“I guess you land at the right place for you and the situation is a positive one and it becomes home.”
— Debbie Humphreys, 30th-year Stephen F. Austin coach
Do you realize how many long-tenured veteran college volleyball coaches there are in Texas?
More than you probably thought. And almost all are women.
Karen Chisum, who said simply, “It’s a great place to live,” is in her 38th year at Texas State in San Marcos.
Brenda Gray is in her 35th year at Sam Houston State in Huntsville.
Debbie Humphreys is in year 30 at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches.
Laurie Corbelli has been at Texas A&M for 25 years.
And it doesn’t stop there: Lisa Seifert is in year 22 at SMU in Dallas, Jerritt Elliott is in his 17th year at Texas, Laura Neugebauer-Groff is in year 16 at UTSA (Texas-San Antonio) and Genny Volpe, who was recruited by and worked for some of them, is in year 14 at Rice in Houston.
Those are the NCAA Division I coaches. Julie Jenkins has been at Trinity in San Antonio for 33 years and is the winningest active Division III coach.
“Yeah, there are quite a few of us,” SHSU’s Gray said.
“It amazes me that so many of them can continue to bust their tails this long and do such a good job and be so consistent,” said Volpe, the baby of the group who played for Corbelli at A&M when Corbelli took over as her coach her senior year. “I have so much respect for all of them.”
In researching this story, we learned that there are seven coaches in DI with 30 or years at the same school, Russ Rose at Penn State (39), Chisum, Gray, Carolyn Condit at Miami, Ohio (34), Humphreys, Van Compton at Little Rock (30) and Ramona Riley-Bozier, who is also in year 30 at Morgan State.
There are 10 more with 25 years or more at the same school, seven of whom are women (a complete list of coaches with 10 or more years at the same school is below).
But no state has a concentration of long-time tenured coaches like Texas.
“Texas is just a great place to be,” said Volpe, who is from San Antonio and was recruited by Chisum. “I’ve been in Texas my whole life and the people in Texas are amazing and it’s a friendly place to be. I think it’s hard to leave the state. And if you grew up in Texas, and there are so many awesome universities in the state, you know it’s an attractive place to live and work.”
What’s more, Texas is a treasure trove of club volleyball on all levels. Almost every coach in the country recruits the state of Texas and many of the top programs not in Texas have Texas players. This year there is one from Louisiana.
“You don’t have to go far,” Gray said.
“In those early years I’d go to Florida, I’d go to Illinois, maybe try to get some from California, but once club volleyball became so big — I was coaching here before there was club volleyball — but now with club volleyball, my goodness gracious, you have the pick of the lot any weekend once spring rolls around. You don’t have to go too far. Volleyball in Texas is very good.”
Groff, who is also from San Antonio, coached at St. Mary’s in Austin before getting the UTSA job in 2002. She said every time she’s been approached about looking into another job, she’d have none of it.
“Not only am I proud of being from the state of Texas, but this is my home,” she said. “This is where my husband is from, our families are from here, it’s like, where else am I gonna go?”
Groff said Chisum is “a pillar” in volleyball.
“I have just so much admiration for her,” Groff said. “Look at what she’s done over the years. Always competing for a conference championship. She’s done it for such a long period of time and has been so positive.”
As a coincidence, most of the Texas teams are doing well this season. Through Sunday, for example, Texas State is second in the Sun Belt Conference West, SFA leads the Southland and SHSU is third, Rice is third in Conference USA, SMU is second in the American Athletic Conference, and Texas is ranked third in the nation and leads the Big 12. A&M and UTSA are having rough seasons, but are perennially tough.
Mary Wise, one of the most successful women coaches of all time, has been at Florida for 27 years.
“What we know of Texas and how much they value athletics and vast quantity of girls who are playing sports in the state of Texas,” Wise offered, “that if there was any sport in any state that should have successful female coaches, it’s Texas.”
Fran Flory, who played at Texas and is in her 20th year at LSU, where she recruits heavily in Texas, said of the Texas coaching veterans, “they came from an era when women weren’t given much. We had to earn everything we got. And they’re used to doing for themselves and doing without and creating for themselves. The resiliency they show is a by-product of being part of the start of women’s collegiate athletics. It’s nice to see they’ve survived.”
