The Long Beach State women’s volleyball program is entering an exciting new era, with the university’s announcement early this week that it’s hired alum Tyler Hildebrand to be the Beach’s new coach. Hildebrand is the splashiest hire at the school in any sport in more than a decade, and represents a significant investment in the sport of volleyball at the Beach.
Hildebrand was a three-time All-American men’s volleyball player at Long Beach, and has become one of the top coaches in the country. He was the head coach-in-waiting at Nebraska, where he’d been promoted to Associate Head Coach prior to the Huskers’ recent run to the national championship match–Nebraska reached the Elite Eight in all three seasons Hildebrand coached there.
“Coming home is something that was always interesting to me,” said Hildebrand. “It’s emotional–I played there, I coached there. I was with (men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe) for a really long time. I spent most of my adult life there, and it feels like home. I remember being there as a freshman and the women were selling out, it was such a great environment. The men’s team has been doing that lately–you can really feel the community presence when there’s good volleyball at Long Beach.”
Hildebrand’s pedigree made him a top target nationwide–he’s been extremely successful as an assistant in the men’s and women’s game, as well as spending two Olympic cycles as the head coach of the USA Beach Volleyball national team. As an assistant coach under Knipe, Hildebrand built the top recruiting class in any sport in university history with TJ DeFalco, Josh Tuaniga, and Kyle Ensing, a trio that produced three National Player of the Year awards and brought home back-to-back NCAA titles.
Although Hildebrand had accepted a job at Nebraska at the tail end of that run of success, his emotional connection in the city was obvious, as he flew back to Southern California for the national championship, hosted in the Walter Pyramid. Hildebrand acknowledged that he had a nice path for him at Nebraska or another power-five conference school had he chosen to go that route.
“I could have had some good shots at different head jobs, but for me it means more to be successful at home than to be successful somewhere else,” he said. “It was really kind of the heartstrings…it kept coming back to wanting to do something special in Long Beach.”
Hildebrand’s voice was hoarse from having coached in the national championship match last weekend, but the scratchiness in his throat was matched by the enthusiasm in LBSU athletic director Andy Fee’s.
Fee made a big decision in letting head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer go midseason in October, a rare move at the school. His hope was that starting a coaching search before any other major program in the country would give him the runway to make a major move–and he pulled it off, hiring away a top target from a program with a higher budget.
“It feels great, to get a coach of Tyler’s caliber–I couldn’t be happier,” said Fee. “I believe he’s the right person at the right time to get us back to where we all want to go.”
Fee said Hildebrand reached out to him early in the process, and immediately rocketed to the top of the list, as Fee and LBSU president Jane Conoley worked to make sure they were making a real financial commitment to women’s volleyball.
“It’s hard to beat out power-five schools, but president Conoley is committed to success and competing for championships,” said Fee. “We’re going to be growing in what we’re doing. For us to make a statement is important. COVID has been brutal, but we’re not pulling up our tent or changing our mindset. We want to win championships. I hope that hiring someone like Tyler sends that message very clearly.”
The Beach received significant interest in the position, with four of the seven finalists all current head coaches. Hildebrand has signed a five-year contract that represents an elevated investment in the sport, and signals that Long Beach State’s administration “gets” what its volleyball coaches have felt for decades–that it’s a volleyball school first and foremost athletically. Now they’ll have two of the top coaches in the nation leading the women’s and men’s programs in Hildebrand and Knipe, as well as a veteran coach leading the beach program in Mike Campbell.
“Any time you can get the most desirable not-sitting head coach in the country, and he happens to be coming home to his alma mater where he’s played and coached, that’s exciting,” said Knipe. “I think it communicates very clearly how much the sport is valued here–I give a lot of credit to Andy and to president Conoley for finding a way forward.”
Hildebrand’s top priorities include building his coaching staff and evaluating the roster of this year’s team, which finished 16-15 overall and sixth in the Big West. The top returners include All-Big West selections Kashuana Williams and Katie Kennedy. He’s also going to begin building out an outreach program with the program’s vaunted alumni, something he, Knipe, and Nick MacRae have done an impressive job of on the men’s side.
“To be able to work with Alan and Mike and an administration that cares about this sport, that’s putting volleyball as a huge priority–that’s exciting, that’s a big part of why we were interested in coming back,” said Hildebrand. “We’re focused on the women’s team, but we’ll all work together and there will be advantages for everybody. If you take the women’s and men’s side together, we have the best alumni group in all of volleyball–so many Olympians and pros, no other school has that.”