New Iowa volleyball head coach Jim Barnes ready to begin rebuild of program

Barnes was named the 11th head coach of the team Dec. 28.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa’s new head volleyball coach Jim Barnes speaks during a press conference introducing Barnes as head coach at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. “We’re rebuilding this team and we’re gonna get this team working together. That’s my first goal.”

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

The mileage Jim Barnes has traveled as a head volleyball coach doesn’t show on his face. At his introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon in the Feller Club Room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa volleyball’s new head coach couldn’t contain his grin.

Barnes spoke with reporters at a podium for a little over 15 minutes, noting that he has 24 years of head coaching experience under his belt. After that, he made sure to make a personal connection with each individual in attendance. He circled around the room, thanking presser attendees for coming.

Barnes was light-hearted and friendly, despite the challenge that lies ahead of him. He’s been tasked with rebuilding a dismal Iowa volleyball program.

The Hawkeyes haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2015-16, when they went 19-13. Even with the winning record, Iowa still missed out on the NCAA Tournament that year.

Iowa hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 27 years.

The Hawkeyes have had two head coaches in the last three years. Bond Shymansky was fired by Iowa Athletics in June 2019 for NCAA rules infractions.

Vicki Brown was an assistant on Shymansky’s staff. She was eventually promoted to interim head coach.

From there, Iowa removed the interim tag from Brown’s title, signing her to a five-year contract in September 2019. After three seasons, Brown was terminated without cause.

In Brown’s three years as Iowa’s head coach, the Hawkeyes went 17-56. In 2021, the Hawkeyes posted a 6-24 record.

“This is just the first step to a lot of steps,” Barnes said. “I know that, and I walk into this blind. There’s going to be a lot of steps. But I can guarantee you every step is going to be done very thoughtfully, very planned.

“It’s going to be a group effort,” Barnes added. “It’s going to be a team effort. I can’t do this on my own. It’s going to take everybody stepping forward together to make it happen.”

Barnes has rebuilt programs before. At Tulane, Barnes took over a program with a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 247. By the end of his first year with the Green Wave, their RPI score was 90.

Barnes is also Baylor volleyball’s all-time winningest coach. He racked up 181 victories with the Bears. Barnes also coached the first five All-Americans in Baylor history.

“Certainly, a lot of that experience is going to help us here,” Barnes said. “We’re in a very similar situation. Baylor was at the very bottom of [the Big 12] when we got there. In our fifth year, we got to the Sweet 16.”

With knowledge of his past successful rebuilds in mind, Barnes has modest goals set for the Hawkeyes’ immediate future.

“Our first goal is to go in there and beat the teams in the middle,” Barnes said. “You know, beat those teams in the middle of the Big Ten [standings].”

Barnes expounded on his objective, noting that you have to beat middling and bad teams before you defeat good ones. Wins over better opponents equal superior recruiting opportunities, in Barnes’ mind.

Barnes believes quality wins lead to getting better recruits, which then could allow Iowa to contend with the Big Ten’s top teams.

Recruiting more of the state of Iowa’s top high school talent is the second goal Barnes has for his tenure at the UI. Barnes said Iowa’s best high school players often leave the state for top-tier programs like Nebraska and Texas.

“To be a consistently great program, you gotta be able to draw from the state and region,” Barnes said. “You can’t just rely on people that are further away. And it’s all here. The players here [can] help you be the program you want to be. That’s part of me honestly taking the job. I know I can build [the program] with the [players] in this region.

“There’s great players all through this state,” Barnes added. “We’re going to fight to keep as many of them as we can within this program.”

Even with all the turmoil Iowa volleyball has gone through in recent years, Barnes thinks the Hawkeyes have the infrastructure needed for a quick rebuild.

“When I looked at the University of Iowa and looked at trying to build this program, it has the things in place that you need to be a perennial top-25 program,” Barnes said. “I believe everybody would love to see this program at that level. 

“It has the elements,” Barnes added. “It has the leadership that you need to get there. It has the passion from the community. This state — people love volleyball here. They want to see it be a great program.”

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