Chisum has seen all the highs and lows and got right to the point about why she stays and why she wouldn’t.
“I could have retired 10 years ago, financially,” she said. “But I love what I do, I love being competitive, and as long as we’re successful and I can still give back to the kids and I can help them — and I know I can.”
What would make her go?
“As long as Tracy and Sean are with me, I’m here. I don’t want to train another assistant coach. I’ve told them both that many a time. If they both came to me in January and said they were gone, I’m retired.”
Tracy Smith has been at Chisum’s side for 16 years, while Sean Hulet has been there 12 years. They handle the bulk of the recruiting.
Chisum is 67 — “but I’ve had white hair forever” — grew up in a small town south of San Antonio called Poteet.
“Strawberry capital of the world,” she said proudly.
In 1968, she went to college at Southwest Texas, which is now Texas State.
“We didn’t have scholarships,” Chisum said. “I grew up as a pretty decent tennis player. It was a spring sport and back then volleyball was a spring sport, so I concentrated on tennis.”
Her tennis still comes in handy. Chisum has recently taken up pickleball and loves it.
After college, she taught and coached for three years at San Marcos High School before going to New Braunfels High School, where she coached future national volleyball champion Nell Fortner. Fortner won the AIAW national title at Texas, later went on to be the USA Olympic women’s basketball coach and now calls volleyball on the Longhorn Network.
“That was my connection. We went to state two years in volleyball because Nell was a stud athlete,” Chisum said.
After two years she returned to Southwest Texas as an assistant coach and became the head coach in 1980. The school was still in Division II, playing in the Lone Star Conference, and that first year had a record of 33-25-2.
The university was building its new arena, so they played at a local high school. There was no club volleyball.
“We drove the vans and wore dresses where ever we took the kids, and they paid for half their stuff at that point,” she said. “Things have changed, there’s no doubt. These kids don’t know how lucky they are.”
Along the way, Chisum — “God blessed me with good health” — has won nearly 900 matches, but as you would expect, that’s not the hook.
“A lot of my success is not just talent but I think chemistry and working with people,” she said. “It’s a very personal program. I am not just a volleyball person, I’m gonna tell you that. I would tell you this, I’m not a 365, 24-7 volleyball guru. It’s my life, it’s my passion, the competition, but there are so many other things that I can give to kids about life and growing up and being productive in the world: Networking, personal relationships, all of it.”
She said she’s mellowed.
“I used to be yeller and a screamer,” Chisum said with a smile. “But when I hit that point, yes, I can go ballistic, but it doesn’t happen very often. With my staff, we have a good cop (Hulet) and a bad cop (Smith) and I’m kind of in between. I think I’m softer now.”
She said it’s an honor to be on a list that would include Rose, among others.
“I don’t say this a whole lot, but we’ll probably never be a national champion, but I am who I am and I love Southwest Texas and Texas State. I had opportunities years ago to go somewhere else, but this is my home and our goal is to get to the second round of the NCAA Tournament because we always have to go to Austin and play Texas first.”
They all hope they have the problem.
Gray has nearly 700 wins to her credit. She’s from Humble, Texas, and played volleyball first at Lee Junior College before transferring to Sam Houston. She took over in 1984 when SHSU was also in the DII Gulf Star Conference before eventually joining SFA and Texas State in the Southland. Texas State then moved to the Sun Belt.
“I love what I do. That’s the first thing I’ve got to tell you,” Gray said. “I don’t as though it’s work, I love everyone of my teams.
“I raised my family here.”
More than that. Her husband, Tim, went to SHSU and they met there. Her son, Timothy, played baseball at Sam Houston. Her daughter, Tayler, not only played for her on an SLC title team and also played softball at the school, but has been on her staff since 2014.
“That was never the intent, either, for them to go to school here.”
After she graduated and then got her master’s at SHSU, Gray went to Bastrop, Texas, to teach and coach.
