Knipe learned how to coach from the best

Published April 27, 2018

Behind a successful coach, there is a usually mentor or coach, someone who passed on a blueprint for triumph and a plan for failure. Long Beach State men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe had his father.

Knipe’s father coached him for 18 years, imparting knowledge and wisdom during long car rides to venues across Southern California. He taught his son the fundamentals and finer points of not only playing, but coaching.

Yet his father’s words didn’t tell him everything he would need to know about coaching volleyball. That would have to come from others. Knipe’s father was a longtime youth soccer coach, having played growing up in the blue-collar town of Belfast in Ireland.

“It was more the perspective, the humility, the hard work that he was able to show me,” Knipe said. “He helped me get my base as a coach, my legs underneath me. But as far as volleyball, I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of talented guys.”

The knowledge and experience Knipe gleaned from coaches throughout his career have enabled him to build a national powerhouse at Long Beach State. The Beach (26-1) has held the No. 1 spot in the national rankings for much of the season and go into next week’s NCAA National Championships as the top seed in the seven-team tournament. In his 16 years as coach, Knipe has compiled a record of 304-147 and reached the NCAA Final Four five times, accomplishments that earned him a five-year contract extension, the university announced Monday.

The Beach is favored to win its first national title under Knipe, who on Tuesady was named the 2018 USMC/AVCA Division I-II Men’s National Coach of the Year, and his first as a coach. He played on the 1991 National Championship team.

Knipe chose volleyball over soccer shortly after trying out for his Marina High School team in Huntington Beach. He loved the technical aspect of the indoor sport. Then there was his height.

“Size-wise, at 6-6, I probably was bigger than the average soccer player and I didn’t want to be a goalie,” he said. “I also started to realize with all the colleges talking to me, that I probably could go farther in my professional career than I could with soccer.”

Knipe said he began attacking and spiking seriously as a junior at Marina. And the harder he worked, the better he got.

“Like people who start playing golf, or any other technical sport, volleyball is incredibly challenging,” he said, “but it looks easy when it’s really very hard to do.

“It’s one of those sports, where the more time you put into it, the significantly better you get. Like going to the driving range every day. It’s addictive.”

Knipe’s carried his obsession with volleyball to Orange Coast College, where he fine-tuned his game and earned attention from four-year universities. One of them was Long Beach State, where under the guidance of then-assistant coach Mike D’Alessandro, he helped the team win the 1991 national championship, a year after reaching the final.

Knipe said he watched and learned how to coach from D’Alessandro, who he later hired to be on his staff at Long Beach.

After graduating with a degree in speech communications, Knipe played two years on the U.S. Men’s National Team, meeting coaching greats such as longtime national coach Doug Beal, and learning more of what it takes to coach. Knipe said Beal had a “huge influence” on how he coaches today.

The biggest thing Knipe learned while playing for the U.S. National Team was how to deal with disappointment after failing to get picked for the 1992 Olympic team.

“Ultimately, I wasn’t good enough,” Knipe said. “It’s easy to say for me now, this many years later, but the difference between the players on the national team and the players who don’t make the 12-man roster that goes to the Olympic games is … splitting hairs.”

Knipe left the U.S National team in 1993 and headed to the beach, where he played on the professional tour for four years, winning seven USVB National Open Championships.

Tired of the sun and sand, Knipe returned to the indoor game, playing two seasons overseas before returning home to coach junior teams. Soon, he was coaching on the national level, earning recognition for his success and another shot at the Olympics.

Knipe was named coach for the 2012 London Games; it was the chance he had longed for as a player.

“I got to experience something I very much wanted as a player,” said Knipe, who admitted to being crushed over his Olympic snub as a player.

“I think that helped me in dealing with making the roster myself (as coach), of being understanding of the emotions that go into this thing, and how many years that went into it,” he said. “So yeah, it was a wonderful experience to be a part of the Olympics.”

Having experienced success as a college player has enabled Knipe to understand the emotions that accompany winning and losing at this level. After falling in the semifinals last season, he believes his team is ready to celebrate next weekend.

“Absolutely, I think I think we have the pieces,” Knipe said. “We had good opportunities to win it last year, but we didn’t play our best volleyball in that semifinal game.”