After failing to finish higher than third in the American Athletic Conference in each of the last four seasons, the decision was made not to renew head volleyball coach Julie Torbett’s contract, ending her seven-year tenure at the helm of the Pirates.

Despite a rather successful 69-53 overall record since 2016, Torbett’s Pirates posted a 29-45 record in AAC play, including a 6-10 mark in 2019. For her career, Torbett has 447 wins to her credit, but after yet another season of falling short in conference play, a change in leadership was warranted.

On June 24, ECU tabbed Adler Augustin as Torbett’s replacement, giving him his first Division I head coaching job.

“The American Conference has a lot of great teams, a lot of great coaches,” Augustin told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Wednesday. “ECU, I would say, is kind of middle of the pack. It’s not a total rebuild but we still have a lot to work on and we have a lot to grow. Excited to get it started.”

Heading into the off-season, the Pirates were set to lose only one starter from the 2019 squad in senior Toya Osuegbu. Now, the current online roster is void of notable contributors to last year’s team in Shelby Martin and Brandee Markwith, leaving ECU with no seniors.

Instead, the current version of the roster includes four juniors, a redshirt sophomore, four sophomores and two freshmen.

Like Augustin said, the 2020 season will not necessarily be a rebuilding year for the Pirates but rather a restocking year and a time for younger players to step up and fill bigger roles.

While Augustin had yet to hold a D1 head coaching job before accepting the position at ECU, he is no stranger to leading teams and programs. A former volleyball player himself, Augustin started in the coaching ranks all the way at the bottom in the club sports scene.

“(I) kind of fell into coaching by accident, really,” Augustin said. “Couple of friends were like, ‘hey can you coach our team?’ I didn’t even know what I was doing. I knew how to play, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was like ‘sure, why not.’ From there, just kind of fell in love with it. I have a pretty addictive personality so if I find something I love, I’m going to put as much effort into it.

“So once I found coaching, then I immediately started reaching out to other coaches, trying to learn more and get better. From there, I started coaching high school, started coaching club, just trying to find as much opportunity as possible. From there, just kind of built my way up until I got to ECU.”

Early head coaching duties of the men’s and women’s club teams at the University of Texas turned into opportunities at Austin Waldorf School in Texas before he led Austin Juniors Volleyball Club Cedar Park Team to the 2013 USA Volleyball 17 USA Division national title in 2013.

Two years later Augustin was hired as an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, and was later promoted to associate head coach in 2019.

“It’s been a super humbling journey,” Augustin said. “A lot of people have helped me along the way and I’ve learned a lot. Had really good success at SFA and coach (Debbie) Humphreys has really helped me improve in the aspect of coaching. I’m forever grateful to her, she’s a legend and she’s been coaching for over 30 years at the same school. Not too many people get to do that, so I got a chance to be there, learn a lot and also help keep improving the program.”

In five years at SFA, Augustin was a part of the coaching staff that guided the volleyball program to 129 wins, three Southland Conference titles, two conference tournament championships and two NCAA tournament appearances. Just last year, Stephen F. Austin went a perfect 16-0 in conference play and finished the campaign with a 31-2 overall record.

Now, it will be up to Augustin to take what he learned from his various coaching stops and apply it to a Pirate program that needs to see some success in the AAC. While Augustin has not yet made it to Greenville from his home in Texas, he has been in contact with his players to get to know them better in preparation for the upcoming season.

“Before the announcement, we had a group call,” Augustin said. “Over the last week or so, I made sure I called everyone individually and had discussions. Just kind of get to know them because obviously you usually get hired in the spring and you have more time with the players. Now, it’s pretty close to the start of the season, so I thought it was really important for me to call them individually and kind of get their thoughts and what they expect. Just kind of really get to know them as a person more so than as a volleyball player.”

Even so, Augustin has expectations for his new program that dive deeper than just X’s and O’s on the court. A lot of that has to do with communication between player and coach and creating a sense of family that most successful programs do so well.

“First and foremost, we want to make sure — like I told the players — we have to create a deeper connection among the staff, among the players,” Augustin said. “There’s a way that we have to conduct ourselves on and off the court. Obviously going to class is one of them and paying attention. To me, building that sort of culture of trust and making sure that we’re good people in the community is at the forefront. 

“After that, we’ll get into more X’s and O’s, but I definitely want the volleyball program to be viewed as something successful and not just because we win games, but also because we’re in the community talking and reaching out and being good people and being fun to be around.”

With COVID-19 on everyone’s mind right now, there is little clarity about what the fall will bring with it in terms of resumption of athletic events. Nevertheless, the 2020 volleyball is fast approaching and each remaining day of the off-season will seemingly be more important than ever with new faces, both on the coaching staff and roster, ready to make an impact.

For Augustin, the next week or so will include a lot of packing as he prepares to make the 20-hour drive from Texas to North Carolina. If all goes well, he expects to begin that journey next Thursday with the expectation of being in Greenville by next weekend.

Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Adler Augustin that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Wednesday below:

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