The man, the myth, the Goldberg

AU's Volleyball team was surprised by an ice storm last December when it traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C., for the NCAA tournament. As the team bus made its way up a hill on the edge of the University of North Carolina campus, it passed vehicles spun out across the road.

Seeing the problem, head coach Barry Goldberg sprang into action, pushing cars up the hill and directing traffic around a stuck city bus. After helping the bus get repositioned, he returned to his own bus as the players cheered. His helpfulness, however, didn't surprise anyone.

"It's the type of thing that he would do," said Erin Allgaier, a junior on the team.

Goldberg has been combining compassion with coaching at AU since he took the reins of the program in 1989. In his 14 seasons, he has taken a tiny program without uniforms for its players and turned it into one of the most successful in the region, amassing a 370-149 record and four NCAA Tournament berths.

His teams have soared far above their Patriot League rivals. He enters this weekend's conference championship with a 45-0 record since joining the league three years ago. Goldberg has challenged the program outside its realm of dominance with a schedule this season that included six dates with top-25 teams.

But he has never let the success get to his head. In a world where many college coaches live and breathe their sport and winning is everything, Goldberg, a father of three, is a refreshing voice. He falls in line with the AU's mission of emphasizing academic integrity in athletics.

His patience with his evolving program has won him hundreds of volleyball matches. His compassion, honesty, and ability to put sports in perspective has won him the respect of those around him. His spirituality has led him the whole way.

"God's given me the opportunity to do this," Goldberg said. "You want something else from me, I'll do something else. This isn't something I have to do. It's something that I've been given the opportunity to do."

Goldberg said this belief came from his high school coach, Joe Silipo, who was the inspiration for him to enter coaching and to do it with love. Silipo, for example, said he was guided by his faith in leading his teams. Winning for him was nothing without sportsmanship, hard work and honesty, Goldberg said.

Goldberg's caring coaching has made him well liked by his players. They said he respects them as people and doesn't treat them as instruments needed to win volleyball matches.

"He realizes that we're here for more than just volleyball," Allgaier said. "I like that part about him, noticing that he was focused on volleyball, but that there were other things to life."

Goldberg has helped create a positive environment for the team where players enjoy coming to practice and working with the coach. He has made the team part of his own family, having the players over for dinner at his Damascus, Md., home and often having his wife and children at matches.

This atmosphere has made him a hit with more than just his players.

"He's a coach that if I had a daughter, I'd want her to play for him," said Shelton Collier, Goldberg's coach at the University of Pittsburgh. "He knows the game but treats players the way their parents would want."

He may be a coach a mother could love, but he's still no pushover.

"When I first met him, I was a bit intimidated," freshman Elizabeth Maloney said. "He's very up front."

You're not likely to see Goldberg pace the sidelines in anger or explode at his players. Instead he'll throw them a frustrated smirk and simply tell them what needs to change. This honest method of relating to the players has given him an edge in recruiting and has helped people play to their potential.

"He's the kind of person who lets you do what you're good at doing," said assistant coach and former player Sylvia Johnson. "He doesn't let his own ego or pride get in the way."

It's not hard to understand Goldberg's humility, considering how his own volleyball beginnings were all about being in the right place at the right time. Goldberg grew up in the 1970s in Pittsburgh, one of the few places outside California where people played competitive volleyball. He didn't play the sport seriously when he entered Peabody High School.

He was cut from the volleyball team as a freshman and played golf instead. He tried out again the next year and made the team, but he still had work to do.

"I think the first game I got into, I spiked one ball and hit a kid in the face, knocked his glasses flying, nose started bleeding," Goldberg said. "I barely even knew what I was doing. I just hit the ball somewhere and it happened to hit the kid."

Goldberg improved from his awkward introduction, but he didn't stand out athletically on his high school team. He made up for it with an eagerness to learn, a trait that made him popular with his teammates and coach.

"Barry was the kind of guy you had to go to," Silipo said. "He wasn't the best player all the time, but he was a leader by example. He was a leader, no ifs, ands or buts."

After graduating from Peabody in 1980, he entered Pitt and tried out for the team, but didn't make it at first. It was at this time, however, that he became connected to the coaching pipeline of Western Pennsylvania.

Some of today's great coaches came out of the region. Current University of Minnesota coach Mike Hebert, who watched Goldberg as a high school senior and coached at Pitt until 1979, learned volleyball strategy from Silipo. Hebert became national coach of the year in 1985 and one of the most respected names in the sport.

Shelton Collier succeeded Hebert at Pitt. Now, the boss at Wingate University in North Carolina, he was the most successful coach in Georgia Tech history and a coach of the USA Youth National Team.

One of Collier's players was Don Hardin, the current coach of the powerhouse program at the University of Illinois. And it was Hardin who transferred out of Pitt, opening a spot on the squad for Goldberg.

"So from the very start, I'm around all these people that had these incredible ideas about the sport, and that's how it all happened," Goldberg said.

Goldberg played four years at Pitt and was a player-coach for the Panthers his senior season when the school cut the Men's Volleyball program.

He spent a year after graduation playing volleyball on the California beaches, but Collier invited him back to be a graduate assistant for the Pitt women's team. Collier liked Goldberg's patient way of relating to the players, a contrast to his own intense style.

"I was the hammer, and he was behind the scenes, building the confidence of the players," Collier said.

Goldberg stayed on the Pitt staff for two years and earned a degree in counseling and education. He then moved to Washington and took a job reporting to the courts for a drug rehabilitation center. He still found time to coach, first with an elite high school club team and then with Georgetown, where he met his wife, Bonnie.

Goldberg got his big break in July 1989 when he was hired by AU, whose program had suffered four straight losing seasons. The Eagles went 25-11 his first year and he was named the Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year the next. The program has been looking forward ever since, getting increasingly competitive each year.

His patience with the program has impressed other coaches. Collier said this is the trait that has helped him become so successful. He took a rag-tag bunch of players and elevated the program piece by piece.

"Ideally you want to jump right to the throne," Goldberg said. "But life doesn't work quite like that. For me, anyway, it's been taking each step you've got and before you know it you'll be set."

Goldberg will continue taking advantage of the little things to take the program to higher levels. But however impressive his team's achievements become, he won't forget to treasure his coaching gift.

"I don't know how I'm doing this," he said. "I don't know how I became a coach. It all just kind of happened. I did some certain things, but it isn't all me that opened up this door"

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