But her Sam Houston coach, Rebecca Bilsing, asked her to come back as she battled cancer. Gray said the same week she got a much more lucrative offer from a Houston high school.
“Something just told me to come here and help out my former program,” Gray said.
It paid off right away. Sam Houston was Division II at the time and her first year went 52-8 and got to the national championships.
“And it was fun,” she said.
Bilsing died the following February and Gray got the job. She’s had chances to leave and even while coaching other jobs at Sam Houston.
“I don’t like being behind a desk, I love the gym. I love training, I love competing, I don’t know, it must be something inside me.”
Humphreys is from Illinois and was recruited by Texas Tech while playing club volleyball.
I had never heard of Texas Tech, certainly never heard of Lubbock, never had been to Texas, but made a trip and ended up deciding that was where I was going to go to school,” Humphreys said matter-of-factly.
She was recruited as a setter, moved to the outside and “if there would have been a libero back in the day that would have been the position for me.”
Jenkins has a similar tale. She’s from upstate New York, went to college at William & Mary where she played volleyball and tennis and went to graduate school at James Madison.
“I’d never even set foot in Texas,” she said. “I never dreamed I’d be living in Texas nor did I ever think I would stay here for 30 years.”
But she said Trinity and William & Mary had similarities and she was hooked once she got there.
Humphreys was as surprised she ended up at SFA as she was when she went to Texas Tech.
“When I started here (in 1988) there was no full-time coach prior to me getting here. There had been in the past, but then they made the transition to Division I right before I got here and there were quite a few years where they just had a G.A. running the program.
“And SFA made the decision to go back to a full-time head coach and I was just finishing up grad school at Texas Tech and was looking for coaching opportunities. Certainly I was looking at assistant opportunities. And I saw the opening and thought no one in their right mind was gonna hire a 23-year-old right out of college, but I went ahead and threw my name in the hat. And the rest is history, as they say.”
Indeed, because Humphreys, who met her husband at SFA, has more than 650 wins at the school.
“What you won’t see in their bios is each of them has a village,” Florida’s Wise said. “You’re not doing it as a female head coach without a village and it starts with us with your partner-slash-spouse.”
She would get no argument from Humphreys, who has a daughter, Regan, who is a walk-on freshman DS and serving sub for SFA, while Will is a senior in high school.
“My family has had to sacrifice a lot for the demands of this job,” Humphreys said. “So when I’m not doing this job I’m with my family.”
“To be a mom and a coach at the Division I level you have to have a supportive spouse. That’s my biggest thing, the support of my husband, who’s allowed me to do so many things and not feel guilty about missing things and being gone and traveling and ” … I give a lot of credit to my husband. He’s been the best and he’s an awesome father and has taken care of a lot of stuff that I can’t be at. I’ve missed a lot but he’s never once made me feel bad about it. I’m super lucky.”
Groff, who was actually on staff and was offered to stay when Corbelli got to A&M, said Corbelli is one coach she’s talked to over the years about juggling coaching and having kids of her own.
“It’s a lot,” said Groff, whose son is a walk-on football player at Texas A&M.
But not a one of them talked about leaving or retiring.
“I feel very fortunate to have been here so long,” Humphreys said. “Hopefully we’re working on another 30 now. But there’s been good support from the administration, we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great players and I’ve worked with a lot of great assistant coaches over the years. That has created success for the most part and success is what administrators want in a program. And I think they appreciate success and stability at the same.
“And having a family I was not looking for the next great thing that I would go do. I was happy to build a program here as opposed to being out looking for something bigger and better. I wanted this to be my bigger and better.”
