AU community remembers legendary volleyball coach Barry Goldberg
Goldberg left a legacy of altruism on and off the court
Barry Goldberg, American University’s legendary volleyball coach, died on March 26. Goldberg left behind a legacy of not only his impressive achievements on the court, but also of the profound impact he had on the lives of those around him.
His death was announced by the Athletics Department in a March 26 press release. Goldberg was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in February 2022.
Goldberg coached AU’s volleyball team for 34 years, leading the Eagles to 18 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 Patriot League Championships. He ranks fourth in wins amongst all NCAA Division I coaches and reached a milestone of 800 wins with the Eagles last season.
Goldberg’s impact goes far beyond his impressive achievements on the volleyball court. It was his ability to connect with people in a meaningful way that truly set him apart.
As his players mourn the loss of their coach, they remember his unwavering dedication to their success both on and off the court.
Senior Zeynep Uzen came from Turkey to play for Goldberg from 2019 to 2022. One of the things Uzen appreciated about Goldberg was the ways he taught the players about life off of the court, too.
“Coach Barry wasn’t just a coach for us; he was more than that. He always believed and saw the best in everyone. I don’t have enough words to describe how much impact he made on our lives,” Uzen said. “He showed us how to be successful, not just in volleyball, but in life by teaching us love and kindness. Because of him, I have another family that I couldn’t have imagined that I could ever have.”
Players remembered Goldberg as a source of optimism, with his impact in volleyball reaching beyond AU. Senior Onuchi Ndee played for Goldberg from 2019 to 2022.
“Through every win, loss, injury and hardship, Barry was a constant force of positivity in my life and in all those he impacted. I will always hold him in my heart just as I know thousands will as well,” Ndee said.
Junior Katie Putney emphasized the sense of community Goldberg created for the players that he coached.
“Coach Barry changed my life in ways I can’t even describe. He took a chance on me and gave me incredible opportunities in both volleyball and in life that I would have never had without him. He was so much more than just a coach, he cared for us like family, and that’s what we were,” Putney said.
Sarah Katz Yiljep played for Goldberg from 2012 until 2015. In 2016, Katz was inspired by Goldberg to begin her own coaching career on his staff and was promoted to assistant coach in 2019. Katz has assumed the role of interim head coach for the Eagles.
Katz believes Goldberg’s success came from the personal investments he made in the players he coached.
“He always reminded us that everything we were doing was for the players,” Katz said. “Barry changed so many people’s lives. For example, the international players had a family at AU, rather than just transactionally playing for a scholarship and going home. So many of the international players who played for him ended up wanting to stay here because they found a home.”
His players also remembered him as someone who went above and beyond just his role in the gym. When Vendula Kurcova came from the Czech Republic to be coached by Goldberg at AU from 1995 until 1998, she had to overcome a language barrier and a large cultural shift at AU. To help Kurcova smoothly transition, Goldberg arranged English and math classes to support her. Goldberg even went so far as to travel to the Czech Republic to introduce himself to Kurcova’s parents. Kurcova was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame for the Eagles.
“AU Athletics will not be the same without Barry. It is really very hard for me to imagine that next time I go to Bender to watch a volleyball game, he will not be there. He played an instrumental role in my life, and the opportunity he provided to me changed my life. I am only a small fraction of many others whom he impacted in the same way,” Kurcova said.
A common theme with past and present players as they remember Goldberg was how he instilled in them life values. Chiara Bosetti, who came from Italy to play for Goldberg at AU from 2019 to 2021, said, Coaches teach you how to play a game. Great coaches teach you how to be a better person. Coach Goldberg showed me by example how to live life as a productive, responsible and caring adult.”
Ahen Kim was an assistant coach for the Eagles under Goldberg from 2012 to 2018. Together, their program won four consecutive Patriot League Championship titles. Kim was invited by Goldberg to attend weekly meetings with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where they discussed transactional versus transformational coaching. Kim attributes Goldberg’s willingness to continue learning as a coach as one of the most pivotal experiences in his young coaching career.
“Goldberg would remind me that my role here was to ‘love them student-athletes the best you can.’ Loving others unconditionally was the foundation of his massively successful volleyball program,” Kim said.
Goldberg's impact was not limited to the athletes he coached; the connections he made extended far beyond the volleyball court.
Dan Laing, broadcaster for the Eagles, attributes his broadcasting career at the University to Goldberg. After meeting at a baseball game, Goldberg told Laing he wanted him to broadcast for his volleyball team. Laing has since been the voice of AU’s sports teams for over 15 years.
“He was always very patient and kind despite me not having very much experience in volleyball at first,” Laing said.
Among those who spoke to the impact of Goldberg’s legacy were University administrators. Former American University President Neil Kerwin was part of the AU community for all of Goldberg’s 34 years of coaching and described Goldberg as someone invested in helping his players to succeed on and off the court.
“When you try to distill what you want to leave behind as a teacher, you want to leave behind students that know more than they did before they walked into your classroom,” Kerwin said. They have struggled with difficult material, won that struggle and can take that on to wherever they’re going next, whether it’s another course or a career. And I think that if you’ve seen the alumni from that program, and where they are in life, the evidence is everywhere. That’s what Barry did.”
According to Kerwin, the mark that Goldberg left on AU and the sport of volleyball will be one that lasts for generations. Others agreed.
“Coach Barry’s legacy extends beyond his 812 career victories. He stewarded his role and interactions with others so intentionally well that his joy for coaching volleyball, and life, permeated to everyone he came in contact with,” Kim said.
This article was edited by Penelope Jennings and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Natasha LaChac