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Gimmillaro Praises Players, President

Published: May 16, 2016

Winning 800-plus matches as a Division I women’s volleyball head coach is a great feat, but keeping his program at a high level for three decades is even more rewarding for Brian Gimmillaro.

“I think longevity is difficult in anything, particularly in sports. Most coaches believe they have a shelf life and then they move on if they are successful, but I haven’t done that,” said Gimmillaro, who has had numerous job offers over the years. “I’m proud that we have been able to maintain and continue. Thirty-one years is something, 800-plus wins is something, but winning 80 percent of our matches is a hard figure to achieve over that period of time.”

Not bad for a kid from Utica, New York.

His success is wide. He won three NCAA Division I women’s volleyball championships (1989, 1993 and 1998) as head coach of the 49ers and is the only coach in the United States to win national championships at the high school, club and collegiate levels.

The thing that makes Gimmillaro puff his chest out maybe the most (aside from his family) is the fact that he has had all this success at his alma mater, where he will be honored as the College of Liberal Arts’ Distinguished Alumnus on May 18. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from CSULB in 1970.

He can rattle off all the accolades success brings rather easily—811 career wins, 48 All-Americans and 47 international players, but he’s most proud that 95 percent of his players graduate. Even if they leave school early to participate in the Olympics or play internationally—such as Misty May or Tara Cross—they generally come back to complete their degree.

Of course, that classroom success shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Gimmillaro. He sets the bar high in everything he does, maybe even more so when it comes to his players in the classroom.

“In my mind, athletes should graduate at a higher level,” he said. “We’ve got an incredible support system for them. They have coaches, they have advisors and constant support from a group that is providing direction, and they have teammates who are examples. I think every one of our athletes should graduate.”

Having been around a while, Gimmillaro knows of what he speaks. He talks of how the university is involved in the success of its students—all students—with what he describes as a hands-on, caring, supportive approach. Over the years, he’s had the opportunity to visit numerous colleges and talk with hundreds of coaches and administrators. Each time he walks away thinking just how amazing the opportunities for students are at CSULB.

“They can be successful here,” he said. “They will find a professor or advisor who will guide them. From what I can see, everybody seems to have time for students here. If you are serious about graduating you can do so because you can find enough resources available to help you be successful. There are incredible opportunities here. As an educator, the hardest thing is to see a kid fail, because if they fail then, in a way, we all fail.”

He said he admires all of the student-athletes he’s coached, but is always maybe a little more excited to see players who make it both athletically and academically, not because they are talented and smart, but because they become disciplined and work hard.

Brian Gimmillaro on the court with a student athlete

“Quite often our players are a reflection of this school,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of students at CSULB who overcome any shortcomings they may have by hard work and pure determination. We get the same type of student on our team. I get a sense of satisfaction that our players come here as young woman and leave here as strong adults who have real abilities that will help them have a better life.”

As a student at CSULB in the 1970s and then beginning as the women’s head volleyball coach in 1984, Gimmillaro has known his share of university presidents, from Stephen Horn to the current head of the campus, Jane Close Conoley. He has praise for them all.

“Being the president of a university is not an easy job,” he said. “I think each president we have had since I have been around the campus has fit perfectly into that growth. Especially now, because we have a president who is incredibly open to conversation and ideas. As President Conoley says, each situation becomes a learning opportunity and the leading schools in the country, of which this is one, are now doing that.”

He commended Conoley for her openness to ideas and discussion which, he noted, many presidents tend to shy away from.

“To my mind, that is a courageous stance at this point, in this political and social arena today, to be open to ideas instead of just shutting them down,” he said. “I think President Conoley has gone out of her way to create that kind of environment and she is a leading advocate of that. I think that’s really important and I applaud her for it.”

And when the topic of retirement is brought up, he said that may be just a tad premature.

“I’m really proud of the fact that I’m still involved in every single play,” he said, “and as long as I can stay that way I think I’ll keep coaching.”