Going for Gold(berg): How the AU volleyball head coach wins on and off the court
Goldberg's passion for volleyball and his players reaches far beyond Bender Arena
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's November 2022 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
The name Barry Goldberg has become synonymous with winning. As head coach of the American University women’s volleyball team for 34 years, Goldberg has created his own legacy.
Under his guidance, the Eagles have won 16 Patriot League Championships and made the NCAA Tournament 18 times in the past 25 years. On top of these achievements, Goldberg is ranked fourth in wins amongst all NCAA Division I coaches. Despite this, Goldberg has chosen for his legacy to not be defined by wins, but the impact he’s had off the court.
Goldberg’s passion for volleyball started long before his successful career. Growing up in Pittsburgh during the late ‘70s, Goldberg joined his high school’s volleyball team. He attributed his interest in the sport to his appreciation for his own coach.
"[He] taught volleyball as an interesting sport when everyone else was playing baseball or basketball," Goldberg said.
Off the court, Goldberg also cited his coach as an instrumental source of inspiration in his life and future coaching career: "He was somebody who tried to connect with and care about people."
His time spent on the high school team encouraged him to stick with the sport in college. He aimed to walk on the team at the University of Pittsburgh. However, the Pittsburgh coach cut him during tryouts.
“I thought my career was over in volleyball,” Goldberg said.
Fortunately for Goldberg, two players quit the team three months into the season. The coach offered him a spot, and he eagerly took it. At the time, this volleyball team was one of very few men's teams in the country. Goldberg was lucky enough to play a part in paving the way for more men to get involved in the sport.
"I was really making strides," he said. "I loved playing. It was really a lot of fun."
His success even led him to become captain of the nationally ranked team during his junior year. Unfortu- nately, the university decided to cut the program before
Goldberg's final year in college. The team was demoted from varsity level to just a club sport. Not letting this discourage him, Goldberg stepped in and took over the team.
"That was the beginning of me getting even more into volleyball," he described.
After graduating from college, Goldberg went out to California and pursued a career in outdoor sand volleyball. Two years later, he was roped back into the coaching world by the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh women's volleyball team. He worked as the assistant coach for two years while simultaneously obtaining his master’s degree in counseling education.
After graduate school, Goldberg had to leave volleyball when he moved to D.C. to start a career as a drug rehabilitation counselor.
"I thought my volleyball career was over again," Goldberg said.
Then, a new opportunity presented itself: he began coaching the Georgetown University team at night.
Balancing these careers together got him recognized by American University, where he was offered the position of head coach in 1989. Goldberg and his team knocked at the door to the NCAA tournament until 1997 when they finally broke through. With that, the dynasty of Goldberg’s Eagles was born.
Since Goldberg was hired, the Eagles have won the Patriot League Championship 16 out of the last 21 seasons and have made the NCAA Tournament 18 times in the last 25 years. Goldberg, the seven-time Patriot League Coach of the Year, reached his 800th win this season and is currently ranked fourth in wins among all active NCAA Division 1 head coaches. Since Goldberg’s first season as head coach, the Eagles have accumulated a 362-73 record in Bender Arena.
Looking back on his career, Goldberg marks 2013 as the year that stands out the most. While making it to the NCAA tournament was the norm for Goldberg's teams at the time, 2013 was the year that the Eagles crashed through to the Sweet 16 for the first time in history. This included taking down renowned teams like the University of Georgia and Duke University on their road to Omaha, Nebraska.
Importantly, Goldberg never let American University's small-school status discourage them in the fight to win.
"In the NCAA tournament, you will find the big schools. We were not the big school, but we established a good team anyway," he said.
That was Goldberg’s mission: to build something at American.
“Every year we saw coaches who would move but never were around long enough to put something together. The grass is always greener on the other side, but you can make the grass green right here too. And that’s what he was doing the whole time,” his wife, Bonnie Goldberg, said.
This is reflected in the teams Goldberg has carefully crafted the past 30 years.
“I look for people who are determined. People who are fighters, who have strength about them,” he said.
Goldberg aims to instill his players with the knowledge of how to take care of each other. This loyalty is visible in the dozens of old players who returned to campus to support Goldberg in his most recent game, the Bender Pink Out.
“We see them everywhere we go, they all come back for him,” Bonnie Goldberg said.
Goldberg's legacy is evident in how his players talk about him.
Julie Crum, a former player, told the Eagle in 2013, “He’s not just concerned with making us better volleyball players, but he wants us to be better people too.”
"He realizes that we're here for more than just volleyball," Erin Allgaier, a former AU volleyball player told the Eagle in 2003. "I like that part about him, noticing that he was focused on volleyball, but that there were other things to life."
Goldberg seconded that statement, agreeing that the most important part of his coaching career is who his players are off the court. “I don’t really see collecting wins as the goal of what I’m doing here. It’s not the most important thing. The important thing is how you deal with all the kids here playing, how they can become a team, and how determined they can be.”
“It isn’t really a number that makes you do what you want to do. It happened that way. It’s nice, but it’s not ‘I have to get that win.’ I have to get them. Those who are on the team. I have to get them.” Goldberg said.
Goldberg has proven it is possible to put your athletes first and still be the fourth most winningest coach active in the NCAA.
“Each game is a game, and it’s an important game, even from the first games we played,” he said. “Little by little becomes a lot.”