From Top Gun to Top Jacket

Oct. 8, 2007

by Simit Shah – It was the movie that spawned many a military career, but it provided a very different inspiration for one Iowa teenager.

“I’m sad to say that I am a product of the `Top Gun’ era,” Bond Shymansky admitted sheepishly. “Growing up and watching Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer battle it out on the beach motivated me to start playing volleyball. I was a teenager, and I thought it was pretty cool.”

That’s not exactly the stereotypical foundation for a successful coaching career, but Georgia Tech’s volleyball coach has rarely done anything by the book.

Growing up in Iowa City (which is in the eastern part of the state near the Illinois border), Shymansky was a high school quarterback when he became interested in volleyball.

“I really loved playing football,” he said. “I wasn’t playing any other sports during the offseason, so volleyball really became my second sport.”

Finding competitive boys’ volleyball in Iowa was a challenge, and his AAU team often traveled far and wide throughout the state and the Midwest in search of opponents.

At the University of Iowa, he played for the men’s club team in the early 90’s. During that time, his interest in coaching volleyball was piqued, and through some contacts he was able to land a coaching job.

“I started off being the assistant coach of the ninth grade B-team at the high school in town,” he said. “It was definitely a humble beginning. If the ball got over the net, we were pretty excited.”

After a few years, Shymansky found himself the head coach of the varsity team and teaching English at Iowa City High School. He led his team to the state semifinals in his second year and seemed primed for a long tenure at the school.

“I thought that this could be my life for the next 40 years,” he explained. “I’d retire there. I realized that I could make an impact as a teacher, but I really loved coaching volleyball. The teaching was a means to that end.

“When I got the opportunity to be an assistant coach at Iowa State, I realized that I could make the same amount of money and just coach. That was really a leap of faith for our family. My wife was about eight months pregnant with our second child, so it was a big deal for us to pack up and move.”

Before he left in 1998, the high school’s athletic director warned him that coaching in the college ranks was a fickle business, and he should think twice before embarking on an uncertain future. Just a year later, the Iowa State head coach was fired, and Shymansky found his worst fears realized.

“I was really sweating bullets,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was between a rock and a hard place, and everything he had warned me about had come true in a heartbeat. I wasn’t prepared for it.”

Luckily, Shymansky was able to land at Georgia Tech in 2000 as an assistant on Shelton Collier’s staff, serving as the team’s defensive and blocking coordinator. Two seasons later, he felt ready to take the next step.

“Coming to Georgia Tech was part of the five-year plan,” he explained. “This was supposed to be years three, four and five. My desire was to be a head coach. I can still recall meeting with the head coach at the time and going out after the season to play golf. I broke it to him that I wanted to branch out and be a head coach.”

Shymansky also approached Tech’s athletic director at the time, Dave Braine, to garner his blessing. While supportive, he urged Shymansky to be patient. Two days later, Collier resigned so he could move with his wife to North Carolina.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity, and his candidacy for the job received a huge boost when the team’s captains voiced their support to Braine.

“We really wanted Bond to be our next coach,” said Kele Eveland, one of the team’s three captains at that time. “[Braine] asked us questions about why we wanted him to be our coach. We told him that Bond has the best qualities for a coach, and we have a lot of respect for him. He (knew) how to motivate us. He’s got a great grasp of the concepts of volleyball, and that’s very important.”

Braine listened and decided to hand the reins of the program to Shymansky, who was just 30 years old at the time.

“That was probably the greatest thing that gave me confidence in my ability to the head coach was the team’s confidence in me,” said Shymansky. “For the team’s captains to come to me and say, `We want you to be our head coach,’ that’s a huge vote of confidence. I knew that would hold us together, and it would allow me to make mistakes and allow them to make mistakes but still get through it together as a team.”

There weren’t many mistakes that first season, as the 2002 squad set a school record for victories with a 33-6 record. His second season began with 23 straight wins and ended with a Sweet 16 appearance. In his five seasons at the helm, Shymansky has compiled an impressive 130-44 record.

“That kind of success certainly increases expectations,” he noted. “It’s both a problem and a blessing. We have to continue to win. We had a 20-win season last year, but it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like it was enough, and it wasn’t. We have higher expectations as a program. It has helped us recruit better athletes, so now we’re constantly running against the big dogs for the best players.”

Shymansky and his staff have been able to land a number of those recruits in recent years, including a healthy haul among the top 50 prep players. They’ve developed into stars like Eveland and Lynnette Moster, among others.

“He has a great coaching style,” said senior Lindsey Gray. “You’re going to lose sometimes, so he wants you to learn out there. He’ll really pick up on the little things, even if it’s in practice. Sometimes he’ll stop everything just to let you know that you got it right. He’s rewarding in that sense.

“It makes you feel good about working hard,” she added. “When we step onto the court, he’s excited to sit back and watch. He’s coaching for the first four days of the week, and then Friday and Saturday he can sit back and watch us put what we’ve been working on into action.”

As he prepares for his sixth season, Shymansky fields a veteran squad that features seven returning starters. That combined with the experience of an European tour this past summer gives him plenty of optimism this fall.

“Our team slogan this year is `We will.’ There’s a difference between try and will,” he said. “We are no longer going to just try. We will get it done this year. We expect to win the conference. We expect to go deep in the NCAA Tournament. We have a lot of tough teams on the slate both in and out of the ACC, so we’re going to put ourselves to the test. We will come out successful.”

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