Loyola men’s volleyball coach Mark Hulse was going to be a lawyer. That all changed after a summer internship where some attorneys told him not to become a lawyer.
“I think in my heart of hearts I always wanted to teach,” Hulse said. “I probably majored in volleyball as much as I majored in political science. So this is what better way, right? Coaches are, I think first and foremost, teachers.”
Hulse, now 33, graduated college in 2009, just a year following the 2008 financial crisis — one of the biggest economic downturns in the United States since the Great Depression. He had decided to not go to law school, but wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do and the state of the economy didn’t help the situation much.
He caught the “coaching bug” shortly after graduating from Pepperdine University. He said he was working as many as five jobs at a time, three of which were coaching club volleyball teams.
It’s there Hulse was introduced to Shane Davis, Loyola men’s volleyball coach at the time. Davis and his wife owned the club Hulse was coaching for, and it allowed the two to get to know each other a little more.
Davis had coached against Hulse while he played at Rutgers University before transferring to Pepperdine. But it was really this moment that put Hulse on his radar in terms of coaching.
“I didn’t need somebody who had the most volleyball knowledge or most coaching experience,” Davis said. “I wanted somebody with strong character, great integrity, a sense of humor and just a lot of self-awareness, but also social awareness.”
Hulse applied despite feeling “unqualified.” Davis said he already viewed Hulse as a top candidate, but he grew more impressed with each conversation.
At 23, Hulse made the jump from club coaching to collegiate coaching and he said it “blossomed from there.”
“I was young. I still have the bug,” Hulse said. “I still want to compete. I wanted to be part of it and feel like we were kind of working towards something. And I think the combination of all that was pretty appealing to me.”
Despite some uncertainties, he felt he had a good grasp on the basics of coaching to help him get a start at the collegiate coaching level. He said he had a solid grasp on a skill needed to coach: communication.
“You got to know the game,” Hulse said. “You have to know the technical stuff. But at the end of the day, like there’s plenty of people who know it but can’t teach it because [they] can’t communicate it. And I think I realized pretty quickly that I was okay at communicating it”
During his time as an assistant coach at Loyola, he helped the team to two NCAA titles, three Final Four appearances and three Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championships.
On top of his coaching at Loyola, Hulse served as a coach for the USA Youth A1 National Training Program in 2012, 2014 and 2016. He was also an assistant coach for the 2012 USA Volleyball Youth National Team that took third at the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Qualifier.
Those accolades led him to take over as head coach at Loyola in 2016 at the young age of 29, following Davis’ departure to coach for Northwestern University. He has since led the team to four straight winning seasons and even thinks the team could have turned this season around had it not been stopped short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By the end of this year, I think we could have had something pretty special, something we didn’t have at the beginning of the year,” Hulse said. “[I like] watching groups and the people that make up the groups grow to become something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Hulse said his favorite part of his job is living vicariously through the guys he’s coaching. He said he likes to reflect on his collegiate years and provide advice he would’ve wanted when he was their age.
“You catch people at this really transformative and impactful time of their lives, where they’re kind of really starting to become the people they’re going to be,” Hulse said.
Winning and coaching go hand in hand. Usually a measure of a coach’s success is based on winning. Hulse said can create people doing the job for the wrong reasons.
Hulse said that it’s easy to make coaching about himself, but something he prides himself on is keeping it about the players.
“I think there’s a fair amount of ego in coaching and I really try to check mine,” Hulse said. “I’m conscious. This is not about me at all. And I think for a lot of coaches it’s very much about them. This is all about the guys.”