Tributes, praise flow for late BYU volleyball legend Carl McGown

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Carl McGown makes a point to BYU during the 2013 NCAA semifinals/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Funeral arrangements have been set for Carl McGown:
Wednesday, January 4: 6-8 p.m. viewing and wake at Berg Mortuary, 185 Center Street Provo, UT 84606.
Thursday, January 5: 10 a.m. Viewing, 11 a.m. memorial service at Edgemont 1st Ward, 303 W 3700 N,  Provo, UT 84604. Graveside services at Eastlawn Memorial Cemetery to follow.
Chris McGown said that his mom has asked that in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to: BYU Men’s Volleyball, 235 SFH, Provo, UT 84602

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You really can’t quantify the impact that Carl McGown had on volleyball. Accordingly tributes flowed after his death on Friday at age 79.

“I think Carl is one of the most impactful, significant people in our sport, certainly over the last 30 or 40 years,” said USA Volleyball chief executive officer Doug  Beal, deeply saddened by the loss of a longtime friend. “The breadth of his influence and the number of players, coaches, administrators that he touched in a really positive way is hard to overestimate.”

McGown was the BYU coach from 1990-2002 and his Cougars won the 1999 and 2001 NCAA titles. Both years he was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association coach of the year.

Carl McGown talking to the media during an NCAA Tournament/BYU photo
Carl McGown talking to the media during an NCAA Tournament/BYU photo

In 2010 he was inducted into the AVCA hall of fame. Then University of Washington women’s coach Jim McLaughlin, now at Notre Dame, wrote the following in a letter recommending that McGown be inducted into the AVCA hall:

“I consider Dr. McGown the greatest mind in the game of volleyball today. In fact, in my estimation, because of his practice methods, systems and match preparation, he is the best volleyball coach in the United States, and, probably, in the world today.”

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe praised McGown in a BYU statement.

“He guided our fledgling men’s program from a club team to national prominence in the NCAA,” Holmoe said. “Along the way he had a profound impact on the lives of many student-athletes. Our thoughts and prayers are with Susan and the McGown family.”

Shawn Olmstead, who was BYU’s women’s coach and is now the BYU men’s coach, played for McGown on the 2001 NCAA championship team.

“Carl McGown is one of the great volleyball minds in the history of the sport,” Olmstead said in a BYU statement. “His ability to analyze the game and his team’s training from a unique perspective was why coaches from around the world knocked on his door. Carl loved volleyball and he loved learning.

“Playing for Carl was a dream come true. He pushed us and coached us as only Carl could. He loved each one of his players through the good and bad times. The greatest life lessons I learned were with Carl away from the court. He had that kind of impact on everyone who played for him.”

The list of those who also played for McGown at BYU and then went on to prominent coaching careers is beyond impressive. They include Minnesota’s Hugh McCutcheon, a New Zealander who coached both the USA men’s and women’s Olympic teams; Illinois coach Kevin Hambly; Australian Jason Watson, the coach at Arkansas; and Chris McGown, Carl’s son, who played for him at BYU and later became the Cougars men’s coach.

“And there are countless others who are coaching and doing remarkable work that you don’t hear about,” said Watson, pointing out that plenty of McGown disciples are coaching club and high school. “When you dig even deeper it’s even more impressive.”

Heather Cox interviewed Carl McGown after BYU won the 2001 NCAA title/BYU photo
Heather Cox interviewed Carl McGown after BYU won the 2001 NCAA title/BYU photo

Chris McGown was grateful for the outpouring of kindness since Friday.

“It’s been really nice, all this wonderful support and expressions of love,” Chris McGown said Saturday. “It’s really been remarkable.”

McGown now runs the influential coaching organization Gold Medal Squared that his father formed and made famous with, among others, Beal and Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy. He was taken aback by the praise he’s heard about his dad and the number of people he influenced.

“I don’t think he ever went about it with that intent,” McGown said. “He just was doing his thing and he was a quiet humble guy about it. And now hearing complete strangers and friends saying, ‘Carl changed my life.’ You don’t get a real sense of that until something like this happens. You start hearing from everybody.”

