Becoming an assistant coach for the USF volleyball team just kind of fell in Jason Partington’s lap.
A former player at Eckerd College, Partington had completed his degree and was looking to get into coaching.
“I had just finished school this past year, and I was trying to find a job,” Partington said. “But I didn’t fully go after it. I was just seeing what was available.”
That’s when Partington’s coach at Eckerd, Dexter Rodgers, got a call from USF coach Nancy Mueller. The Bulls were in need of another coach when Mueller’s undergraduate assistant, former USF setter Melanie Mueller (no relation), had to leave the team for a student teaching stint. With Melanie Mueller, no relation, working as the junior varsity coach at Wharton High School, that left just Coach Mueller and assistant Claire Roach.
Partington had previously coached the USAV boys’ club volleyball team from 1995-97, and Mueller actively sought him out.
“I have always been a player, but coaching was definitely something I wanted to get into,” Partington said. “I’ll still play competitively when I can. I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing.”
A native of Seminole, Partington’s playing career took him to BYU, where he redshirted one season. After taking a few years off, Partington returned to play at the collegiate level at Eckerd. He spent three seasons playing at the club level, earning All-Conference and All-American honors as Eckerd claimed the NIRSA Division II championship. So shortly removed from his own days on the collegiate courts, Partington has taken a very active role in the Bulls’ practices.
“I enjoy it, helping out with the drills,” Partington said. “Any information or advice that I can pass on to better their games is great. It is fun having a hands-on role, playing along with them. Anything to make them better players.”
Mueller has also seen the added benefits of having Partington on the court with the Bulls.
“I get good feedback from him on the court,” Mueller said. “He sees things that I can’t see from my perspective. It’s been very useful in that regard.”
For Mueller, it was obvious that Partington was making an immediate splash in the Bulls’ first few workouts.
“Jason has been a huge help already,” Mueller said. “He is setting a higher level of play in practice. He is raising the intensity, forcing our hitters to go against a bigger block. That’s improving the caliber of play and making them play at a higher point.”
USF will need to elevate its play once the regular season kicks off. The Bulls open in Malibu, Calif., with the Howdy’s Pepperdine Classic on Aug. 30. Michigan will be USF’s opponent in the opener, and then the Bulls will face No. 8 Pepperdine and Clemson on Aug. 31. The competition will remain stiff when the Bulls host the South Florida Adidas Invitational Sept. 13-14 as No. 15 Michigan State and No. 22 Kansas State visit Tampa.
Mueller is counting on Partington’s intensity and knowledge to have the Bulls fired up when they face those top-ranked teams.
“He was a team captain at Eckerd for two years, and he is a real leader on and off the court,” Mueller said. “He gets after it and steps up. He’ll get on the team, like, ‘Lets go. Step up to the plate.’ And he knows a lot about the game. Working with our outside hitters Michelle (Collier) and Jolene (Patton), since he was an outside hitter, he’s been showing them different shots and techniques. And he’s teaching them how to use those shots.
“Plus, he sees the court very well,” Mueller said. “He’s one of the best passers I have ever seen. We’re really improving. The rallies are longer, and Jason is a huge contributor in practice.”
While Mueller is getting to see on the court what contributions she’s getting from Partington, he knows what he’s expecting to get from the Bulls. His intensity on the court is exactly what he demands from his players.
“I just want to see desire and heart,” Partington said. “I want them to go out, play and give 100 percent to win. To play as hard as they can, and leave it all on the floor. That’s how I am as a player, and that’s what I want from my players – to give it all they’ve got.”
Knowing some of the players on the team already from other friends on the volleyball circuit has helped Partington’s transition as the new coach on a veteran team much easier. Plus, taking the job had plenty of benefits for a new coach seeking an opportunity to get his foot in the door.
“It’s a good experience,” Partington said. “I like the atmosphere, the competition. Being a coach at a Division I school in Conference USA, which is a good conference, is great, and USF is a quality program. Coaching was always in the back of my mind. I just didn’t know how to get in. And I’m fortunate to be near my hometown since I was born and raised in Florida.”