Dan Maehlman could care less what sport he coaches. Billiards. Poker. Equestrian. Dog shows. He would coach anything if he had to.
Well, almost anything.
"Other than ice hockey, I'll coach anything," Maehlman said. "That's one sport I cannot do."
Basketball is Maehlman's game. He looks like a basketball guy. Tall, baggy shorts and squeeky clean sneakers. He played it growing up in Ohio, played it in college, was an assistant coach in college and has coached it well at Jonesboro.
But the first time I met Maehlman three years ago, he was walking into the Clayton County athletic department offices next to Tara Stadium to pick up volleyball equipment. He stopped by former athletic director Bob Brannon's office on his way out with a bag of volleyballs slung over his shoulder. He was remarking about how he hadn't found anyone to take over the volleyball team he built into an unlikely powerhouse.
For all of Maehlman's accomplishments as a boys basketball coach, he may be a better volleyball coach. There's no exact way to reach that conclusion. Clayton County is known more for basketball than volleyball, and that probably won't change. It's more compelling, and easier, to compare Maehlman to his coaching peers in basketball, because there's greater depth of successful programs.
But maybe the easiest way to decide the argument is to know that in volleyball in Clayton County, Maehlman has no peers.
No one has won more county championships. The Lady Cardinals just won their 10th-straight against a strong Forest Park team that was motivated to dethrone Jonesboro. The only one they lost was the very first one in 1999.
No one has won more area championships. The Lady Cardinals just won another, sweeping Ola for the Area 4-AAAA title this past Saturday.
No one has had more players go on to compete in college. As a small point of evidence, consider that four former Jonesboro players currently start for Brewton-Parker College.
No one has been to the state playoffs more times. When Jonesboro (35-10) hosts Creekview (27-14) tonight in the Class AAAA first round, it will be the Lady Cardinals ninth appearance.
There's a way that Maehlman coaches that's worth admiring. His teams are almost always a mixed-bag of athletes, rarely players specialized at volleyball. His teams almost always begin the season with average potential. By the end of the season, they almost always exceed expectations.
His secret is simple, one that translates to all sports. Maehlman cares. He first daughter, Hadley, was born a little over two months ago, and yet, in a way, he's had countless daughters before.
"I truly care about my kids," Maehlman said, "and I'm going to do everything for them to make them have a good experience. ... I have every single girl's best interest at heart. Now that I have a little girl, I treat every single girl like I would my daughter."
And to reward him, Maehlman's players perform at a higher level. This season, Jonesboro had lost four seniors and its best setter (Kierra Dennis) to Forest Park. Rebuilding might have been a reasonable expectation.
Instead, the Lady Cardinals transformed.
"They came a long way," Maehlman said.
And be certain that it wouldn't have happened without a little bit of magic from Maehlman.
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.