The University of Toledo is the next step in the volleyball journey of Jason Oliver.
From beach volleyball growing up in southern California, to a collegiate playing career at George Mason where he once had 99 assists in a match, to a highly accomplished coaching career where he most recently battled Big Ten powers on the recruiting trail as an assistant coach at Indiana University, Oliver seemingly has experienced the game from all angles.
For Oliver, who was hired Jan. 11 as the head coach at UT, the next challenge is to take the Rockets’ program — one he thinks is packed with potential — to new heights.
From the moment he stepped on campus, he thought he was the right person for the job.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘surprising,’” Oliver said of Toledo. “I’ve been around volleyball a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of different universities. To be honest with you, walking on the campus and seeing it for the first time, with the facilities and the energy around campus — I was there during break, and there was still a lot of energy in the athletic department and in the community. I just had a really good feeling about everything that was going on.”
Oliver began his coaching career with stops as an assistant at California Lutheran, Towson, West Virginia, Dayton, and Maryland before he earned his first head coaching job at High Point in 2009.
“Jason has all the qualities we desire in a head volleyball coach,” UT vice president and athletic director Mike O’Brien said. “His teams have a history of academic success, and he has a track record of recruiting high-end talent. He will be a terrific teacher and leader for our young women."
From 2009-16 at High Point, Oliver had a 118-103 record, including a Big South Conference title and an NCAA tournament berth in 2010.
“It was a great experience for me,” Oliver said. “I was a first-year coach, and I was able to build a program that I was proud of, and that meant a lot to me and to the community. Some of the things I can take away from that are the culture and the excellence that I was able to create there, and that is something that I want to recreate at Toledo.”
After leaving High Point in 2016, Oliver spent two seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting director at Indiana, where his 2018 recruiting class is the most highly regarded in school history with three top-150 players.
“The Big Ten is the best conference in the country, and going up against the best in the country every week and recruiting against the best all the time definitely broadened my horizons and really opened my eyes to my abilities,” Oliver said.
At 42, Oliver thinks he has the perfect blend of experience and energy.
“I’m in that sweet zone where I have a ton of energy, but I’m not too old,” Oliver said. “But I’m not too young to not have a ton of experience, either. When you factor it all together, I’m going to have a ton of passion with a ton of expertise. I think that overall identity of the program will ooze out of us and into the crowd and into the community. The passion, the energy, the focus, and the desire to compete at a high level is contagious.”
Oliver thinks the talent coming back from a team that was 12-16 under former coach Greg Smith last season is enough to be competitive right away.
“I do think the future is bright,” Oliver said. “I think we have a lot of great athletes on the team, and we are going to adjust fast and find a niche and a rhythm that is really going to help us win matches next year.”
While he still is getting to know many of the players in the program, Oliver hopes he can build a tight-knit environment.
“My short-term goals are to create a great family environment and have these student athletes that are currently on the roster know that I’m there for them, and that I am a resource for them, and I am going to have their back,” Oliver said. “I want to make sure they have an advocate in me. If they abide by the rules, they work hard, and they get after it, I’m going to be a huge supporter of them.”
“In the long term, I definitely want to build a MAC champion. Winning the MAC is a huge deal, and Toledo has all the potential in the world to do that. I look forward to creating multiple championships over my tenure here.”
In a volleyball journey that began at 13 years old and an indoor career at 14, Oliver said he isn’t surprised the path has led him to a long coaching career.
“I did everything I could to further my career as a player and to open as many doors as possible,” Oliver said. “It always led to coaching. I knew I wanted to coach at an early age. I’ve always wanted to be a really professional coach. Volleyball has given me a lot, and I want to give back the way my coaches gave to me.”
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