- File Photo/Daily
By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 16, 2013
Mark Rosen has been the head coach of the Michigan volleyball team since 1999. He’s amassed an all-time record of 295-178 and earned 12 NCAA Tournament bids, five of which have led to Sweet 16 appearances.
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Despite his experience, Rosen is in unfamiliar territory in 2013. Fresh off the program’s first-ever Final Four berth in 2012, the 10th-ranked Wolverines are dealing with sky-high expectations, both from within the program and the rankings.
“Our goal is a national championship,” Rosen said. “No doubt.”
Rosen has already coached one team to a national championship, but not at this level — he won it all in his first year as the head coach of Division II Northern Michigan in 1994. Getting that far in the Big Ten, though, is an entirely different animal.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association ranked Michigan (7-1) seventh in its preseason poll, the highest preseason ranking the program has ever received in its 41-year history.
But Rosen is taking nothing for granted.
“We never discuss rankings,” Rosen said. “It doesn’t come up. Those rankings don’t win us any games, and aside from that, there’s always a debate about their accuracy.”
But not all the hype can be so easily dismissed. The Wolverines were also recognized on the field at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 7 during the football team’s nighttime tilt with Notre Dame, where an NCAA-record crowd of 115,109 greeted them with a standing ovation.
“They reserve that opportunity for really special things,” Rosen said, recalling that he had to explain to the freshmen and sophomores on the team that being honored on the field at the Big House is not, in fact, normal.
Being recognized on the field during a football game has been a longtime goal of Rosen’s, and finally getting the chance after 14 years at Michigan was validation for all the work that has gone into building up the program to its current level.
“A lot of people came here before this team and didn’t get that opportunity, because they didn’t earn it,” Rosen said.
If there’s anybody who has earned it, though, it’s Rosen, who recorded his 500th win as a head coach on Aug. 31 in a three-set decision at Xavier. Rosen acknowledged the achievement’s significance, but deflected credit to his team and the rest of his coaching staff.
“It sounds cliché,” Rosen said, “but I don’t really watch those milestones very much.”
Rosen’s path to Michigan would have been difficult to predict early in his life. Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, Rosen took a circuitous route to becoming Michigan’s sixth head coach. After earning his degree in physical education from Cal State Northridge, Rosen made coaching appearances at Northern Michigan, Boise State and Cal State Bakersfield before landing in Ann Arbor.
As unlikely as Rosen’s journey from Anchorage to Ann Arbor may have been, he hasn’t had to do it alone — Rosen’s wife, Leisa, is Michigan’s associate head coach. A fellow Alaskan and former volleyball standout at Ohio State, Leisa had known Mark casually since her high-school years. The couple began dating after a chance encounter in Los Angeles at the 1991 Final Four, which Mark attended as a coach and Leisa as a player for Ohio State.
Her alma mater, though, is an afterthought at this point — she’s also been coaching at Michigan for 15 years, and her comparatively brief career as a Buckeye is far in the past.
“Leisa’s a great coach,” Rosen said. “Had she not been married to me and had we not been doing this together, she would have very much gone on somewhere else to be a head coach.”
The uncommon husband-wife coaching combination doesn’t strike Rosen as odd — he grew up in a similar family structure. Rosen’s father made a living as an accountant, and Rosen’s mother ran the business’ computer department.
Rosen thoroughly believes that the family atmosphere is a positive for the program in terms of recruiting and the way it operates in general.
“We care greatly about our players, not just as athletes but as student-athletes and as people,” Rosen said. “That’s a lot easier since we have that husband-wife, family atmosphere here.”
Even though the two have been coaching together since 1998, it hasn’t always been so easy.