A little under 20 years ago, Mark and Leisa Rosen were looking for their last job.
The couple had coached volleyball together at Boise State in 1998, but they wanted to start a family. So they needed a stable job to facilitate a changing home-life — one that, if all went well, would be the only job Mark and Leisa would have for the rest of their careers.
Michigan fit the bill then, as Mark joined as the head coach in 1999, bringing Leisa along as an assistant before she became the associate head coach. Twenty years later, the Rosens are still here.
Mark is now the winningest volleyball coach in Wolverines history, and he has done it all with Leisa, the associate head coach, by his side.
The pair has overseen nine All-Americans and 16 of the 17 NCAA Tournament berths in Michigan’s history.
“We talk about it now,” Mark said of the 20-year benchmark. “We’re both very, we don’t have a lot of pictures in our house. We’re not people that think a lot about the past. We think about the current, the present. But, you know, when we see (former players) it makes me think about that.”
On Saturday, the Rosens’ former players were at Crisler Center in droves. Six of them stood behind Rosen and a group of reporters following the Wolverines’ straight-set loss to No. 3 Minnesota.
The smiles and laughs they were sharing were not indicative of the result of the match they had just watched.
Mark and Leisa’s first recruit, Erin Brown was at Crisler Center too, though she wasn’t on the floor after the game. Mark says Brown stays with the Rosens “all the time.”
“My sons think of her as a sister,” Rosen said.
That is the most prominent example of tenets Mark and Leisa have tried to instill in the program from day one.
“When Leisa and I got here, we wanted to build a program based on values,” Rosen said. “… It is a family, you know, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as blood relatives. But we wanted an atmosphere where people cared about each other — where people were unselfish, where people, you know, they put their teammates and their program ahead of themselves and really cared about each other deeper than, ‘Hey, I played next to you. We were teammates.’
“And so, when we go to a wedding, and we see so many of the players come back and be there for their teammates, that makes me really proud, because it’s like, that’s our culture.”
Freshman outside hitter Paige Jones already feels the family atmosphere in her first season. She says it permeates through the whole program, stemming from the closeness of the players just as much as the Rosens.
But it isn’t a coincidence that a team run by a husband and wife feels familial to the players within it.
“Mark and Leisa are awesome,” Jones said. “They have our back. They want the best for us in everything besides volleyball.
“Leisa is definitely more, I want to say aggressive — she’s more fiery,” Jones said. “She’s the one that will get on us, because she knows that that will make us better. She said yesterday in the locker room that she’d rather beat up on us than another team come out and beat up on us. And then Mark is, I mean, they both have great volleyball IQ. So Mark is the one that’s just telling us what we can do better in more of a laid-back type of way.”
Apparently that mix of coaching styles has worked. The Wolverines had a tough weekend on the court, as they also lost to Wisconsin on Friday night, but the two losses are just Michigan’s fourth and fifth losses of the season.
The Wolverines are on track to make their 17th NCAA Tournament under the Rosens.
It would have been hard for anyone to imagine just how well Mark and Leisa’s hiring would work out for both them and Michigan.
“It’s cool to now fast forward 20 years later and say, ‘You know what, we made a really good choice,’ ” Mark said. “You know, it’s a great place to be. We love it here. I love everything about Michigan, in terms of the academics, the atmosphere, the culture. It’s a great place. So I feel really good that we ended up here.”
It’s easy to say that with the success the Wolverines have had under Rosen, but you can tell Rosen is talking more about the non-volleyball parts of his job and Michigan as a whole. He speaks most fondly of the players he has had in his 20 seasons, like the ones who came back to Ann Arbor this weekend.
The Rosens have established themselves as good coaches, and they have done it by establishing their culture.
Everything has gone well enough for them to still be in Ann Arbor.
In the middle of their 20th season at the head of Michigan, it seems the Rosens found their last job after all.
Persak can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MikeDPersak