strength of his "Primary Hitter System" (described in his book, Insights and Strategies for Winning Volleyball), which was designed to relieve pressure on inexperienced setters. But last year, Hebert was flexible enough to mold his attack around the U of M's two outstanding setters, which is akin to having two point guards or two quarterbacks. He also treats his players with the utmost respect, coached 42 Big Ten Academic All Americans in his first eight years in Minnesota, just landed four of the nation's top 50 prep recruits to bolster next year's team, once protested against America's involvement in Vietnam, and has never scalped Super Bowl tickets.