They were champions, All-Americans and future coaches. They were also future doctors, lawyers, company presidents, working-class heroes, fathers, mothers, and friends. Over a volleyball coaching career rooted in four decades, Charlie Brande impacted them all.
Even after he packed up his office at UC Irvine — shifting to a new role as a fundraiser for his alma mater having retired as women’s coach after nine seasons in order to more closely follow his daughter’s high school experience — Brande impacts his former players still.
The remnants of the countless life lessons he drilled into them, just as painstakingly as he schooled them on the sport’s fundamentals, continue to insinuate themselves into his former athletes’ daily routines, as tangible as a creaky knee or a balky shoulder.
No cardboard box or trophy case can contain a legacy forged practice after practice, match after match, at the high school, club and collegiate levels. Similarly, the passion with which Brande prodded, praised and pushed his players, knew no common bounds.
“To me, the most amazing thing about Charlie is the energy and devotion he gave to kids for two or three generations,” said Albert Gasparian, who landed his first coaching job with Brande’s Orange County (girls) and Balboa Bay (boys) club programs and went on to win 16 state championships in 22 seasons as the women’s coach and eight seasons as men’s coach at Golden West Community College between 1983 and 2004. “To still be at it as long as he was, and still be 100% committed to teaching is incredible.”
Brande’s teachings, both on the court and off, affected more than 1,000 kids, scores of whom he helped secure college volleyball scholarships. He still keeps tabs on hundreds of his former players, many of whom often bristled at his relentless intensity.
“He was very demanding and, at times, it was difficult,” said Ashlie Hain, an All-Big West Conference setter who triggered Brande’s NCAA Tournament teams of 2003 and 2004 and is now associate head coach at Moorpark College in Ventura County. “But he prepared us for more than volleyball; he prepared us for life. Looking back, of all the things I’ve encountered since playing for him, nothing has been as challenging.”
Hain, part of a group that helped Brande transform the UCI women’s program from a perennial doormat into an NCAA Tournament qualifier, said Brande’s on-court bark always belied how deeply he cared for his players.
“No matter how tough on us he was, you always knew you had a friend off the court,” Hain said. “Of all the coaches I’ve played for, Charlie is the only one I still touch base with at least once a week. A lot of coaches, you can tell, are in it for themselves. Charlie was always in it for the team.”
Texas Christian University women’s coach Prentice Lewis, known as Prentice Perkins as a standout at Corona del Mar High and Long Beach State, both of which she helped win a national championship, said she now regularly passes on Brande’s teachings on and off the court.
“I played club for Charlie from sixth grade through high school,” Lewis said. “He was one of those coaches you always feared, until you got to know him. I guess you still feared him even then, but you respected him and you worked your butt off to do whatever he asked for. His coaching style made me better, stronger, and very aware of how things work in the real world. A lot of kids these days don’t get a good picture of that, but he always formed that picture for us. If you’re not doing your job, you’re going to get fired. He really formed me as an athlete and he’s a huge factor in where I am today. He’s a huge reason why I’m successful and I can speak for many of my teammates who believe the same thing.
“I’m bummed he’s leaving coaching, though I totally understand why he is doing it. He’ll be missed in the coaching profession.”
That profession is only one portion of the volleyball landscape Brande helped define, especially in Orange County.
“I would say without a doubt, Charlie was the driving force of volleyball in Orange County over the past 30 years,” Gasparian said. “As a coach, he always had a clear-cut vision of what he wanted to do, and nothing but perfection was going to be satisfactory. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s his club teams were among the best in Southern California, if not the country.”
Tom Pestolesi, a former All-American who played for Brande, then an assistant at Hawaii, said Brande was ahead of his time.
“He was probably the first club coach to develop a system that his players used their whole club careers,” said Pestolesi, whose daughter, Kari, starred for Brande the last two seasons with the Anteaters.
“When he started, there wasn’t a whole lot of coaching going on at the club level,” Tom Pestolesi said. “Teams would just show up and play. But Charlie would have some tactics and different techniques. He would run some different plays that people didn’t even know existed.”
Longtime Newport Harbor boys and girls coach Dan Glenn is another in a long line of Brande admirers.
“Nobody made a larger impact on the sport in this area,” said Glenn, who will coach Brande’s daughter, a freshman on the 2008 junior varsity, with the Newport Harbor varsity. “Not only in this area, but in Southern California.
“Charlie’s club was huge when I first started coaching [in the 1980s]. He didn’t always have the greatest athletes, but they were fighters and they were very successful. Charlie was ahead of things, when it came to training and everything he did. I would say that more than the game of volleyball, he taught his players how to compete. I don’t think there is anything harder to do in coaching than that and he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at it. I respect Charlie as a friend, and many other things. But his greatest attribute, to me, is that he’s a teacher. And he’s very good at teaching his coaches how to coach.”
The coaches who credit Brande as an influence are as vast as the ever-expanding volleyball universe.
“He was the guy,” said Pestolesi, a successful men’s and women’s coach at Irvine Valley College, after having spent stints at Estancia High and Newport Harbor.
Added Gasparian: “If people didn’t know who Charlie was, then they weren’t of any consequence in the volleyball community. Whether it was recruiting or coaching against his teams, if you didn’t know who Charlie was, then you weren’t in the loop.”
Brande, the 2008 Big West Conference Coach of the Year, said he plans to continue his involvement on the club level and looks forward to many other pursuits, such as teaching a coaching class at UCI and following his former club players with their collegiate programs.
He said he will also keep an eye on the Anteaters, under new coach Paula Weishoff.
“I’ll miss the excitement of the matches, of being able to bring a team over to the bench and say ‘OK this is what we have to do,’ ” said Brande, whose allegiance to UCI dates back to playing on the school’s first men’s basketball team before graduating in 1969. “I was lucky enough to do it since the 1970s and I did it always with the same excitement and exuberance, the same great feeling. I’ll still be around and I’ll get a chance to see the girls and go to a lot of their matches next year. It’s almost like I get to keep all the good stuff about coaching and get rid of the bad stuff. It’s just time to go.”
Many believe Brande will never be able to rid himself of the volleyball bug, which, some theorize, will compel him to coach at some level for years to come.
“He’s got too much energy and too much to give not to be involved in some form,” Gasparian said.
“I think he’ll be out of coaching the next three years, then he’ll be right back in,” Lewis said. “He can’t let it go for the duration of his life. It’s something he has been attached to. When I think of volleyball, I think of Charlie,”
And, like many of his former players, Lewis still thinks of him often.