The move was huge, but geographically, well, it was about 20 feet.
When UCLA women’s volleyball coach Mike Sealy made staff changes after last year’s disappointing season, he didn’t go far to find his new associate head coach.
No, Brad Keller was right down the hall.
But he was the assistant men’s coach.
Not that Keller hadn’t coached women before. In 2011 he was an assistant at UConn. But this is basically a new frontier for him.
“It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve been six years with John (Speraw, the UCLA men’s and USA national-team coach) and I’ve learned so many things from John,” Keller said. “I love John to death.
“And it’s always been a passion of mine to become a head coach and there’s not very many opportunities on the men’s side.”
He and Sealy are friends who play golf together — that’s a huge passion of Sealy’s — and it seemed like a fun challenge. The UCLA women missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season after a 13-14 finish — 8-12 in the Pac-12 — but has some outstanding talent and was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 in the preseason coaches poll.
“It was a good opportunity to learn from another great coach, I didn’t have to move very far, so it was an opportunity I could not pass up,” Keller said.
“It’s about growth. For me personally it’s a chance to grow. And we always talk about blending the two games, the men’s game and the women’s game.”
Keller was an outside hitter at Loyola Marymount, but after his sophomore year in 2000 the program was eliminated after 30 seasons.
“I decided not to play after that. I was kind of burned out on volleyball but my brother (Jarod) wanted to play. We’re seven years apart and he was like 13 or 14 at the time. So I was going to train him and send him down to L.A. and all these kids walked into the gym. So I started a volleyball club.”
It was called Bay to Bay, located in San Jose, and from 2001-06 he was the director.
“Jarod got a scholarship to play at Stanford and I got chosen by Bill Ferguson to coach with him when he got the job at USC. So my mom ran Bay to Bay Volleyball Club.”
Keller also worked for a short while at Santa Clara with the women’s program, “and I’ve coached girls club before, I’ve coached girls eighth grade, I’ve coached girls sixth grade.
“I got to coach the A1 Red junior national team last summer. So bits and pieces here and there.”
It was suggested that getting the women to play more like the men would be a good thing.
“No doubt,” Keller said. “There is no doubt.
“I think Sealy’s all about it.”
He said it’s something talked about between Sealy, Speraw and UCLA beach coach Stein Metzger. All three won national championships as men’s indoor players at UCLA.
“You get good minds talking about possibilities,” Keller said. “ … in reality there’s not much difference between the men’s and the women’s games as far as what they can and can’t do.”
What they can do, of course, is the key to recruiting. It’s a new world for Keller to evaluate.
“I don’t know, but I’m confident people can identify talent. Height, explosion, strong arms. There are certain things that we all can talk about. How you are as a teammate. How you talk on the phone. What do you say, what do you really want. There are a lot of these small components that add up that create a kid you know is going to become elite,” Keller said.
“You can have an unbelievably great volleyball player, but if she doesn’t have a motor, she might not be a great player. So you have do all your homework and find out if she knows what your vision is and what the program needs to do.”
But he admitted it’s not an exact science.
“Like the NFL. They have all these tests and all these things and Tom Brady becomes the best quarterback. He couldn’t do anything well on all those tests. So you really don’t know.”
UCLA gets after it from the start this season. The Bruins open against Baylor, ranked 20th in the AVCA preseason poll, on August 30 at Nebraska, and the next day play the second-ranked Huskers.