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An entrepreneur with a whistle

Like any successful CEO, Hugh McCutcheon approaches the business of coaching with a winning plan.

By Steve ChurmPublished: February 01, 2009

Hugh McCutcheon’s resume says “coach,” and, as it turns out, he’s a pretty decent one at that. In fact, in August, when he added some glitter to his vitae by leading the Anaheim-based U.S. Men’s Volleyball Team to an improbable gold medal in Beijing, his coaching prowess on the sidelines was confirmed. He’s one of the best – a gold-plated star.
But what’s most intriguing about McCutcheon is his depth as a person. Yes, he can talk X’s and O’s, but he’s as much an entrepreneur as anything. He loves to tinker just like that startup specialist who hatches an idea or product with focus and passion.
McCutcheon uses words such as “sustainability” and “templates.” He talks business models when he lays out his plan to build a winning volleyball program. He’s a serial entrepreneur who happens to wear sweats and wear a whistle around his neck. McCutcheon’s product just happens to be volleyball, and his tools are the media, corporate sponsors and a fan base. He’s willing to leverage whatever assets he has to make volleyball one of America’s great sports.
When McCutcheon returned from China, he was the toast of his industry. He had helped the U.S. men’s team leave the cozy confines of the nation’s Olympic headquarters in Colorado Springs and relocate to the American Sports Center in Anaheim. McCutcheon wanted the men’s team playing regularly at sea level – where the rest of the world competes – and he wanted the U.S. men training in a hotbed of the sport: Orange County. The team jelled, and the three-year experiment in O.C. exceeded all expectations when the team brought home gold. Like scores of other executives who have come because of the weather, geography and abundance of labor and resources, McCutcheon found Orange County to be a profitable place to set up shop.
And, like any savvy businessman, McCutcheon said to himself, “If it worked once, let’s try it again.” So he switched product lines, leaving the U.S. men’s team to become the head coach of the U.S. women’s team. It’s a new challenge, a larger pool of talent (more women play the sport in the U.S. than do the men) and the same old problem: The women are still stuck in Colorado Springs. McCutcheon wants them training right alongside the men in Anaheim. He wants this volleyball-crazed region to be the center of the sport. McCutcheon has supporters – the city of Anaheim and some of the sport’s leading figures. What he needs is housing, meals and corporate sponsors. And, here’s the catch: He needs to get all of this in place in less than eight weeks. He wants to move the women’s national team to Orange County so they can start training for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Ambitious? Yes. But that’s McCutcheon, who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and has entrepreneurial dreams to match. What’s in it for Anaheim? Another feather in the city’s cap as a sports center – Angels, Ducks, Arsenal, the gold medal-winning national team. What’s in it for O.C? More attention, more publicity and a golden chance to add another business to our local economy.