Mike Campbell was just trying to stave off an impending dad bod.
Every morning in 2019, the Long Beach State coach would go for a morning jog down the Hermosa Strand. He’d see the usual suspects practicing, say his hellos, good mornings, hey how are ya’s. Then he’d spot Jeremy Casebeer, maybe the one guy who could make Campbell detour.
A longtime friend of Campbell’s, Casebeer comes armed with the best serve in the country. This is not an accident. There he’d be, every morning during Campbell’s runs, serving balls by himself.
“Dude I can shag for you,” Campbell told Casebeer, an old college teammate at UCLA. “It’s good to see you and catch up.”
That was his morning routine: Run off the dad bod, find Casebeer, shag balls. Then Casebeer asked if Campbell could maybe hit some balls at him and his new partner, Chaim Schalk. Then, in May of 2019, Long Beach finished the season 21-11 but fell shy of qualifying for the NCAA Championships in Gulf Shores, Ala. Campbell’s schedule was suddenly wide open.
One team finished, another began, as Campbell officially became the coach of Casebeer and Schalk.
In their first tournament as a team, they took second in Austin, “and I was like ‘Dude, this team is pretty legit, I don’t know if I’m doing anything but at least I’m there training them. I don’t know if I’m helping but at least I’m there training them, hitting balls at them, so I can’t be hurting,’” Campbell recalled on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.
No, he certainly wasn’t hurting, and any evidence he needed came a little more than a month later, at Lake Sammamish, a stunning, lush little town half an hour outside Seattle. With Casebeer putting on a spectacular display from the service line — they began their semifinal up 7-0 on Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger — the three of them won their first AVP tournament.
“I’ve gotta be the good luck charm,” Campbell said, laughing. They’d finish the season with another three top-five finishes, not what they envisioned after such an impressive showing in Seattle, but certainly not a bad start for the coach. Casebeer took a job as the volunteer coach at UCLA, and his and Campbell’s schedules were no longer perfectly aligned, but Campbell’s and Schalk’s still were.
The former Canadian Olympian asked if he’d like to coach him and Budinger in the 2020 season, which was eventually reduced to the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup. With two thirds and a fifth, they were one of the AVP’s most consistent teams.
Now Campbell’s at it again. Schalk began a partnership with Theo Brunner, who loves the coaching style of Scott Davenport. It was Budinger, this time, who called Campbell for the upcoming season, to help him and veteran Olympian Casey Patterson. Their season begins with Thursday’s country quota in Huntington Beach, while Long Beach’s season opens up in a week, just eight days after their first practice as a team.
Where Campbell finds the time to fulfill both roles, while being a father to his 13-month-old daughter and husband is a mystery only beach volleyball coaches really know how to solve. He’s used to it. Busy is a way of life for Campbell. Always has been. Even when he was a player at UCLA, he worked two, three jobs at a time to make ends meet. It’s a schedule he’s become oddly enamored with.
“For me it was easy,” Campbell said of taking on a pro team in addition to Long Beach. “I’ve been working 360 days a year for the last seven years. That’s what comes with being a coach. It’s all fun.”
His is a perspective grounded in gratitude. He’s good at his job because he loves his job, to the point that it isn’t a job, but a way of life he gets paid to live. He loves the creativity that goes into fielding a full team with just 2.5 in-state scholarships, to compete against fully-funded powers down the road. He loves briefing with the guys, getting after it for two hours every morning before hopping in the car and hustling south on the 405 to Long Beach.
“Coaching, if I’m able to and fortunate enough to do it for a living, I’d love to do that,” Campbell said. “I’ve always been a fan, I’ve always watched the tournaments, but being a part of that, doing the film review, the strategy stuff, there’s a lot that goes into that. Being a part of it is really fun for me.”