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ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was an unusually warm afternoon in Southern California and an unusual time to get the chills. But the tanned arms and legs of Karch Kiraly — the famous volleyball player, now 55, coaching the United States women’s national indoor team in search of its first-ever Olympic gold medal — were covered in goose bumps.

“Oooh,” he said, pointing at an arm. “Karch bumps.”

He was telling a little story about the first team he coached, which was nothing like this team, and the interruption of goose bumps and a smile was as unexpected as a hiccup. Kiraly, still gracefully lean and square jawed, speaks slowly and thoughtfully, with crisp enunciation and long pauses. What comes out of his mouth sounds like a final draft.

But he has plenty of big stories to tell. As a player, he led U.C.L.A. to national championships, won gold medals with the American indoor team in 1984 and 1988, and won another in the inaugural beach volleyball event at the 1996 Atlanta Games (with Kent Steffes). He was named the best volleyball player of the 20th century by the sport’s international governing body.

But he did not begin coaching until about 10 years ago, when his sons reached high school at St. Margaret’s Episcopal, a small private school in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

“They lost every match, and they lost every game of every match,” Kiraly said. “So they lost, 3-0, 31 times. My wife said, ‘You’ve got to help them out — help them get a little better.’ So I thought, Yeah, I’d like to see them taste a tiny bit of success. At least win a game in volleyball.”

So one of the world’s most famous volleyball players became a co-coach of the St. Margaret’s team. The next season, they won a game — “They celebrated like they had just won the national championship,” Kiraly said, and he told them that if they could win one game, they could probably win two, maybe even three. And that is what they did, taking the match, 3-1.

And by the time Kristian Kiraly was a senior and Kory Kiraly a junior, St. Margaret’s was in the small-school title game, and the following year they won the thing.

Just as he got to that part of the story, Kiraly’s body tingled and was covered in bumps. He smiled.

“I’m kind of a volley-nerd at heart, and I’ll gladly fess up to it, but little things get me really excited,” he said. “For those kids who endured that tough season, a really tough season, and for them to go as far as they did and eventually lead to a title is a tremendous life lesson.”

 

Kiraly won an Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball in 1996.Credit: Bob Galbraith/Associated Press 

While Kiraly was co-coaching volleyball at St. Margaret’s, the United States men’s team won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The coach, Hugh McCutcheon, decided to move to the women’s team, and Kiraly became a candidate to replace him. But the leap from St. Margaret’s to the national team was too big, even for Kiraly, and he knew it.

Instead, he became an assistant to McCutcheon, the job overlapping with his stint at St. Margaret’s for a couple of years. At the 2012 London Olympics, the American women won a silver medal for the second Olympics in a row, both gold medal match losses coming to the Brazilians. And when McCutcheon left afterward, Kiraly got the head job, with the mission to go to Brazil in 2016 and finally win gold.

As Kiraly sat in a warm gym and told the story about St. Margaret’s, a white dry-erase board that he used to coach the women’s national team stood nearby.

“We fight for and protect the relentless pursuit of that which has never been done,” was written on it.

Recalling Rio de Janeiro

On a Friday afternoon in early June, Kiraly left his cluttered office at the American Sports Center in Anaheim, a Costco-size warehouse housing a sea of hardwood courts for volleyball and basketball. It is where U.S.A. Volleyball trains. Kiraly’s office, on the second floor, has a window overlooking the courts. A primary purpose of a tall metal cabinet is to support a tangle of trophies won over the last couple of years.

There was a team scrimmage that night at a nearby high school, open to the public, so Kiraly wore a U.S.A. shirt tucked into belted pants. For someone who grew up playing on the East Beach courts in Santa Barbara, who won 147 beach tournaments as a pro and was a six-time most valuable player of the Association of Volleyball Professionals beach series in the 1990s, pants and a collared shirt count as formal dress.

He slid his 6-foot-3 frame into the driver’s seat of his Honda Accord. The back seat was smothered by a bag of volleyballs. He called his wife, Janna, and after he hung up, as he drove down Orange County’s wide boulevards divided by manicured medians, he soon was telling another story, this one about the first time he played in Rio de Janeiro.

It was the junior world championships in 1977 at the Maracanãzinho, the spiritual home of indoor volleyball for five decades, the same building where the sport will be held at the Summer Games in August.

“We were a hair away from making the final four,” Kiraly recalled. “We were upset by Mexico, of all teams, and finished seventh.”

He has a mind like that, filled with details, and his upright and methodical manner can sometimes make it seem as if he spent most of his emotion back on the beach courts in the 1990s. Sometimes when it seems that he is finished speaking, and the gap in the conversation begs to be filled, he starts again.

“You can be in a meeting and be like, Oh, there’s this awkward silence,” middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo said. “It’s not like he’s trying to get more out of you. He’s just thinking about things and wants to get the best response for you.”

But then Kiraly talked about the fans in Brazil, where volleyball trails only soccer in popularity. It is an intriguing notion, the United States women’s team winning its first Olympic gold medal in Brazil, and it is not lost on Kiraly.

“I much prefer playing in front of a hostile crowd than a passive one,” he said. “In fact, I like playing in front of a hostile, energetic crowd more than a home crowd.”

Kiraly turned, smiled and pointed at his arm. Goose bumps.

Looking to Be Better

At Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana, Kiraly unfolded a volleyball cart from his trunk, loaded it with balls and wheeled it down a grass hill to the gym.

“B.Y.O.B.,” he said.

