Oregon coach Matt Ulmer busy, optimistic about new challenge

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Matt Ulmer on the Oregon bench before a home match last September/Eric Evans Photography

Matt Ulmer’s been busy.

The new Oregon head volleyball coach has not only taken over that job, but is also directing the Ducks beach team.

“I wish I could clone myself right now,” he joked.

Tuesday was the first time Oregon made him available to the media since he was promoted in the wake of Jim Moore “retiring” and his assistant-coach wife, Stacy Metro, being reassigned within the university. 

Ulmer, according to a university spokesman, is not an interim head coach but “is on a one-year head coaching contract through December 2017, and at that point the (athletic) department will re-evaluate the position.” During a 13-minute news conference Tuesday on the floor of the Matthew Knight Arena where Oregon plays its matches, Ulmer was asked various questions in various ways about what happened with the last staff, his involvement and subsequent fallout, but was very guarded and careful in his answers and a few times declined to answer. 

Ulmer, 32, who spent his first two seasons at Oregon as an assistant coach before serving as associate head coach in 2016, told VBM after the news conference by phone that he’s encouraged by the response to him from not only the current Oregon team, but also recruits and the volleyball world at large.

“The belief in me with the volleyball community has been very strong. I haven’t had one negative conversation with anybody,” Ulmer said. “It’s all been very supportive. And I’m really thankful for the relationships I already have.

He said upon getting the job he told the team, “I’m here for them, I believe in them, I’m excited for their futures and if they need anything I’m here.”

Matt Ulmer
Matt Ulmer

Ulmer said there’s a comfort level between him and the players.

“I’ve been here for three seasons and the whole roster has been here with me,” he said. “So I’ve been with them their whole careers. They know my voice and how I do things, so I don’t think it’s been a big transition.”

Ulmer hopes to officially announce the assistants he’s hired very soon.

“For me, it’s been a lot of work just because I’ve been wearing three different hats,” he said. “Plus beach, so it’s four different hats. It’s all good stuff, just a lot.”

Oregon plays a relatively limited beach schedule compared to some others, and is currently 1-3. The Ducks go to Sacramento State on Thursday and then are at Stanford Friday and Saturday before playing in the Pac-12 Beach Championships in Tucson April 27-28.

Metro was the beach coach and Ulmer was her assistant. It’s not like Ulmer doesn’t know his way around in the sand as the top Duck. In 2013, as the Long Beach State head coach, the 49ers won the national championship.

That was also his only time to be a head coach.

“I have a very good record as a head coach,” he cracked. “I’m hoping to go 2-for-2.”

If nothing else, Ulmer has a great head coach in the family as a sounding board. His mother, Leanne, will be starting her 17th year as the highly successful head coach at Division III Carthage in Wisconsin, where Ulmer also played men’s volleyball. After a stellar playing career, he served as his mom’s assistant from 2002-06.

“She always gives me great advice,” Ulmer said.

He said that his former boss, Long Beach State coach Brian Gimmillaro, also has been a sounding board.

Oregon lost two key players from a team that went 21-10 overall and finished fourth in the Pac-12 at 13-7. The Ducks lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Michigan. Gone are libero Amanda Benson and middle blocker Kacey Nady.

“We lose two important pieces. Amanda was the captain on the floor for us and Kacey in the locker room was a big leader for us,” Ulmer said.

Not that the cupboard is bare.

“I think we’re pretty loaded as far as talent goes,” Ulmer said.

There was no doubt that Oregon’s last year was regarded as a potentially great young roster. That included middle Ronika Stone, who was named to the Pac-12 all-freshmen team, and sophomore outside Lindsey Vander Weide, who was named to the All-Pac-12 team, while sophomore middle Lauren Page, freshman outside Jolie Rasmussen and Stone all got honorable mention.

“Last year we had nine underclassmen and they were all contributing,” Ulmer said. “They’re one year older. There are only four underclassmen now.”

Oregon had two of the most highly regarded recruiting classes the past two years and, accordingly, only has a walk-on coming in for 2017.

Oregon spring practice starts in the beginning of May.

“All we can do is try to improve with the team every day,” Ulmer said, “and if we can get better in one skill in each practice, then as a team by definition we’re better.

“Those are my goals, trying to get the team to focus less on wins and losses and more about their individual purpose and I think that’s going to make a difference for us.”

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