By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Associate head coach Colin McMillan describes his relationship with head coach Mark Pavlik as that of "an old married couple." Pavlik also likens the two of them to "a couple of old ladies." Either way you describe it, McMillan has served as a key component to the Penn State men's volleyball team for 10 years now.
McMillan was recruited by Penn State, but spent his collegiate career at Ohio State, helping the Buckeyes to an NCAA runner up finish in 2000. A standout middle at Ohio State, he won a gold medal at the World University Games in Beijing with Team USA in 2001. Playing overseas from 2000-05, he was also the starting middle for the Besiktas Volleyball Club in Turkey.
With a variety of experiences playing at both the collegiate and pro level, it only made McMillan an intriguing prospect for Penn State when the assistant coaching position opened up.
"I knew Colin as a player and really respected what he did on the court," Pavlik said. "When he put his application in for the coaching position we really liked what he brought to the table in terms of all his experience. He had played under various coaches who used different styles so he was familiar with a lot of different volleyball. Knowing Colin and seeing his resume, I just kind of knew that he was the guy."
McMillan says that he started his coaching career with little coaching experience but believes that he was selected based on the fact that he could provide a wealth of knowledge.
"I knew that I didn't have as much coaching experience as some of the other candidates," McMillan said. "But I had a good relationship with Coach Pav and he saw something in me. I was very honored when I figured out I was selected."
McMillan began his tenure at Penn State as an assistant coach. He was tasked with coaching the blockers on the team as well as working with the middle hitters on offense as well. As a four time All-MIVA selection at middle blocker, McMillan was the perfect piece to anchor that aspect of Penn State's coaching staff. In his time at Penn State, he felt himself grow as a coach, but also personally as well.
"In my time here I have gone from more of a player who was coaching kids to an actual coach as I have progressed in my career," McMillan said. "I have gotten married and had two kids during my time at Penn State. I absolutely love the area and love the community, the whole Penn State athletics community feels like a family to me and that's what I like the most about it."
Through the 10 years that he has been part of the program, McMillan has been with many All-Americans, current international stars and even a national championship team. He has coached alongside Pavlik through all of those seasons and truly believes that as their relationship has grown, so to has their ability to coach together.
"When I started it was still more of a player coach relationship between the two of us," McMillan said. "I was young and Pav had been here already for a good chunk of time so I was always listening to him and taking that in. Now as I've matured and grown and our relationship has a well, it is entirely different. We bounce ideas off of each other and coordinate on a lot of things. We even bicker sometimes but were like the old married couple and we make up right after."
Pavlik sees a similar dynamic between the two colleagues, adding that McMillan, along with the other coach on staff, Ryan Walthall, are equals in terms of pull.
"We are all tugging on that preverbal rope just as much as the other person," Pavlik said. "I like to think that when we come into this office, we are all equal, each person's voice is respected just as much as the next and we use each other to help better the team. It's really fun to be able to come in to work with Colin and Ryan every single day."
For all the success that McMillan has had at Penn State it's also come in the form of guiding teams to nine EIVA championships as well as a national title during his time in Happy Valley. For McMillan, the most enjoyable part of his entire experience might not include a match at all though. Rather for him, it is what happens when the lights don't shine the brightest that sticks out the most.
"The most fulfilling part of coaching for me has to be seeing that success in practice," McMillan said. "It's that sense when you can tell a player has figured it out or when you really start to feel a team gel that is probably the best part about this job. Then when you see the hard work come to fruition during the matches, that's just the bonus."
In August 2016, McMillan was promoted to associate head coach for the Nittany Lions, putting him at a very close second in command to Pavlik. For all his time at Penn State, Pavlik says that it is very much a deserved promotion.
"It basically means that Colin can step in and take over for me if it is ever needed," Pavlik said. "He can do that and it would be a seamless transition. He has earned that right and he has been a phenomenal coach for the past 10 years. What makes him so good is that he understands what he doesn't know and I think that is the best trait a coach can have because if you are willing to learn, then you will be all the better for it."
Likewise, for McMillan, he expressed his gratitude in moving from assistant to associate head coach but also highlighted that it is not only an honor, but also another opportunity to learn and grow as a coach.
"I want to continue to progress with my coaching," McMillan said. "I could certainly do that as an assistant coach, but there are certain responsibilities as an associate head coach that are unique to the job. It's all part of the learning process for me and to be able to continue that with out having to leave Penn State is really nice."
Though he has been around numerous Penn State teams, McMillan noted that this year, his first as the associate head coach, has been unique. The Nittany Lions currently sit at No. 13 in the national rankings and have made great strides since the beginning of the season. However recently they have been plagued by sickness and injury, both which have created unexpected situations for the team. Still, despite the adversity, Penn State has maintained its status as one of the teams to beat in collegiate volleyball.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a team with as much turnover in the lineup as the one we have had this season," McMillan said. "Just because of everything that has happened we have had to make lineup changes and put people in different positions like something I haven't seen before. But even though it's been hard, I think that if we can get everyone healthy, our team will be better off for it because now everyone on the team is battled tested and has been on the court in big situations and that makes for a dangerous team come playoff time."
Penn State is still in the midst of an out of conference schedule before resuming the second half of their EIVA play. The Nittany Lions are currently sitting a half game ahead of Sacred Heart in the conference standings with six games left to play. Penn State is back on the court Friday night against Cal Baptist with first serve at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.