Inside the coaching mindset of Missouri volleyball’s winningest duo

With assistant coaches Molly and Joshua Taylor on board for their second season, the coaching staff has fostered a successful team environment.
Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow has been at the helm of coaching the program for about two decades, but his staff has always been a family affair, with his wife, Susan, coaching since he took over the program and his niece, Molly Taylor, helping coach the program the last two seasons.

Wayne and Susan Kreklow didn’t just lead the Columbia College volleyball team. They were the program. The husband and wife were responsible for everything, from doing team laundry to driving the bus, to serving as their own marketing department.

“You really become familiar with every aspect and component of a program,” Wayne said. “It gives you a great opportunity to learn by doing.”

Almost 20 years later, Hearnes Center — and Mizzou Arena for the time being — is their castle. The Kreklows, now the Missouri volleyball coaches, have guided close to two decades worth of athletes at MU, including their daughter Ali and their niece, now another assistant coach, Molly Taylor.

In their tenure as leaders of the kingdom, the Tigers have made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, won the SEC twice, produced 20 All-Americans and won a program-record 411 games together.

They put an emphasis on doing the unglamorous work as a group during practice and don’t let the team get too far ahead of itself.

“It’s in little incremental steps,” Wayne said. “It’s good to have long-term goals and high aspirations, [but] it’s what you do on a daily basis that goes a long way in determining what kind of success you have.”

This was a lesson Wayne learned first hand as a member of the 1980-81 Boston Celtics team that won the NBA championship. With future Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Nate Archibald, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish as teammates, Kreklow learned from players with high work ethic.

“If you go back and look at different championship teams in all sports, there’s the common denominator,” Wayne said. “The great players on those teams are also the greatest leaders, the hardest workers and they’re super committed.”

Using his past teammates as examples, Wayne and his coaching staff preach high work ethic in everything their players do, starting in the classroom. He and Susan say there is a direct correlation between academic and athletic success.

“When you’re talking about student-athletes, you’re talking about people that need to get it done in the classroom and be successful at a high level there,” Susan said. “Our chief expectation is academically, you need to show up every day and do your best. The result is different for different people, but we’re hoping that they’re working hard and giving it their best.”

Assistant coach Joshua Taylor chalked their dedication to hard work up in part to their Midwestern roots — Susan grew up in Missouri while Wayne bounced around small towns in Wisconsin.

Joshua, who is from Honolulu, played college volleyball at Pepperdine in Malibu, California. Since his arrival at MU as a coach prior to 2017 season, he has noted various characteristics of the people in his new home.

“[Midwesterners] are hardworking, they’re kind and they look out for their neighbors,” Joshua said. “I think that directly translates to how they coach. I married a Midwestern girl [Molly Kreklow Taylor] and she’s perfect.”

With two married couples — who also happen to be extended family — making up the Tigers’ coaching staff, the players do not need to look far to find the importance of family and trust in a team culture. The family does not stop with the coaches, according to Susan.

“Our approach to our team is that we’re part of an extended family,” she said.

That approach includes “lunch buddies” among teammates and weekly, individual player-coach meetings. Volleyball is rarely discussed at those.

“Once a week you go out to eat with a lunch buddy and you spend time with that person,” Susan said. “Just fostering personal relationships with each other; it gives you time to get to know your teammate. [As for the] coaching staff, we meet with the players once a week just to see how they’re doing.”

Joshua said he learned how to establish mutual trust with players from Wayne. That has been especially important, coaches attest, on a Missouri team that features seven newcomers this season.

“Volleyball is the purest team sport that there is,” Joshua said. “You can’t do any one skill by yourself besides serving.”

Starting their coaching careers at the high school level — Susan at St. Clair outside St. Louis, Wayne at Central Decatur in Leon, Iowa — both taught classes primarily while fulfilling their coaching duties.

“I did the same thing there that we do here,” Wayne said. “We’re just trying to get kids to be the best players and best people they can be whether that be at a high school, NAIA school [Columbia College] or Division I. At the end of the day, that’s the long-term goal.”

Once at MU, they decided bringing the Taylors onto the coaching staff would bring a fresh perspective in U.S. National Team experience. And the Taylors offered more than just volleyball expertise. As a young married couple, they act as an example for the team as to how to do life well with a partner.

As the Taylors teach their players, the Kreklows are teaching their young coaches. In addition to learning about coaching volleyball, the Taylors have received life lessons from their bosses, who have decades worth of experience working together as a married couple.

During the Taylors’ first season with the program, Missouri lost a game on the road. At dinner with the family afterward, Wayne made a point to say there was a time and place for talking about volleyball. That night at the dinner table, it wasn’t the time.

“Them creating personal time to take care of themselves and come back fresh into the workplace, is one of those things that I’ve been learning,” Joshua said.

Almost 40 years after watching Bird, Archibald and Parish lead by example with the Celtics, Wayne has shared the same mentality with his athletes at Missouri. But one of the teacher’s greatest lessons has been set by example.

While the rest of the coaching staff spoke highly of a husband, uncle and boss, Wayne deflected topics toward his team whenever possible. He says he feels uncomfortable tooting his own horn, and doesn’t even like showing off his NBA championship swag. There’s a reason he is never seen wearing his Celtics title ring on the sideline at Missouri volleyball games.

“I keep it with the other [rings] in my sock drawer.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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