Craig Skinner is a man of many titles in collegiate volleyball. His career spans from his time as a varsity team volleyball player for Ball State University to becoming University of Kentucky’s head coach in December 2004. He became the program’s all-time winner with a career record of 401-131. Before his tenure, the Wildcats hadn’t had an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. Among his accolades, he is the 2020 NCAA National Champion, 2020-21 AVCA National Coach of the Year, and five-time SEC champion with 17-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Craig also maintains a relationship with the Ball State University Foundation that began with his father, William Skinner, the Foundation’s former president. In the following interview, learn how the Ball State experience shaped his future, the importance of maintaining relationships, and the value of looking forward.
What year did you graduate from Ball State, and what was your major?
I graduated from the Miller College of Business with an accounting degree in 1993.
What does Ball State mean to you?
I get goosebumps thinking about it. I had an unbelievable experience at Ball State. I got to go to school in my hometown, which is unique, and I love my experience to this day.
Initially, I was recruited for football at the University of Michigan as a kicker and punter. Both my parents and grandfather went to Michigan. There’s a long legacy there. I played club volleyball at Michigan, and they didn’t have a varsity team, but fortunately, Ball State did. Coach Shondell gave me the chance to come back.
Sports have been part of my life since I could walk. I knew I wanted to be part of a team. I got that and more with the Ball State men’s team, and to this day, I see former teammates or alumni that played in the program, and we share stories repeatedly. It’s about relationships. Being on a team is about struggle, success, and learning life lessons. And so, having that experience, I could never replace it in any other way.
How has Ball State prepared you for life after graduation?
You can say that you graduated from Ball State. You may have a chip on your shoulder to garner the same respect that you’d get from Purdue or Notre Dame. It was up to me, and Ball State gave me the pathway to create my success. We have a blue-collar, hardworking mentality, and the education, camaraderie, and relationships have made an enormous impact on my life, current relationships, family, and everything. It means the world to me.
What advice do you have for students at Ball State who may wish to follow in your footsteps?
First and foremost, try many things and find what you’re passionate about. I liked accounting, but I wasn’t passionate about it. Coaching motivated me, and I would crave the opportunity to help someone get better at something. The next thing is that your career will never seem like it’s moving fast enough, and sometimes it feels like it’s standing still.
Persistence and determination are the most critical thing in your career. Talent and excellent education are significant, but persistence and determination are difference makers.
If you could re-live one day from your Ball State experience, what would it be?
Oh, man, I don’t think I can boil it into one day. I enjoyed going to class, my major, roommates, friends, practicing every day, and coming home and doing homework. Just the daily routine of being at school and on campus and at Ball State University.
You’ve got to enjoy the moments, and my experience was the reason, not necessarily in one particular day on the calendar. Still, the moments of each day are the things that I remember and cherish.
I still use my degree to this day. I do budgeting all the time for our program. The discipline, the organization, the planning, all that type of stuff is significant in accounting, and all of that is super important with teams and running a program.
Also, using my skills to forecast the future and trying to put ourselves in the best position today so we can be successful down the road.
Can you remember a class or an experience that changed your life?
The first accounting class I took, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do, taught by Professor Van Allston. I’m weird that way. I just liked the numbers. I liked the organization where everything fell into place.
That certainly changed my decision-making of where I was going academically. The relationships changed my life; the relationships I built at Ball State, and through the professors, my teammates, roommates, friends, family, all of that stuff is everything you need in life to be successful.
And I continue to tell our players today that every person you come across at the University of Kentucky could or may impact your life at some point down the road. Never burn the bridges. As much as you may dislike a person or an experience, you never know when that person could somehow impact your life positively down the road.
What instructor made the most significant impact on you, and why?
You know, I never had Dr. Avalon, Ramon Avalon. A lot of people have a lot of respect for him. He was a marketing professor in the business school. He was a volleyball alum, and he wrote some letters of recommendation for me.
I loved his enthusiasm and passion for life in people. You always wanted to be around him, and you enjoyed your five minutes with him or an hour. I took a lot from him.
Why have you continued to maintain a relationship with your alma mater?
Some of the most influential people in our program here at Kentucky are alumni. If it weren’t for Ball State and volleyball, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So why shouldn’t I have that relationship and give back as much as possible? A critical piece of the long-term success of universities is their alumni base. And so, I’m just trying to be an example for others that get opportunities after they graduate.
What are your passions outside of work?
I love playing golf and music, but I don’t play golf nearly as much as I used to. I have three kids ranging from a senior in high school to seventh grade. So when I’m not recruiting or coaching or in the gym, I try and get out and play.
“Spotlight On:” is a story series produced by the Ball State University Foundation in which we discuss current events, University news, and the importance of philanthropy. To read past stories, click here.