49ers Play to Perfection for Dapper, Demanding Coach : Volleyball: Cal State Long Beach women’s team enters national tournament as a favorite with 32-1 record.
Inside a trailer behind University Gym at Cal State Long Beach, women’s volleyball Coach Brian Gimmillaro sits behind a large mahogany desk in his office, which is impeccably wallpapered in green and mauve.
Matching furniture, reconditioned by Gimmillaro, is upholstered in the same pattern and colors as the wallpaper. In this impeccable world, there is only one annoyance--an air conditioner in an adjoining trailer that makes a disturbing noise each time it kicks in. Not having control over the operation of the air conditioner appears to be as intolerable to Gimmillaro as watching a poorly executed pass.
Analytical and determined, Gimmillaro, 42, rarely misses a detail, down to the appearance of his office or the clothes he wears.
“How you care about presenting yourself, how you see yourself, should be reflected in your demeanor, performance and presence,” Gimmillaro said.
The dapper coach will guide host Long Beach in its first-round NCAA tournament match against Gateway Conference champion Northern Iowa at 7:30 p.m. Friday. As always, he will wear a blazer, fashionable tie and slacks.
“He’s not your typical gym rat,” said Pat Zartman, a longtime rival club coach and consultant to professional beach volleyball players. “He looks at himself as a business person. He is very concerned about appearance and promotion of the sport.”
A perfectionist who never played organized volleyball, Gimmillaro has had tremendous success as a coach. He is believed to be the only person who has won national titles at the club, high school and collegiate levels. This season, in what might be his finest coaching job, Gimmillaro has been selected coach of the year in the Big West Conference and one of eight regional coaches of the year by the American Volleyball Coaches Assn.
Since he first started coaching in 1978 at Gahr High School in Cerritos, where he won four Southern Section titles and a state CIF championship, Gimmillaro has been obsessed with precision.
“I am very analytical,” he said. “I look at (volleyball) intellectually. The geometry of the game is fascinating. You have to practice that way, too. The game is played in such a small area that it has to be exact.”
His thoroughness has been one key in leading the 49ers to victory in more than 70% of their games since he was hired in 1985. Long Beach has advanced to NCAA postseason play in every season but one under Gimmillaro, and in 1989 won the university’s first NCAA title in any sport. Riding a 17-match winning streak, the 49ers (32-1) need one more victory to tie their season record for most wins, set in 1972 and 1973 when Long Beach won back-to-back national titles in the defunct Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
Long Beach leads the nation in hitting percentage and has 500 more digs than opponents. In 78 of 109 games (the maximum number of games in any match is five) the 49ers have held opponents to nine points or fewer. Their only defeat was a five-game loss to University of the Pacific two months ago.
"(Gimmillaro) is an excellent coach, an excellent teacher of the game,” said senior outside hitter Antoinnette White, the Big West’s player of the year. “He is not only into playing skills, but he also has the best welfare of the players in mind. He is caring, but demanding.”
Three-hour practices are the norm. Repetitive drills are common. Said junior setter Sabrina Hernandez: “Brian has a preconceived idea of what to get out of a team, and he goes through practice sessions getting it out of you. He’ll push and he is very demanding. We work very hard.”
The rise of Gimmillaro as one of the nation’s best volleyball coaches was more by chance than design.
“It could have been any sport,” he said. “It just happened that I developed my passion for volleyball on the beach, and it seemed like I could do well in it.”
Gimmillaro graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 1970 with a degree in economics, but he found little in the business world he liked. He bounced from job to job and was a regular at popular sand courts at Sunset Beach and Seal Beach.
“I wasn’t that good, but most of the time I won,” he said.
In 1972 he taught government at La Mirada High. In 1977 he went to Gahr as a history and algebra teacher. A year later, Gimmillaro was appointed volleyball coach.
“I never took a (physical education) class to be a coach,” he said. “I was more interested in education, but then I found out that coaching was . . . the ideal educating job.”
In his first two seasons, the Gladiators won back-to-back Southern Section titles. Gahr repeated the feat in 1983 and 1984, adding a state CIF title and a national No. 1 ranking in 1983.
In 1982, he purchased the California Juniors Volleyball Club. He also began a two-year career as business manager of the U.S. women’s Olympic volleyball team.
In 1985, Gimmillaro was hired for the job at Cal State Long Beach after a 142-15 record in eight seasons at Gahr. Although a power in the old AIAW, the 49ers were 61-105 in their first five seasons of NCAA play.
In his first season, Gimmillaro guided the 49ers to an 18-13 finish and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Zartman called Gimmillaro “a sharp guy who does a good job of coaching.”
“Here’s an example of a guy who develops an excellent high school program, does a little research and uses it to move to a higher echelon,” Zartman said. “That’s hard to do in other sports.”
Gimmillaro is 177-66 at Long Beach. Along with top-ranked Stanford, Hawaii, Pacific and UCLA, the 49ers expect to be one of the teams to beat in the NCAA tournament. Gimmillaro refers to the 49ers’ accomplishments this fall as the “impossible dream season.”
Will there be opportunities for more dream seasons for the 49er coach? Gimmillaro thinks there might be, but his long-term outlook is uncertain.
“I don’t know if I’m going to do this my whole life,” he said.