They spent hours training and playing in Cougar blue as student athletes and now they’re back in blue again — this time as coaches.
The former athletes are united by their love of sports and their passion for BYU. Some led their teams to championships, made the BYU Hall of Fame and have even made it to professional leagues and the Olympics.
Charlene Johnson Whitted
Charlene Johnson Whitted is an assistant coach for the BYU women’s volleyball team. She is temporarily coaching this season while her family lives in Ohio. This will be her first and final season coaching the team.
“It’s a pretty incredible feeling to return and coach at your alma mater knowing that I was once on the court with that uniform,” Whitted said.
Whitted’s passion for volleyball started in the 7th grade. She remembers eating, sleeping and doing homework in the backseat of the car as she was shuttled from soccer to volleyball practices and games.
Whitted knew two things as a young girl: she loved being an athlete and sports were her ticket to college. Volleyball was a Division I sport at the time and soccer was not. Whitted decided to devote her time to volleyball, a decision that led her high school teams to championships and caught the attention of BYU. She spent four years from 1991 to 1994 as a starting setter for the Cougar’s women’s volleyball team.
Whitted played on the 1997 U.S. National team after a year of playing professionally in Switzerland. She quickly learned that there were other setters equally as good as her — perhaps even better. Whitted found herself starting games on the bench for the first time in her volleyball career.
“I had never not been (the) starting setter,” Whitted said. “It was hard sitting on the bench. You prepare differently, and you have to bring different things to the gym and to the games.”
The disappointment didn’t diminish her love for volleyball or her desire to support her teammates. Whitted eventually became the starting setter for her team. A few years later she made her way to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games where the USA women’s team finished fourth. They were an inexperienced team compared to other countries and were expected to lose quickly. But the team kept improving with every match.
Whitted played internationally in Italy in 2002 following the Olympics. She also coached at Nebraska, started her own volleyball camp and was an assistant coach for the Junior National Teams for USA volleyball. Whitted was inducted to the BYU Hall of Fame in 2006 and returned as an assistant volleyball coach for the Cougars in April 2015.
“My encouragement to any kid sitting on a bench is (to) prepare yourself,” Whitted said. “You never know when that door is going to open, and it opens. Make sure you’re ready.”
Mike Littlewood has been head coach for the BYU baseball team since 2012, but he’s been coaching the sport for the past 25 years.
“I think coaches are born,” Littlewood said. “You don’t teach someone how to coach. You have to deal with players, you’re kind of a counselor, you have to be able to deal with parents, administration. I mean, there’s so many tentacles to being a coach, but I think you’re born to do that.”
Littlewood was introduced to baseball at a young age. He remembers living in Salt Lake City and going to the boy’s club after school. There he learned the game of baseball and uncovered his natural talent and abilities. From then on Littlewood participated in clubs and teams and felt fortunate to have good coaches and programs to help him improve. Baseball became a passion for him, and he loved learning about every position from catchers to outfielders and everything in between.
Littlewood eventually made his way to BYU from 1985-88 where he played as a third baseman and earned several titles such as All-Western Athletic, All-WAC and All-Region 9. During this time Littlewood realized he wanted to be a coach. This desire became more of a reality after he spent time in the professional league on the Milwaukee Brewers team.
“My biggest struggle was in pro ball,” Littlewood said. “In a way, I knew I wanted to coach. I think my struggles back then were a blessing, because it made me realize, ‘Let’s get into coaching right now’ and kind of get going on a different path.”
Littlewood has not regretted taking a different path. He finds great satisfaction in the relationships he’s developed with his athletes after more than two decades of coaching.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like I go to work any single day,” Littlewood said. “I put a ton of hours in, but it doesn’t feel like work. I think if you can get through life like that, you’re pretty lucky.”
Guard Young never expected to become a head coach for the BYU women’s gymnastics team.
Young spent his whole life surrounded by gymnastics and was a vital asset to the BYU men’s gymnastics team from 1996-2000. During that time Young won six All-American awards and helped lead his team to two NCAA National Championships. However, BYU officials announced they would be cutting the men’s gymnastics team from the program following Young’s senior year.
Young left BYU frustrated, but looking back he feels that it helped him return to Oklahoma where he coached and also trained for the Olympics. Young said he would have never left BYU if the men’s gymnastics program wasn’t cut and would’ve missed out on amazing opportunities, such as making the USA men’s gymnastics team for the 2004 Olympic Games.
“It’s something that you go through, and it changes your entire life,” Young said. “When you make an Olympic team, there’s a lot of pressure riding on your shoulders. You’re not just representing you, you’re representing your country out there.”
Young helped Team USA earn a silver medal and turned to his coaches during that time of great pressure. He remembers his coaches lifting him up during those crucial moments and according to Young, encouraging athletes versus looking down on them is the sign of a good coach.
Young helped coached the University of Oklahoma’s men’s gymnastics teams to four NCAA championships from 2000-05 and 2011-15. He’s eager to help the BYU women’s gymnastics team be as successful. This is his first year as head coach at BYU. Young is already impressed with the team although he has only spent a short amount of time with the women.
“I’m really proud of these young ladies, that they come in and they are ready to go and they don’t waste any time,” Young said. “Their work ethic has been outstanding and that will make the difference.”
Young was inducted into the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.