“Hugh’s impact on the sport has been pretty significant,” said Doug Beal, the retired CEO of USA Volleyball who hired McCutcheon to coach the Olympic and national teams. “He’s a guy who’s been successful every place he’s been, at every age level and with both genders. What he’s done is exceptional.”

The towering Kiwi might appear intimidating, with his shaved head and the piercing glare that burns through the most intense moments of a match. His formula for success, though, relies as much on the tight personal bonds common to New Zealand as it does on the American appetite for competition.

McCutcheon has endeared himself to the Gophers by being a good listener and a bad teller of jokes. His “Hugh-isms” — the slogans he uses to distill his concepts — stick with players long after they’ve left, as do other lessons from his holistic approach to molding champions.

“I tell everybody, he changed my life,” said former Gophers All-America Daly Santana. “Hugh is amazing. He equips you with all the tools you need inside the court and outside the court to do whatever you want to do in life.”


McCutcheon takes a scientific approach to teaching fundamentals — his mentor, McGown, was a professor of motor learning — with efficiency and precision as his touchstones. During his time with USA Volleyball, he developed a template for a collaborative team culture. It gives power and voice to the players, but it also demands adherence to a set of non-negotiable principles.

“Commitment, trustworthiness, respect, inclusiveness, loyalty, grit, hard work,” sophomore Stephanie Samedy recited. “We know what’s expected. And we know it’s not just about volleyball; it’s about being the best people we can be. We take a lot of pride in that.”


“For me, it’s never been about the result,” he said. “It’s about trying to figure out how we can be better at this. How can we improve and grow and evolve?

“Where it all leads, I don’t know. But as long as I feel like we’re growing and evolving, it’s a great job.”