Deane Webb isn’t your average college coach.
Sure, his tapered khaki pants, tan loafers, and green-striped Ohio University polo are fitting for a man of his position.
Sure, he’s endured a journey often depicted in classic sports movies. You know, the inspirational coach who works his way from the bottom of the coaching ranks by turning bad teams into success stories. Yes, Webb has done it.
And sure, Webb has reached the pinnacle of his women’s volleyball coaching career, shaping the Ohio Bobcats into a MAC power.
But what he offers is overlooked by his stern, 6-foot-plus frame and dry humorous tone. He has the ability to integrate his personal and professional life into a team’s family dynamic.
Most coaches try to separate the personal and professional, but Webb embraces it. Even more so, he accepts his role as a father-figure for his players.
In turn, he’s cultivated relationships with them that translate on and off the court, such as the one he has with redshirt sophomore Katie Nelson.
“Deane,” she affectionally calls him as her smile begins to widen, “he’s like a dad. That’s the main thing I think you don’t see as much (from) a lot of coaches.”
But their relationship wasn’t built overnight.
Webb was a big presence in Nelson’s decision to continue playing for the Bobcats after her former coach’s departure. And since Webb arrived, he’s been an instrumental figure in her life, serving as the patriarch of her Athens family.
It was important for Nelson to develop that relationship with Webb, especially with her family being in Saskatchewan, Canada. She needed a sense of family, and Webb provided that.
In building these relationships, Webb invites Nelson and the rest of his players over his house on Sunday’s during the season. There, his wife cooks the team dinner and they watch movies on his living room floor. The gatherings provide an opportunity for the team to bond with each other and de-stress amid the season’s grind.
His family also has a placement in the team’s dynamic.
Webb’s oldest daughter Sarah (15), a volleyball player in her own right, is often at team practices. There, Sarah works on her game and revisits the relationships she’s built with her extended family. And for the players, her presence is an opportunity for them to serve as mentors.
“I love his daughters; they look up to us,” Nelson said. “It’s so great to see them being successful.”
To Webb, it’s important he and his team develop relationships outside the court centered at The Convo. He said their family-like atmosphere has built a sense of trust and, ultimately, team success.
It’s their culture.
Webb feels this same culture has benefited the team’s recruitment of top-level prospects. The relationships his players have built allow them to sell talents to play for the Bobcats.
Rather than them committing to national programs like Ohio State, Minnesota and Penn state, some decide to wear the green and white, in part, because of the family-like structure Webb has established.
“It’s because of our team,” he said. “It’s because of the relationships they have and their ability to be real in front of those kids.
“It’s about connecting to them on a personal level that allows us to get some kids that we wouldn’t.”
And, so far, his philosophy has worked.
Since Webb was announced as the Bobcats coach in 2014, the program has had success. In his first two years on Ohio’s bench, Webb has guided Ohio to a MAC regular season title in 2014, and a conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth the following season.
His players have accepted him and all his corks. But more importantly, they’ve accepted his leadership. Webb has gained a level of trust from his players, and he’s instilled this same trust in them.
Webb attributes this trust, again, to the time he’s taken to help fortify his team’s family dynamic. Their dynamic, he said, will allow them to continue to expand on the success they’ve had in his four years in Athens.
“It’s something that we have that’s different,” Webb said. “You know, that’s a culture, that’s a family.”