Seven years ago, Todd Dagenais traded in the tall palms and mild Southern California climate for the Sunshine State's sultry ocean air — a decision that helped propel the internationally recognized volleyball coach's career.
Dagenais came to UCF from the University of Southern California in 2008, where he was the assistant head coach for USC's volleyball team.
He came with an impressive résumé.
The Central Michigan University graduate was on the coaching delegation for the U.S. National Team, and traveled to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. He was also on the coaching staff at Northern Michigan and Michigan State universities, under the watchful eyes of 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic head coaches Mick Haley and Toshi Yoshida, respectively.
"I had always been under the tutelage of Olympic coaches," Dagenais said. "I saw where UCF was and where it was going and I thought, 'Wow, this is a great opportunity for me to kind of spread my wings.'"
Off the court, Dagenais has created a series of books and DVD guides for volleyball, including Libero: The Definitive Guide!, which became Championship Production's best-selling video. He's contracted for two more videos this year.
He is a part of the Coaching Cadre, a group of coaches for USA Volleyball and goes around the country teaching coaches how to improve their teams. He was also tapped to write a chapter on statistics in the Volleyball Coaching Bible, Volume II, by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Through his success, he has always said that it's not about him. He rarely uses the word "me" when talking about that path to success, even attributing his 2014 American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award to those around him.
"That's indicative of a team that wouldn't quit," Dagenais said. "Now, do I have some influence over that? Yeah, but it's not directly. I don't play the game. They do. That's indicative of a great staff that works too many hours. There's way more that goes into it."
While he's happy that the team's hard work is paying off with the title of 2014 AAC champions, Dagenais calls it old news. Right now, he's focused on trying to replace six seniors — one of those being the AAC Player of the Year, DeLaina Sarden.
"It was an incredible feeling to be a part of that team that made history for UCF volleyball and to start a new legacy from there," said Dana Faught, who has played for Dagenais the past three years.
Under Dagenais, the team went from being ranked in the 260s out of 300 to being one of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament — an accomplishment that can be attributed to his coaching style.
Growing up in an era when successful coaches resembled dictators, Dagenais coached his team with fierce intensity. When his daughter was born in 2008, he said he came to the realization that he wasn't just coaching athletes, he was coaching someone's little girl.
"Out of nowhere it was this sudden realization that I had 16 daughters," Dagenais said. "How would I want my daughter's coach to treat her? I really had to re-think a lot. I don't think it's a shock that it coincided with the success of the program."
Now, he leads by finding ways to empower everyone's importance and, through that, they rise to their greatest potential.
Emphasis on the importance of academics as a component of a successful team is one of the main reasons that he came to UCF seven years ago.
"He holds us accountable to [a] 3.5 or better GPA," Faught said. "He gets pretty disappointed in us whenever we don't meet that criteria, and he stresses study hall hours. He stresses tutoring. He understands whenever we have a big test that we need to cut back on athletic time, but he also stresses the importance of time management and getting your stuff done."
Dagenais' proudest moments do not center on winning games. They include walking into a graduation ceremony and knowing that his players are sitting in the first three rows, which are usually reserved for master's and doctoral students.
He is proud knowing that his team has a perfect graduation rate, and values that over the trophies, rings and All-Americans.
Amelia Truong is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Ameliatruong or email her at AmyT@CentralFloridaFuture.com.