UCLA’s Stein Metzger and Peri Brennan during a match this season at USC/Mark Rigney photo

Everything is bigger in Texas.

Including the beach volleyball coaching hires.

Stein Metzger, the 2004 Olympian who built the UCLA program from scratch into a bona fide power, winning two NCAA championships, has taken the job as the head coach at Texas.

It may be one of the worst-kept secrets in beach volleyball, because Metzger told his UCLA team last week and word carried quickly. Texas, however, had to wait until all its due diligence was completed before announcing it Tuesday.

“I just think I’m the perfect person for this role,” Metzger said. “I’ve built something before and Texas has the resources to take this sport to another level. And I feel like I’m the guy to do it. It felt like it was calling me to do it.”

There is no doubt that Texas has the resources to build a top-notch facility and support the program fully. In a fast-growing sport, Texas — which traditionally plays before sold-out crowds for home indoor matches — is a sleeping giant.

“Like I told Stein, we’re going to change the landscape of beach volleyball, with the staff that we hire, the fans, the facilities, the locker rooms, the media attention, social content, TV,” said 23-year Texas indoors coach Jerritt Elliott, who will serve as director of volleyball operations, overseeing both programs.

“All the support and resources that we have for the athletes. It will be something that doesn’t exist at the collegiate side on a real high, high level. And I think we can build a fan base, because we already have it built in with ours.” 

UCLA’s Stein Metzger talks things over with Abby Van Winkle/Mark Rigney photo

Metzger, a self-proclaimed “volleyball nerd,” said he will start right away at Texas, where he’s heard directly from president Jay Hartzell and football coach Steve Sarkisian.

“I knew that people in Texas took their sports seriously, but this is just a whole ‘nother level,” Metzger said. “I’m blown away. 

“If I had know there was going to be this much support, welcoming and energy behind this, it would have made the decision even easier.”

The hardest part, once the decision was made, he said, was telling the Bruins.

“I like new experiences, but, man, it sure was tough to say goodbye to the team,” Metzger said. 

That team just lost in the title match of the NCAA’s National Collegiate Beach Championship to USC. UCLA won national beach titles in 2018 and 2019 and also finished second in 2021.

“It was hell for two days trying to get to this point,” Metzger said. “That’s my baby. Jenny (Johnson Jordan) and I built that from ground zero and leaving her was extremely difficult, because we were just the perfect fit. We learned a ton from each other.”

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte “gave us the charge to find the best beach volleyball coach,” Elliott said. “Stein stood out. He’s obviously built a program before from the ground up, he’s won a couple of national championships. I’ve known Stein from my volleyball (playing) days and we’ve hung out and he’s just a good guy. He meshes with the values that I have and what I perceive the Texas volleyball coaching culture being about. Everybody I talked to said the culture at UCLA was amazing and what he’s done there was great. He was also the lead recruiter, so he had every trait I was looking for an what we were looking for at the university.

“The biggest question was could we get him away from there? He had the thing rolling. They’re in a position to win it next year. It was great that we could get him here and show him what we have and he was excited.”

Metzger, 50, is a native Hawai’ian and product of the Punahou School. He was a setter for UCLA when the Bruins won three NCAA titles. He was the MVP of the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

He wanted to play overseas, but as a 6-foot-3 setter, “It was tough to get a gig.” So he ended up on the beach. 

“It took a while to get going because I didn’t know the sport as well as the California folks because we don’t have as much exposure and opportunity in Hawai’i,” Metzger said. “You know, all the Hawai’ians that came through it took them a little bit to learn the sport and get good at it. Which is good because I had to really study it to catch up to everybody else. I watched Karch to see how he did it, I watched (Brent) Frohoff to see how he passed. Did that for 14 years.”

Which doesn’t included finishing fifth in the 2004 Athens Olympics with Dax Holdren. Along the way, Metzger won 16 AVP titles and two on the FIVB tour. His partners in his career included Kevin Wong, Jake Gibb (with whom he played an AVP events in Austin back in the day on one of his few times there) and Mike Lambert.

He and his wife, Emily, did some traveling and then moved to Hawai’i, where Metzger got into selling real estate. During that time, their daughter, Quinn, now 12, was born.

“I came to a crossroads because business was starting to pick up and do well,” Metzger said. “And I knew that if kept going with this in another two or three years I’m going to be locked into this career and that’s it. I just realized that this was not what I wanted to do. ”

They moved back to California and then-UCLA women’s coach Mike Sealy got him to join his 2013 staff as a volunteer. 

“I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll try that.’ And I just loved it from day one. I said this is it, this is what I want to do. I want to coach.”

He got hired by UCLA the next year and the opportunity arose to start the beach program. 

“I couldn’t help myself and was just so hungry to grow it and the next you know I was juggling indoor duties and beach duties that were just overwhelming for me. Did that for two years and right when I was about crack, UCLA created a separate position to just coach full time on the beach.”

In 2013, UCLA went 3-7 in its first beach season and 7-8 the next year. in 2015 the Bruins finished 10-5 and then, in 2016, which was the first year the NCAA conducted its championship, UCLA finished third. The Bruins were fifth in 2017.

But the next year, they broke through, winning in 2018 and 2019. There was no tournament in 2020, but in 2021 UCLA lost to USC in the final. The Bruins finished third in 2022 and earlier this month lost to USC in the title match.

UCLA’s recent teams included future Olympian Sarah Sponcil, current standout pros Zana Muno and Savvy Simo and Canadian pros Nicole and Megan McNamara.

Metzger won’t exactly be starting from scratch at Texas, which is among the nation’s premier indoor programs, coming off its fourth national title this past December.

The Longhorns played the school’s first season of beach this spring, winning one match in a 13-match limited schedule with a roster of players from its NCAA-champion indoors team. Indoor assistants Erik Sullivan and David Hunt served as coaches.

Texas played six of its matches to start the season in Hawai’i, played four more in Long Beach, California, and then finished the season with four matches in late March at TCU. It was in that tournament that they beat Missouri State 3-2. The match was tied 2-2 when two stars from the indoor team, outside Madisen Skinner and right side Molly Phillips, won their match on court 1. Phillips, who will complete her Texas indoor career next fall, said previously she would transfer as a graduate student to continue on the beach. She told us she is keeping her options open.

Regardless, the transfer portal will surely work both ways. 

Metzger said a state-of-the-art beach facility will be built, “but it’s pretty open. They were waiting on a head coach to join up and tell them what we need and what’s important to run a top-notch event. They have a couple of locations they’ve identified.”

One thing not identified is what conference Texas will join. The school is currently in the Big 12 but moves to the SEC with Oklahoma on July 1, 2024. The only SEC schools currently playing NCAA beach volleyball are LSU and South Carolina.

“Hopefully this is the start of more SEC teams joining the sport,” Metzger said.

In the meantime, there’s the move to Austin, which has his kids excited, Metzger said.

Metzger and his wife, Emily, also have a 10-year-old son, Otto, who may be surprised to find out how urban Austin, Texas, is: “Otto made me go on Amazon and buy him a lasso,” Metzger said. “He’s like lassoing everything and watching videos on rodeo.”

Metzger also hopes that his assistant, Johnson Jordan, is promoted at UCLA.

“I felt like it was time for her to take over the reins and I’m hopeful that’s going to happen,” Metzger said. 

“It’s not my call, but it seems like the easy and no-brainer fit for them to hire her.”

UCLA coach Stein Metzger/Andy J. Gordon photo


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