McGown played for his father at BYU from 1990-94 and then became the BYU head coach from 2011-2015. And his father was his volunteer assistant, including for a trip to the NCAA championship match in 2013 and the semifinals in 2014.

McGown laughed at the memory of his dad being on his staff.

“He pulled no punches. He would tell you, ‘Chris, this is a lousy practice. This drill is lame. Why aren’t we doing more of this and we should be doing less of that. And how come you’re not giving more feedback?’

“So he was coaching me the whole time I was coaching the team. And there were all the wonderful opportunities to see your dad in practice every day. We got to commiserate and he liked it because he got to run a bunch of experiments on our team. We also had some crushing losses and it was really nice to have him there and have someone who had been through it and have some perspective.”

McCutcheon took time from a family vacation in New Zealand to praise his former coach.

“Carl was a great man, a great coach, and I was so proud to call him my friend. He had a profound influence on my life,” McCutcheon said.

“He was a pioneer in our sport, a true titan. His application of motor-learning principles to coaching made him an incredibly effective teacher. This, combined with his passion for the game and his competitive drive made for a powerful combination.

“His impact on the sport of volleyball is immense and immeasurable. Volleyball in this country is better, at every level, because of his influence.”

Chris McGown, McCutcheon and Watson were all BYU teammates.

“I feel like even if you’d never known him you have been influenced by him in the way the game is played, the way the game is taught, his influence is just everywhere,” said Watson, who played at BYU from 1991-94. Getting to play for him, now I look back at it as this remarkable event. And then later in life I got to call him my friend. It’s just a wonderfully special relationship for me and for so many. Just reading and seeing the scope of influence he had, it’s just amazing.”

Watson laughed when recalling his teammates from his time at BYU and how much McGown influenced them.

“There was only a handful of them smart enough not to coach,” he joked.

Dunphy, starting his 34th season as the men’s coach at Pepperdine, has won four NCAA titles. He became friends with McGown in 1973 and said that McGown would always share anything he could with anyone in volleyball.

“I was exposed to some great coaches early on, but nobody helped me more than Carl,” Dunphy said. “I don’t know which term to use, icon, pillar, founding father, visionary.”

Carl McGown graduated from Long Beach City College in 1961 and got his master’s degree in physical education in 1964 from BYU. He later got a Ph.D. in both motor skill learning and administration from Oregon.

He was the USA national team coach from 1973-1976 and also coached the team in seven different World Championships, including 1974, ’82, ’86, ’90, ’94, ’98 and ’02. He also coached the USA in the World University Games and Pan American Games.

Along the way, he evolved from doing camps in the mid-1980s to starting Gold Medal Squared in the late 1990s.

“In a certain way Marv and me and Karch (Kiraly) were all hugely influenced by Carl,” Beal said. “I was trying to remember when I first met him. It was probably in the late 1960s. But I played for Carl in 1970 and then quite a bit during the rest of my playing career on the national team.

“And we just became really good friends. But I think Carl became really good friends with an awful lot of people and that may be one of the most unique things about him and Jim Coleman. They just connected with people, they were interested in people and were just enormously giving of themselves.”

The late Dr. James Coleman, was inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1992, was the head coach of the USA men’s three separate times—1965-1970, 1979-1980, and 1990 and was head coach of the USA Olympic team in 1968. Among many other involvements with the national teams, he served as Beal’s assistant in the 2000 Olympics.

Beal, who coached the USA to the 1984 Olympic gold medal, said that “their legacy is in someway inexorably tied together in some way.”

Dunphy agreed and credited McGown for taking volleyball to a new level.

“Our sport was kind of going along and all of a sudden this one guy added science in how to learn, how to train and how to play the game,” Dunphy said. “I think that really raised the level of play and performance and he, along with Jim Coleman and maybe some others, started developing some standards we desperately needed.”

Carl McGown leaves behind his wife, Susan, Chris and his brother Paul, and five grandchildren.

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