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Column Long Beach State

COLUMN: The Hard Part of Rooting For a Mid-Major Like Long Beach State

Long Beach State fans, it happened again.

Things were going great–the Beach won the Big West Commissioner’s Cup last year for being the best athletics program in the conference. The men’s volleyball team recently won back-to-back national championships, and the university invested in volleyball heavily, making national waves with the hire of alum Tyler Hildebrand to run the women’s volleyball program. And then…it happened again.

One of the schools in the power five conferences (AKA football schools) saw something they liked, and they came and took it. Long Beach State athletic director Andy Fee is now the Deputy Athletic Director at the University of Washington, a move that happened literally as the 22-23 school year was beginning.

Even though this is not exactly new for those who cover or cheer for Long Beach State, I have to admit I was surprised. I had gotten to know Andy and his family pretty well, and I knew he genuinely loved living in the city. He was well-liked by his coaches, as many of them made sure to tell me on a regular basis, something that didn’t happen under the previous two regimes at the school. And Andy signed a contract extension a year ago that ran through May 2026, which made me feel like his bottom-up approach would have at least a few more years to continue to develop.

But when I called him the day the news broke, I got some of the same quotes I’ve gotten from others who departed our city for the allure of higher-budget colleges.

“I wasn’t looking for another job, I really wasn’t,” Andy said. “But this one came to me. Long Beach State was great, president Conoley was great, but there’s things we can’t do here that we can do at UW. That’s not to speak ill of Long Beach State, it’s just a cold, financial fact.”

As someone who truly believes that Long Beach is the best place to live in the world (eye roll, I know), that cold fact is a hard one for me to swallow, and I know it is for a lot of Long Beach State fans, too. When women’s basketball coach Jody Wynn got the Beach to the NCAA Tournament, here came the University of Washington. When athletic director Vic Cegles had the Beach raking in Commissioner’s Cups, here came UConn. Historically, when Joan Bonvicini built the 49ers women’s hoops program into a power, here came Arizona. When Jerry Tarkanian had the 49ers as one of the best basketball teams in America, here came UNLV with an incredibly generous offer that the university and the boosters couldn’t match.

More and more it happens with athletes as well as coaches. If a player has a breakout year, that NCAA Transfer Portal starts to call their name, with the offer of better facilities or more fans or simply the allure of a college football-adjacent sports experience.

It’s not something I take personally, and it’s not something that often surprises me anymore. I’m not a dumb guy (not too dumb, at least) and as Andy said, these are cold, financial facts. So instead of getting down in the dumps about the fact that success for someone at Long Beach State means other schools will come calling, I choose to be appreciative.

There are many people still at Long Beach State who’ve chosen the school over other, often more lucrative options. Men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe, for example, has fended off a few strong overtures from power-five schools, as did women’s volleyball coach Brian Gimmillaro many times during his NCAA title runs. Current coaches like Mauricio Ingrassia, Andy Sythe, Jenny Hilt-Costello, Gavin Arroyo, Kim Sowder, Dan Monson–all have had looks at power-five budgets, and have chosen Long Beach State. Not coincidentally, a lot of those coaches have also raised kids in Long Beach or nearby. Many of them have talked to me about how much they value the life they’ve been able to make for their family in one of the great family-centered communities in the country.

So, I will wish Andy and his family luck (as I wished Jody and Vic and the others we got to know), and I will have some renewed appreciation for those who have chosen Long Beach for their home as well as their career. And I’ll hope as the university looks to fill its vacant positions that they will keep in mind that the people who make the biggest impact on a piece of land are the ones who are around the longest to tend it. 

People who are from Long Beach, people who love the city as well as the job opportunities afforded by the school, people who would pick ‘here’ over ‘there,’ people who understand and appreciate the history of our school and city. Their connections and passion are what has made Long Beach State the place that it is–we always have too few of those people, and we can never have enough of them. So find them, hire them, and hold them tight.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.