Long Beach State athletic director Andy Fee took the rare step Monday afternoon of firing women’s volleyball coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer and top assistant coach Matt Fuerbringer, five weeks before the end of the season. The move is effective immediately, and Fee said Monday it was made because of performance issues–the first time he’s made a coaching change midseason for that reason.
“We have high expectations for women’s volleyball, and with the resources that we provide we feel that we should be very aspirational and reaching for the stars,” he said. “A program with the legacy and tradition that this one has, we need to be competing at the top year in and year out for a Big West championship, at the very least. The ceiling isn’t winning a Big West championship, that’s the annual expectation.”
The Beach this year is 9-12, with a 3-7 conference record, making them 8th place in the Big West. McKienzie-Fuerbringer was in her fifth season as head coach, and was trying to jumpstart the program after the Big West didn’t play last year due to COVID-19. Assistant coach Sabrina Hernandez will serve as interim head coach for the rest of the season, with coaches from the beach volleyball and men’s volleyball program expected to help with coaching duties.
McKienzie-Fuerbringer’s contract was slated to run out at the end of the calendar year, and it had been assumed that it wouldn’t be renewed given the team’s performance, finishing fourth place or worse in the Big West each season. Fee said that parting ways with a coach midseason was a difficult decision, especially since she was an alumni and a former star player–but that the recent performance of the team signaled that a change was needed.
“I’m thankful to Joy, she did a great job of working with athletes as people and academically, but the other side of the coin is competitiveness,” said Fee. “Over five years, even with the COVID year, we didn’t reach where we wanted to be. I truly do mean it when I thank and acknowledge Joy and Matt and wish them the best, they’re great people and I enjoyed working with them. I know they’ll continue to be successful with their club, but it’s time to turn the page and go in a new direction.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer is the director of the Mizuno Volleyball Club, one of the top clubs in the state. That connection was just one of the reasons that Fee had expressed excitement around hiring her, which he did five years ago as one of his first big moves as athletic director. But the talent level hasn’t come up in the program noticeably over the last five years, and recent results pushed Fee towards the midseason move.
On Friday night, the Beach lost at home to UC Riverside for the first time in program history. LBSU had been 50-4 all-time against UC Riverside, including 16 wins in a row dating back to 2011. At the time they beat the Beach, Riverside was winless in the Big West. On Saturday, the night after the Riverside loss, the team was swept at home by UC Davis, a team that was 2-7 in the Big West at the time.
Fee said that with Long Beach State sitting as one of the best-funded volleyball programs in the Big West, he expects a competitive program. The Beach have won five national titles in program history and are in the top ten in total wins in NCAA history with 1,252. The program has had six National Players of the Year, and has made it to the NCAA Final Four eight times.
It’s worth noting that the slide from national prominence had begun prior to McKienzie-Fuerbringer’s hire. Even under Hall of Fame coach Brian Gimmillaro, who won three NCAA titles and who retired five years ago, the program hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in several years. With power-five conferences increasingly putting more and more money into women’s volleyball, the sport has become more dominated by football powers, something Gimmillaro pointed out several times towards the end of his tenure.
McKienzie-Fuerbringer said on Monday that she disagreed with Fee’s move.
“I am very disappointed by Andy Fee’s decision to let us go in the middle of the season,” she said. “I understand we need to win but his mission statement for LBSU athletics of giving the student-athlete the best possible experience isn’t supported by letting your staff go mid-season. I know our players will play hard for interim coach Sabrina Hernandez and will have a successful second half of conference. We will be supporting them and cheering them on. I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to work with these student-athletes and salute the work they put in after a tough year for everyone.”
Long Beach State will begin a national search for a replacement immediately, though likely won’t move into a list of finalists or interviews until the season is over after the NCAA Tournament.