NCAA coaches with 10 or more years in their current positions
Russ Rose, Penn State, 39
Karen Chisum, Texas State, 38
Brenda Gray, Sam Houston State, 35
Carolyn Condit, Miami, OH, 34
Debbie Humphreys, Stephen F. Austin, 30
Van Compton, Little Rock, 30
Ramona Riley-Bozier, Morgan State, 30
Barry Goldberg, American, 29
Joe Sagula, North Carolina, 28
Beth Launiere, Utah, 28
Joanne Persico, St. John’s, 24
Rose Shires, Nebraska-Omaha, 28
Mary Wise, Florida, 27
Dave Rubio, Arizona, 26
Laurie Corbelli, Texas A&M, 25
Jennifer Weiss, Harvard, 25
Diane Short, Brown, 25
Travis Hudson, Western Kentucky, 23
Melissa Stokes, Missouri State, 22
Lisa Seifert, SMU 22
Jennifer Calloway, USC Upstate, 22
David Schwepker, Murray State, 22
Theresa Garlacy, Bryant, 22
Tom Hilbert, Colorado State, 21
Rob Patrick, Tennessee, 21
Jill Hirschinger, New Hampshire, 21
Steve Payne, IUPUI, 21
Mike Jordan, NM State, 20
Ray Bechard, Kansas, 20
Fran Flory, LSU, 20
Lori Duncan, Eastern Kentucky, 20
Tony Trifonov, Florida A&M, 20
David Shwepker, Murray State, 20
Jon Wallace, Santa Clara, 19
Steve Opperman, Duquesne, 19
Jolene Nagel, Duke, 19
Mark Rosen, Michigan, 19
Sam Atoa, Utah Valley, 19
Chris Lamb, Wichita State, 18
Glenn Kiriyama, Binghamton, 18
Sharon Clark, Butler, 18
John Cook, Nebraska, 18
Chuck Voss, Cleveland State, 18
Ken Nichols, Northeastern, 18
Linda Sagnelli, Central Connecticut, 18
Bobbi Peterson, Northern Iowa, 18
Debbie Buchanan, Idaho, 18
Susie Fritz, Kansas State, 17
Jerritt Elliott, Texas, 17
Michelle Young, Furman, 17
Margot Royer-Johnson, Providence, 17
Jennifer Petrie, San Diego, 16
Terri Dadio Campbell, Lafayette, 16
Ray Gooden, NIU, 16
Mick Haley, USC, 16
Laura Groff, UTSA, 16
Carin Avery, Valparaiso, 16
Rose Washington, Jackson State, 16
Jeff Stork, CSUN, 16
Kirsten Bernthal Booth, Creighton, 15
Jaime Gordon, Morehead State, 15
Lindsey Devine, ETSU, 15
Dave Shondell, Purdue, 15
Brandon Rosenthal, Lipscomb, 15
Sheera Sirola, Oral Roberts, 15
Erin Appleman, Yale, 15
Mary Tendler, Elon, 15
Santiago Restrepo, Oklahoma, 14
Shane Pinder, Liberty, 14
Genny Volpe, Rice, 14
Wayne Kreklow, Missouri, 13
Rob Browning, Saint Mary’s, 13
Lyndsey Oates, Northern Colorado, 13
Craig Skinner, Kentucky,
Anna Allison, Bucknell, 13
Colleen Munson, Western Michigan, 13
Cathy George, Michigan State, 13
Christy Johnson-Lynch, Iowa State, 13
Jennifer Montoya, Incarnate Word, 13
Grayson Dubose, Utah State, 12
Susie Johnson, Milwaukee, 11
Josh Steinbach, Villanova, 11
Michael Seeman, Portland State, 11
Lauren Netherby-Sewell, Fresno, 11
Matt Ginipro, Appalachian State, 11
Kerry Messersmith, UAB, 11
Jeff Nelson, New Mexico, 11
Alma Kovaci, Army, 11
Jason Kepner, College of Charleston, 11
Ryan Baker, Colgate, 11
Rob Machan, Sacred Heart, 11
Rob Beam, Oakland, 11
Chris Poole, Florida State, 10
Geoff Carlston, Ohio State, 10
Ruben Volta, Sacramento State, 10
MJ Engstrom, Albany, 10
Marci Jenkins, Radford, 10
Geoff Carlston, Ohio State, 10
Todd Dagenais, UCF, 10
CJ Werneke, Rutgers, 10
Heather Mazeitis-Fontenot, Louisiana, 10
If you see a correction or know of anyone missing, please email email@example.com.