Knipe Grateful For Olympic Experience, Happy to Be HomePublished: February 1, 2013
If Alan Knipe had any reservations about taking the job as U.S. National Men’s Volleyball Team coach four years ago, CSULB President F. King Alexander and Forty-Niner Athletics director Vic Cegles certainly didn’t.
“Vic and I had a limited relationship because he was just newly hired, but I think he prides himself on being a coaches’ A.D.,” said Knipe, who had spent 14 seasons on the men’s volleyball coaching staff at CSULB, the last nine as the head coach. “He’s been in athletics a long time and understands our challenges and wants what’s best for us and our programs.
“He never proved that more to me than the day I walked into his office and he said, ‘I know we don’t have a long tenure together, but this is a very impressive opportunity that can help you, your program and this university,’” added Knipe, who was an All-American at CSULB in the early 1990s, a key member on the Forty-Niners’ 1991 NCAA Championship team and named the United States Volleyball Association Player of the Year in 1993. “I kid you not, it took Vic all of 30 seconds to say, ‘You’ve got to do it.’ He and President Alexander made it all work. It was incredibly impressive to me for Vic to have the vision so quickly and say this was a no-brainer.”
Thankfully for Knipe, the administration left the door wide open for him to return to his head coaching job at CSULB following his Olympic tenure, but he knows all too well that he could have been forced to make an extremely difficult decision.
“Vic very well could have said, “I think this is a wonderful opportunity, but we can’t go without a coach so you have to make a decision; it’s only fair.’ I would have understood either way, whichever position he took,” said Knipe, “but he had the vision within 30 seconds and President Alexander stayed in contact with me throughout the process. I’m grateful it worked out the way it did.”
Even with the administration’s clear support, it still wasn’t an easy decision for Knipe, most notably because he had to inform his players he would be leaving them.
“It wasn’t a hard decision in the sense that I had the opportunity of a lifetime to coach the national team,” said Knipe, “but anytime you have to sit in a locker room and look into the eyes of kids you recruited and tell them you’re going to leave, that’s hard, because recruiting is all about relationships. It’s still hard to see some of the guys that I left behind, players who were going into their senior year. That was the most difficult part, but when I look back now, it was a great decision. I’m glad I did what I did. I’m glad Long Beach was willing to work with me on this because it gave me an opportunity to really just work on my craft of coaching.”
Knipe’s exceptional track record as a coach clearly made it an easier decision for the administration to let him take a leave of absence.
During his first nine seasons as the head coach at CSULB, Knipe compiled a 169-103 overall record, which included four 20-plus win seasons. Also, he led the 49ers to a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title in 2008 and two NCAA Championship appearances, where they advanced to the finals in 2004 and the semifinals in 2008. In addition, his team qualified for the MPSF post-season tournament eight times in nine years and reached the championship match three consecutive years (2004-06).
He was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in 2004, and the MPSF and Volleyball Magazine’s Coach of the Year in 2008.
Previous national coaching experience came in 2008 when he coached the USA men’s team at the Pan America Cup in Winnipeg, Canada, helping the squad to a gold medal; in 2007, when he served as the head coach for the United States squad that won a bronze medal at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand; and with the USA Volleyball Development Camp, where he has served as the head coach and director since 1999.
Knipe’s stint as the U.S. Men’s National Team coach this time around produced similar results, as the United States qualified for the World League Finals three times (2009, 2011, 2012); in 2012 claimed the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB) World League silver medal, marking its second-best finish since the World League began in 1990; and won the gold medal at the 2012 NORCECA Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament, securing its eighth-straight berth to the Olympics.
At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Team USA reached the quarterfinals, advancing to the knockout round after finishing first in Pool B, which also featured Brazil and Russia, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, respectively, and eventually played for the gold medal. Team USA finished fifth in the 2012 Olympic Games.
“As I look back, it was an incredible success and an incredible experience and I couldn’t be prouder of the way the guys responded especially in the Olympic year,” said Knipe, who was inducted into the Long Beach State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011. “Was I disappointed that we didn’t medal? Sure, everyone wants to medal, but I’m incredibly proud of what we did during our four years together.”
And, needless to say, Knipe is more than happy to return home and back to coaching his Forty-Niner squad.
“I’m super happy to be back,” he said. “This has always been a special place to me. I have such a great feeling when I think back to my playing days here and I played with some unbelievably great friends and great coaches. This has become a place where my kids have grown up and there is a sense of family in the athletic department. I’m really tight with some of the coaches and administrative staff and many people on campus to the point I can’t imagine coming back from the Olympics now and starting at a brand new university and trying to build all those new relationships. There’s a lot of things you miss when you’re gone. You take pride in the success of the other programs because I’m not just a coach here I’m an alum. It was very much like coming back home. It’s the people that make Long Beach State special.”
So, what can the returning head coach and fans expect from his squad for the 2013 season?
“We’re not concerned about rankings. We’re more concerned about where we are at and how good we think we can be,” said Knipe. “We certainly have some good pieces. We have players who have had success so we feel we can be in the mix.
“I know were improving and we are getting better at some of the things we have identified,” he added. “This team works incredibly hard, which is a big tribute to the guys and the staff that were here over the past couple of years. We’re trying to work a little smarter and working to try and clean things up, but I think we’ll be okay.”