Karch Kiraly, one of the most decorated volleyball players of all time, has been chosen as head coach of the U.S. women's national volleyball team in preparation for the 2016 Rio Games.
Kiraly, the only athlete to win Olympic gold medals in both indoor and beach volleyball, takes over for Hugh McCutcheon, who led the women's team to a silver-medal finish at the London Olympics.
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McCutcheon, who also coached the men's national team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing games, has moved on as coach of the women's team at the University of Minnesota. Kiraly was an assistant coach under McCutcheon for the quadrennial leading up to London.
"I'm so excited to be able to continue the great work we've done the last four years. I've gotten to work under a great friend and a great mentor in Hugh McCutcheon. ... We hope to continue that wonderful momentum that went right on through a really tremendous Olympic Games, a tremendous tournament that ended on a bit of a down note losing in the gold medal match, but a great accomplishment," Kiraly said Tuesday. "Two silver medals in a row now for the USA women, a hallmark of consistency. And I hope to continue that."
As a player Kiraly helped lead the U.S. men's national team to indoor golds at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, before winning the gold in the debut of beach volleyball at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
In addition to his Olympic medals, Kiraly won 148 beach tournaments, more than any other player. He was the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) player of the year six times.
In 2001, he was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame. After his retirement as a player in 2007, Kiraly served as a beach volleyball commentator for NBC in Beijing.
In college, Kiraly led UCLA to three NCAA championships. During his four years, the Bruins lost just five total matches.
"It is hard for me to define how excited I am that Karch has agreed to become our next U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team coach," Doug Beal, USA Volleyball's chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "I have often heard him compared to Michael Jordan as a dominant performer and personality. It is extremely rare that someone who was so talented and successful on the court can successfully make the transition to that same level in the coaching world."
A chance meeting on a flight to Seattle brought Kiraly together with McCutcheon, who suggested he join the coaching staff for the U.S. women.
"It was just kind of a random thing. I missed my flight and he was early for his," Kiraly told The Associated Press before the Olympics. "We discussed some things about coaching and all of the sudden it struck him kind of out of the blue -- as he was just taking over the U.S. women's team -- that it would be awesome to work together."
The U.S. women, currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the sport's international governing body, have never won the gold medal in volleyball, while their male counterparts have won it three times since the sport joined the Olympics in 1964.
The women were considered favorites for the gold in London, but fell 3-1 to Brazil in the final match. Brazil also bested the United States for the gold in the 2008 Beijing final.
"One of the things that we aspire to, and I want to demand of this program, is to win with class and humility and lose with class and humility," Kiraly said. "The sting (of the loss in London) hasn't worn off yet, and in some ways it hurts even more now that I look back and think about it, but we'll carry that forward and try to use that as best we can."
Kiraly said the first thing he will do as coach is collect a staff, then he'll start evaluating players and taking a look at new talent.
The U.S. women have never won one of the so-called "triple crown" events, a World Championship, a World Cup or an Olympics.
"Our women are clearly capable of winning, and have a lot of success," Kiraly said. "But the USA women haven't quite been able to get over the hump and win one of those events. I know they will at some point in the future, and I'd like to make that happen sooner rather than later."