HYANNIS – So few athletes and coaches possess it: humility.
Yet if you walked by 27-year Barnstable High School head volleyball coach Tom Turco on the street, you’d likely walk right by him. With his trademark moustache and air of insignificance, Turco radiates the definition of humility.
It’s precisely that quality that separates the man from so many of us, not to fail to mention he may very well retire one day in the future as the all-time winningest coach in Massachusetts high school athletics history. The numbers, as they say, simply do not lie.
With 16 Massachusetts Division 1 high school state championship titles on the shelf, Turco won his 699th game on November 8 when his Red Raiders defeated Bishop Feehan, 3-1, in the MIAA Division 1 South Sectional Championship at Bridgewater-Raynham High School. The sectional title was Turco’s 20th in a 27-year career and this fall marked his 16th league championship title as well.
His next victory will be his 700th and it will undoubtedly come this spring in his 10th season at the helm of the Barnstable High School boys’ volleyball program. His 699 high school volleyball wins are a combination of his success with the girls’ program – which he took over from Lorraine Dunnett in 1988 – and the still-young boys’ program which he founded in 2006. With the Barnstable girls’ volleyball program Turco has registered 589 wins and with the boys’ program he has 110 wins.
Only a handful of Massachusetts high school coaches have coached long enough to even come close to winning 700 games – all sports considered – and there is no other coach in Barnstable High School or Cape Cod history who has as many as he does or who has won as many state championships as he has. In fact, no other Massachusetts high school coach in any sport has won as many state championships as Turco has in girls’ volleyball. Coaches who have registered 700 or more wins in this state include North Reading High School baseball coach Frank Carey, Leominster High School baseball coach Emile Johnson, Belmont Hill ice hockey coach Ken Martin and St. John’s (Shrewsbury) basketball coach Bob Foley.
Turco was staring at win 700 on Nov. 12 in the MIAA Div. 1 State Semifinals against a formidable Newton North team when the Red Raiders fell, 3-1, to end yet another remarkable season on the court.
Turco has twice been named the National High School Volleyball Coach of the Year and four times been names the Boston Globe Division 1 Coach of the Year. He is enshrined in the Massachusetts Girls Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Billerica High School Hall of Fame.
Chatting this week about how he became so successful in his lengthy coaching career, Turco wanted to make one thing abundantly clear: “It’s the players who set and achieve their goals each season. These aren’t my goals. They’re their goals.”
Turco has 10 of his former Red Raider players already enshrined in the nine-year-old Barnstable High School Athletic Hall of Fame and in his career he has had eight (8) Barnstable Red Raiders named Gatorade Massachusetts High School Volleyball Player of the Year. The Red Raider girls have registered one losing season since Turco first took the helm in 1988 when they finished at 5-11. That season in and of itself changed everything Turco thought he knew about coaching.
“I walked into Steve Goveia’s office and sat down and he asked me how I thought the season went,” Turco said. “He asked me what my philosophy was and I told him that I was trying to reinforce only positive behavior and ignore the negative things… it was a complete disaster.”
Now retired from teaching in the Barnstable High School special needs department, Turco said Goveia, the longtime and former Red Raider athletic director, suggested he try a different philosophy, lay down the ground rules for his players and have the gumption to stick with enforcing the consequences of violating those rules.
That simple philosophical change – combined with embracing the basic tenets of success outlined in Pat Riley’s book, The Winner Within – quickly led to Turco’s first of 16 state championships in 1993. The bottom line, Turco said, is that he does not deviate from holding student-athletes accountable for their actions.
“We were on the bus this season heading over the bridge and the rule is ‘no cell phones’ when we go over the bridge. So we were about 10 minutes over the bridge and I look back and one of the players is texting on their phone,” Turco said. “I didn’t say anything after asking her what the rule was and she just didn’t play and she did not start for the next three games.”
If you spent 10 minutes at one of Turco’s practices, you’d be amazed at the sheer energy coming from the gymnasium floor, almost as if you were standing in the heart of Penn Station in downtown Manhattan at rush hour. The difference is, the coach is not bellowing orders or wasting energy distracting from the mission of preparedness with incessant shouting or the “old-school” way of using negative reinforcement in an attempt to motivate athletes.
“The rule is, if you can walk, you can run. We run everywhere,” Turco said. “If you want to walk over and pick up a ball, okay, then we all get on the line and we all run.”
Prior to each season, Turco sends his volleyball teams off to a classroom, by themselves, with copies of Riley’s The Winner Within. They each carry a yellow highlighter with them, sheets of lined paper and pencils.
“I ask each of them to give me a paragraph synopsizing the important points of each chapter,” Turco said. “It’s important they go into that room and outline their goals for the season, not my goals. Nothing can be more painful than a coach wanting to win more than his players do. It’s the players who want to win for themselves that is important.”
Sean Walsh is the sports editor for Cape Cod Broadcast Media. he may be reached via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm.