Having been all over the world for a career in volleyball, Tyler Hildebrand finally found that sweet spot.
All one needs is to live, love and laugh and raise kids in Lincoln, where they grow corn and national volleyball championships for the University of Nebraska.
Then came the day Hildebrand wasn’t exactly waiting for, yet he had to face his wife Kristin and say “Let’s go to the beach.”
Actually, it would be The Beach.
This past fall, the 37-year-old Hildebrand was the associate head coach at Nebraska, where the Huskers were making a charge at another NCAA championship. Then came the news that Joy Fuerbringer and husband Matt had been let go as the pilots of the Long Beach State program.
Although saddened that his close friends and legends in the world of volleyball development were being pushed aside, Hildebrand could sense that his alma mater could be an option for his future. The big “if” was could they uproot from the Big Red?
“We love it there. To be honest, I’d rather live in Lincoln than Southern California,” Hildebrand said. “It’s a lot cheaper, people are nicer, there’s no traffic.
“It was really hard for me to consider this with Nebraska. We had a good gig going there.”
Still, the lure to return to Long Beach was too much to resist. Hildebrand was a four-year starter at setter for the 49ers, he earned his college degree in psychology and became an assistant for the men’s program for eight years.
Subsequently, he coached indoors and on the beach with men’s and women’s teams and was USA Volleyball’s director of coaching for the beach players, meaning he helped develop a Who’s Who of players who played in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 and Tokyo 2020/21 Olympics.
Suddenly, he woke up one morning and was being tasked with shouldering a program that produced legends Tara Cross-Battle, Danielle Scott and Misty May-Treanor. And he was stepping onto the sidelines once paced by Brian Gimmillaro, who won three national championships, advanced to the final four eight times, and is an inductee to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Welcome back to Walter Pyramid, pal.
“For me, it’s like this is my home, this is my school and that gym — four years as a player, eight years as a coach,” Hildebrand said. “Are we ever going to be top three, perennial national championship contenders? That’s going to be a challenge for every mid-major.
“I think if anyone could do it, maybe we could. Can we get back to getting 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 (fans per match)? Can we win the Big West every year? Can we get to the tournament and make some deep runs, can we get to some final fours? All of that’s great, but can we get the community of Long Beach to be excited again?
“People aren’t going to come to the games just because we want them to or because I came back or whatever. We need to win, we need to get people involved, we need to get our alumni involved with our community.”
Tucked into the southwest corner of Los Angeles County, Long Beach is the second-largest city in the county and maintains its own community identity. The university is a major anchor for a city that has produced all-timers like Billie Jean King and Tony Gwynn. And don’t forget Snoop Dogg.
Hildebrand didn’t get off and running in his new job until late January. Only two days after arriving, he met with his new team and had one important task before the young women hit the floor.
“At the end I took them on the legacy walk where we went through our offices because there’s all that national-championship stuff and the pictures on the wall with the Olympic stuff,” Hildebrand said. “I wanted that to be the first day. ‘OK, you guys understand who came before you, what a special thing it is to put that jersey on.’ I know, I saw firsthand and I felt it. You’re really lucky you have this.
“We’re going to put a massive emphasis on (the alums) being mentors. They’re going to be a huge part of our program.”
Hildebrand is also tasked with running a program in the new college scene, with COVID interruptions, transfer portals and recruiting, although in the latter case, he’s right smack in the middle of volleyball development that Southern California shines.
But playing and coaching around the world for years — he even laughs at the term “vagabond” — has to prepare for him for what he’s about to face.
“I guess I’ve done quite a bit, a lot of different jobs. The first thing is I’ve had a lot of great mentors and I’ve coached with or played for all the best coaches in America.