If you’re a longtime follower of Arizona volleyball, you know her as Charita Johnson. For newer fans, she’s Charita Stubbs — but please call her Rita. The former All-American and assistant coach for 19 seasons was named Dave Rubio’s replacement the day after the 31-year head coach announced his retirement in January.
Stubbs, a ’94 University of Arizona grad, is still Arizona’s all-time solo blocks leader and was part of a program that went from no conference wins to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. She spoke with Sarah Kezele ’11 about bringing the Wildcats back to the NCAA tournament and preparing for second chances.
You played for Dave Rubio in Tucson and then coached alongside him for 19 seasons. What role has he played in your life?
Dave was like a father to me early on. He allowed me to be myself, which was probably the first time anyone had done that. I come from a hard background and was used to just bullying my way through anything I wanted as a player, and he was just stubborn enough to not allow me to do it to other people. He never gave up on me.
When I first got hired here (as an assistant in ’96), you work summer camp and you get a summer check that’s separate from your actual paycheck. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I thought I was making a lot of money (laughs). And he said, “Rita, I’m not giving you your camp check until you invest it.” I fought him on it, but he said, “No, you’ve never had this much money at one time. I’m going to show you what to do and how to do it the right way.” All these years later, I’m grateful that he did that, because I never would have understood the process. I actually still have the investment to this day.
You endured a difficult tenure as NC State’s head coach before returning to Arizona for your second stint as an assistant under Rubio. How did you prepare for this opportunity?
When I was a head coach before, I didn’t prepare myself for it. I did it because everyone told me that I should do it. I tried to be Dave, and that’s why I failed. I vowed never to do that again. I wanted to be a head coach again, but I didn’t want to do it in an environment where I couldn’t be true to myself.
In April 2020, right after everything hit hard with the pandemic, I started thinking about it more, reflecting. I started a journal, and I would write down, “If I were the next head coach, this is what I would want. This is how I would do things.” I’d take different scenarios in our gym every day and pick Dave’s brain. There were a few jobs out there that were of interest to me, but there were so many that were not of interest. It had to be the right fit.
What is your vision for Arizona volleyball on your watch?
I want us to get back to the NCAA tournament. We have the resources and the capabilities to be a team that can compete year in and year out. I want young women to come here and be a part of a program where we’re going to care about you from top to bottom. We’re going to put our arm around you when necessary, and I’m gonna kick you in your butt when you need that as well — but knowing that it’s done out of love and out of wanting you to be your best. And that’s how we grow. I don’t think we were put on this Earth to do anything by ourselves. I think we need a group of people to kind of help us along. And that’s what you’ll get from our program.
What are your hopes for this upcoming season?
I’m hoping that we finish in the upper half of the Pac-12. I know that’s a daunting task, but we can do it. We have the personnel for it. And the goal is to get to the NCAA tournament. I’m shooting for the stars right off the bat