You don’t meet too many coaching Hall of Famers with “only” nine years on the job.
Unless they have a résumé like Mt. Spokane’s Dave Whitehead.
His track record speaks for itself, since he doesn’t particularly enjoy talking about himself.
Whitehead, a 2019 inductee into the Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, announced his retirement from coaching this week.
He steps down after his Wildcats earned their second consecutive State 3A title this season and fifth state placing in his tenure, which includes a fourth place in 2011, a second in 2016 and a third in 2017.
Whitehead was Greater Spokane League coach of the year in 2016, ’18 and ’19 and state coach of the year the past two seasons. His career record is 174-73-15.
“It was absolutely out of the blue,” Whitehead said of the nomination and election. “I wasn’t expecting, didn’t expect it. That … that was very nice of them.”
The WSVCA website lists 300 wins as a head coach in its nomination requirements, so the organization took into consideration Whitehead’s total of 37 years coaching.
“One of the things that they brought up, that the committee said is, well, ‘How many wins and losses do you have?’ and I told them and they said, ‘No, no, everything.’ Because I coached seventh grade and eighth grade, back-to-back. Or seventh and ninth grade. And I had, like, 500 wins? Who knows?”
Whitehead, 59, told his assistant coaches and a small group of close confidantes, including his principal and athletic director, before the season started that this would be his last. But he kept it a secret from everyone else – including his players.
“I wanted the focus to be on them, not me,” he said. “So honestly, I didn’t tell the kids until last week. I think a lot of them knew it, though.”
He didn’t want his personal affairs to be a distraction to defending the state title.
“This team had a lot of potential, and we knew it,” he said. “We had some expectations on our shoulders. And we were beat up all year. To see the kids step up and play for each other was amazing – but it was still a lot of expectations.”
Consider the expectations fulfilled.
The Wildcats defended their state title – coming back from down 5-1 to Capital in the deciding fifth set – and placed four players on this year’s all-state first team, including state player of the year Tia Allen.
Mt. Spokane was so good and so deep this season that last year’s state player of the year, Malina Ama, was voted second-team all-state.
“At the start of the year I said, you know, we don’t have to rely on Malina, and we didn’t,” Whitehead said. “A lot of (teams) just said, ‘We’re going to stop her,’ and that’s fine because I’ve got Tia, I’ve got Sophia (Bertotti-Metoyer), I’ve got all these others, just amazing players.”
Funny thing, though, is that Whitehead came into coaching volleyball almost by accident.
“I was a baseball guy,” he said.
Whitehead recalled that on the second day after he was hired on a one-year contract at Mead Junior High in 1984, he was approached about branching out.
“I was told, back then, if you want a job, the answer is, ‘Yes,’ if they asked if you can do anything,” he said. “So I was asked after I got (hired) and they said, ‘Can you coach volleyball?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So I did seventh-grade volleyball that year.”
It was the first time he coached volleyball at any level. And he hasn’t looked back … until now.
“I’ve coached every level,” he said. “And just, that’s the way it is. I was able to learn from some amazing people.”
Whitehead graduated from Mead in 1979, played baseball at University of Puget Sound, then finished his degree at Eastern Washington. When he started at Mead Junior High he coached baseball and basketball, and soon was asked to take on volleyball.
Always replying, “Yes,” when asked.
The head coaching job with Mt. Spokane came as sort of a happy accident as well. When his predecessor, John Reid, left, Whitehead was on the committee to find Reid’s replacement. The committee thought they had found their candidate, but the hire fell through at the last minute.
“(They) called me down and said, ‘Hey, do you want to coach?’ ” Whitehead said. “They asked me to step in and I’ve been doing it ever since.
“I didn’t even apply for the job.”
The newly elected Hall of Famer wasn’t sure what he was getting into.
“The first year I didn’t know if I’d be there the second year,” he said. “But we actually ended up trophying at state that year. I had a very good team then, too, so it was just kind of cool.”
Whitehead paid homage to the club system he and several others built to feed the high school program.
“I mean, clubs matter, they do,” he said. “My daughters were in the first clubs here, to make sure that they were able to do it. I mean, Mead had Splash. And we had to start our own so it was, it was good thing to do.”
But the volleyball coach also stressed the importance of a well-rounded athlete.
“What we really strive for is we don’t want our kids doing one sport,” he said. “The other night there were five basketball players that were on the volleyball team. And so you’re sitting there and you’re looking at all these girls who are doing multiple sports. That’s the way it should be.”
Whitehead said he has only retired from coaching for now and “the plan” is to continue teaching marketing and mentoring the DECA program at Mt. Spokane.
“I haven’t made a 100% decision on what I’m doing,” he said.
He loves teaching a discipline that is cutting edge.
“Oh, it’s a blast, because it changes all the time,” he said. “When I started there was no such thing as social media.”
He said a return to coaching in some capacity isn’t out of the question.
“(This) doesn’t mean I’m done coaching. It doesn’t,” he said. “It just means that I’m stepping away from Mt. Spokane volleyball right now. I was talking to the softball coach, and he needs an assistant softball coach. I don’t know if I’ll do that. I wouldn’t mind doing eighth-grade (volleyball) again.”
For now, though, giving up the rigors of coaching varsity volleyball means not having to cut anyone anymore – “I hate hurting kids feelings,” – and catching up on sleep.
“Waking up in the middle of the night wondering, what we’re going to do with this injury that we have or it’s – your mind is always racing. And I like that, but I don’t.”
He’ll have more time for his wife, Karen, his three kids and their spouses, and his granddaughter, with a grandson on the way – though they’re moving out of town to Whitehead’s lament.
“My daughter is – her husband is in the Air Force, and they just got transferred down to Nellis (Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas) and they took my grandbaby with them. But she’s pregnant again, so it’s very cool.”
Of all the matches he’s coached, Whitehead said two stood out.
In 2016, when this year’s seniors were ninth-graders, they beat Mercer Island in five sets to reach the state title match.
“We were super young, and we ended up winning in five and it was one of the best all-around games,” he said. “Everybody had a tremendous game, and it was great for our kids program-wise.”
The Wildcats were swept by Lakeside (Seattle) in the title match, but the lesson wasn’t lost.
“We had no idea how good we were,” he said. “And when we got there, we learned.”
Of course, the second standout was this year’s championship.
“That was a fun game because it was the two best teams in the state,” he said. “And, honestly, when it was 5-1 them in the fifth game, I didn’t need to bring (his players) in and yell at them or anything. They were a mature team. You just sit there and talk to them. ‘Relax, take a step back, we’re OK. Let’s go get ’em, go back and play.’
“And at the end, when they run out and celebrate, it was just something I will never forget.”