It’s a rare feat when an athlete is able to secure a championship as a player and a coach. Long Beach State men’s volleyball head coach Alan Knipe has put himself in an elite group by becoming the fifth person to ever win a national championship as a player and coach. He joins UCLA’s John Speraw, Penn State’s Mark Pavlik, USC’s Bob Yoder and Pepperdine’s Rod Wilde as the only player-coach combos to lift championship trophies.
Knipe’s stunt with a championship came in 1991 as a member of the Long Beach State men’s volleyball. The outside hitter helped lead the 49ers to a 3-1 victory against USC for his first title. He finished the game with 16 kills, nine digs and eight blocks.
The feeling of winning a championship as a 21 year-old player compared to a 49-year-old coach are as different as night and day, according to Knipe.
“I think that you are so young when you win it as a player and you are so green that it is just pure emotion and pure joy, and in the moment it is just exhilaration,” Knipe said.
“As a coach, you have better perspective on how difficult it really is because you have been through it so many different times. You have more of a nostalgic and historical feeling of the impact it will make.”
Knipe’s impact on the university is reaching historic proportions. Now finishing his 15th season, Long Beach is a perennial powerhouse of men’s volleyball.
He has led Long Beach to 13 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament appearances, one MPSF regular season title, one MPSF tournament title, one Big West regular season title, one Big West tournament title and five Final Four appearances. He has been AVCA Coach of the Year three times, while coaching five AVCA Player of the Year Award winners.
Knipe’s biggest key to keeping his program at a powerhouse level is building a certain culture. He does this by keeping a tradition of Long Beach personnel within the team at all times, all of his assistants are currently Long Beach State alumni.
“I truly believe what I say all the time that this is the greatest volleyball school in the country,” Knipe said. “It’s a culture unlike any I know, when you’re in the midst of a season and you are battling, who better to relay the message to our guys of what they need to get better at or what they need to work at than guys that are passionate not just about this team, but about their university?”
A common theme among great college coaches of any sport is the ability to not just coach players, but to help turn boys into men. From John Wooden to Nick Saban, the goal of a coach is deeper than winning, and the same can be said for Alan Knipe. Long Beach assistant coach Scott Touzinsky has known Knipe for 21 years. They first met when Knipe was an assistant coach on Touzinsky’s youth and junior national teams. Knipe would eventually recruit Touzinsky to play at Long Beach.
“Alan has been like a second father to me ever since I was here as a player, so now to learn from him as a coach is like, ‘wow,’” Touzinsky said. “Winning isn’t everything. The way he builds his program and the way he gets his alumnis to become adults afterwards, specifically getting their degrees, that’s more important to him.”
Athletes from little league to the professionals, when brought together with a good coach, learn life lessons. For Touzinsky, that came with Knipe.
“The one thing Alan taught me is how to be a man, to be able to adapt to any situation possible, to have a good work ethic and that has been able to let me go from being a player to a coach,” Touzinsky said.
Not all great coaching is in terms of coach to player relationship. Sometimes a coach has to develop, mentor and coach another coach. Enter Long Beach State associate head coach Nick McRae. McRae was also recruited and coached by Knipe as a player. He got into coaching immediately after leaving college. Knipe was coaching the U.S. national team and reached out to McRae for help. McRae would take the job and since then, the two have been inseparable on the court.
“He’s my mentor, my friend and I love him,” McRae said. “It’s cool that he is my mentor in my job because he has a family, a wife and two kids while being a head coach. It’s showing me how to correctly have a family, be in a loving relationship, have two incredible all-world boys, but also be the head coach of an incredible program.”
Nearly two decades into his tenure at Long Beach, Knipe leans back in his chair inside his office at the Walter Pyramid. Five All-American plaques sit on the couch to his right and a front page that reads “CHAMPS!” sits on his desk in front of him. Looking at it all, he gives a wry grin, “We checked off some boxes this year.”