When new Razorback volleyball coach Jason Watson first landed in Arkansas, he noticed a slight change between Fayetteville and Tempe, Arizona.
“I had no preconceived ideas and when I flew in, I strongly realized I was not in a metropolitan area,” Watson said.
The town is not necessarily what he’s used to, but it does have its perks, Watson said.
“I came here to interview with no idea of community or of the school or anything like that,” Watson said. “I left here with this unbelievable idea that there is strong community support for Arkansas – that people want this program to succeed. The sense of community is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I feel really humble to be in this spot and fortunate to be the coach here.”
The UofA left an impression on Watson, which was a deciding factor in leaving Arizona State, but more importantly than that was his ability to focus on what’s most important to him in life: his family Watson said.
“At Arizona State I was the coach to the indoor and beach teams, and it was difficult to manage that and be a husband and a dad,” Watson said. “I could do it but it was getting difficult. The opportunity here was to build one program and that resonated with me and my family, that they could get some time back. Before I’m a volleyball coach, I’m a father and a husband first. This afforded me that opportunity.”
Family time is important, Watson said.
“Coaches use family all the time as a trump card to other things but for me, the age of my children are 13 and 14, and my oldest son is almost 20, and I continually regret the amount of time that I didn’t get to spend with him when he was younger,” Watson said. “That’s weighed on me over the years. This job allows me to create a better time balance for my kids.”
With a new coach under the helm for the Razorback program, fans can expect Watson to take the team in a new direction: one that emphasizes speed and simplicity.
“There are some mechanics things that won’t be as noticeable,” Watson said. “Defensively, we’re going to be fairly disciplined in the way we are. We are going to limit movement and offensively we are going to be more diverse and look to develop some other athletes. We want to be fast offensively, too. We want to be up-tempo on offense and really simple and disciplined defensively. Hopefully one thing you’ll notice is that we’re going to become a really good serving team.”
Watson has developed his strategies over the years and, along with them, he has developed as well. Going from being a coach that is stoic and emotionless in front of his players as a great majority are, Watson opted for a different approach all because of what happened in 2011.
In 2011, the Arizona State team finished 9-22 for its second worst finish in program history. However, going into the 2012 season, Watson and Co. had a good recruiting class and returning talent, and they looked for a way to avoid their previous season.
“I looked around and wondered, ‘where do we go from here?’” Watson said. “Some pretty healthy introspection occurred. Not only feedback from athletes and our staff, but feedback from a really close friend of mine who said ‘I wish your athletes knew you as well as I knew you because they would view you much differently from how they view you know.’ That was a pretty powerful statement for me and I thought that I had to do better. So we embarked on being good to and for our athletes and engage in conversation with them. It became this really eye-opening experience.
Watson has faced challenges as a coach before.
“For me personally, one of the big challenges that I’ve had to face is to understand the significance and the importance of relationships. That hasn’t always been the case and I made a big shift in 2011 towards being more engaging, more open and showing a side of myself that you don’t normally, as a coach, show, like some vulnerability. That was a big shift for me that enabled that Arizona State team to go from the 2011 season to 2012 and make the tournament.”
That experience paid off for Watson as his Sun Devils have made it the NCAA tournament each year since 2011. That same philosophy he had with his players at Arizona State is the same that he intends to bring to Fayetteville.
“I’m pretty laid-back and pretty open,” Watson said. “I want to engage with the athlete. I certainly want to be good to them and for them. My job is to create those relationships and maximize them.”
Relationships will be a focus for Watson. While his personality is one that is geared toward being a player-centered coach, it is imperative for him to establish trust with Arkansas players after former coach Robert Pulliza stepped down amid allegations of mistreatment and verbal abuse towards players.
“Trust has to come first before you can go ask them to make changes and some changes to the style of play,” Watson said. “Trust has to come over time. For me, to be true to my personality, I want to be emotionally consistent. I don’t want to respond too emotionally to situations. I need to be consistent over the short term and long term in how I interact with them. Over time the relationships will develop but they’re not going to be tomorrow or next week. That is a big thing we need to do this spring.”
Q&A With Coach Watson
What is your favorite musical group or artist?
“So I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and Midnight Oil was a big musical group and I like them. Of late, I have been listening to an enormous amount of Johnny Cash.”
What are your top three favorite movies?
“I like ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ the one with Russell Crowe; that was an awesome movie. It sounds terrible but the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie is really up there; I thought it was really, really good. Maybe it’s my favorite, maybe it’s not, but one way up there is ‘Mean Girls.’ I watch ‘Mean Girls’ an enormous amount. I don’t want to confess that ‘Mean Girls’ is in my three top movies but in frequency it’s way up there.”
What is your favorite sport to watch or play, other than volleyball?
“I’m a big cricket fan. I grew up playing cricket and I watch it. I like rugby as well and of late, I think college football is a remarkable sport. But I could be the only person in Fayetteville to watch a cricket game and think it’s the greatest thing ever.”
Who was your role model growing up?
“My college coach, Carl McGown. I played for him at BYU and he had a remarkable influence upon me and it’s why I’m in this profession. He had a profound effect on me.”