His players see Kiraly as modest, transparent and fair, someone who rarely raises his voice and always asks about family. Players said that when he meets with them, Kiraly always ends the conversation with a question: How can I be better for you?

“I told the team in the first meeting we had three years ago, ‘None of us is good enough.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Yet,’ ” Kiraly said. “And that starts with me. I was an assistant coach the previous four years. We wanted to stand at the top of the podium in London. We fell a hair short. So it started with me not being good enough, and this constant process of mastery and seeking improvement every day.

“So I have to be a model for them, too. I’ve got to push the limits of my ability. I’ve got to make mistakes. I will gladly fess up to them in the interest of being a role model as a learner. I have a ton to learn, because I haven’t been a coach very long.”

At a major tournament in Peru in 2009, when Kiraly was an assistant, a stomach bug rendered several American players sick. During a timeout, one of them threw up on the court.

 

Kiraly at a practice this month, where he spiked a few shots, above. His coaching philosophy entails five F’s: fast, family, fun, fortitude and ferociousness. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times 

“And before anyone could react, Karch grabs a towel and starts to clean up,” the veteran setter Courtney Thompson said. “We talk about it so much. Here’s the king. The king cleaned up your vomit.”

Kiraly rolled the cart of balls into the empty gym, already decorated with butcher-paper posters painted by students in sloganeering support of Team U.S.A. He embraced Marv Dunphy, the longtime coach at Pepperdine who coached the men’s national team to a gold medal over the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Kiraly was the team captain.

“When I said, ‘end line,’ when I wanted to talk to the team, and there were a couple of stray balls, he wouldn’t come to that line unless those balls were shagged, picked up and put away,” Dunphy said. “There was a standard of performance, maybe higher for him than anyone I’ve been around, for everything he did.”

Dunphy was a consultant for the women’s team and Kiraly’s roommate at the 2012 London Games. When Kiraly became the head coach, he asked Dunphy to help coach the team through Rio, too. The men sat and talked for 30 minutes as the gym filled and the women arrived for warm-ups.

Dunphy remembered Kiraly wound so tightly as a player that at a tournament in France, Kiraly stayed on California time; he sat in the hallway reading and pacing through the night so he would not keep his roommate awake. At a tournament in Tallinn, Estonia, Kiraly was spent at the end of a five-set victory over the Soviets.

“He was in a little ball at the end,” Dunphy said. “I don’t even think they had a post-tournament ceremony because our trainer wouldn’t let them drag Karch off the floor. They wanted to get him off, behind the bleachers, and our trainer said don’t touch him. He was in so much pain. It was one of the great memories.”

The point in telling the story was to show how fiercely competitive Kiraly was as a player, and Dunphy said he had not changed.

“Karch can grind,” Dunphy said. “And when you combine grinding with talent, you can do anything.”

A More Selfless Vibe

The women’s team, with a roster of 19, was divided into a “red” squad and a “blue” squad for a best-of-five scrimmage. Only 12 will make the Olympic roster. Kiraly coached the red team, composed of probable starters in Rio. He mostly stood quietly on the sideline. His squad won, three games to one.

 

Kiraly was on the United States team that won gold at the 1984 Olympics, beating Brazil. He will be in Rio this summer as a coach. CreditBob Daugherty/Associated Press 

Kiraly summarized his coaching philosophy with five F’s: fast, family, fun, fortitude and ferociousness. He wants his team to keep opponents off balance with low sets and quick hits. He wants players never to give up. He wants them to smile and get along.

“They should feel safe and free enough to derive some satisfaction out of what we do,” Kiraly said. “It’s hard enough. If it’s all business, it’s that much more difficult. People should enjoy being with good friends and competing.”

Several veteran players said the vibe was much healthier now than in years past — more selfless, less selfish.

“He was around the last quad, and that was something that was definitely lacking,” Akinradewo said. “We had lots and lots of talent, but we weren’t the best of teammates. He wanted to make things different, and he’s done that.”

She cited the 2014 world championships, where the United States, so close so many times, won gold for the first time in one of the three major international tournaments: the Olympics, the World Cup and the world championships.

“That was the first time where everyone was celebrating one another’s success, and when things weren’t going as well, everyone was gathering around that person and trying to lift them up,” Akinradewo said. “In the past, there would have been a lot of rolled eyes and ‘Oh, I didn’t get the ball so I don’t really care.’ I think that will serve us well.”

The Americans are ranked No. 1 in the world, making them a favorite for gold. But competition is tight. China, Brazil, Russia, Japan and Serbia are all serious contenders.

“There are lots of good teams out there,” Kiraly said. “A number of them add up to about the sum of their parts. Some of them add up to less than the sum of their parts. We want to be a team that adds up to more than the sum of our parts. We’ve got really good parts. If we can add up to more, we’ve got a really powerful equation.”

U.S.A. Volleyball has seen enough that it recently extended Kiraly’s contract through the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Not bad for a man whose previous coaching experience was limited to a small private high school.

“Our sons joke now: ‘O.K., Dad, we get it,’ ” Kiraly said. “That seems to be the conduit to becoming the U.S.A. national coach, coaching St. Margaret’s. The Tartans.”

The level might be different for the United States women’s team at the Olympics, but the pursuit is the same — to do something that had not been done.

Kiraly might soon have that story to tell, and the goose bumps to go with it.

COURTESY, NYT

KARCH KIRALY

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was an unusually warm afternoon in Southern California and an unusual time to get the chills. But the tanned arms and legs of Karch Kiraly — the famous volleyball player, now 55, coaching the United States women’s national indoor team in search of its first-ever Olympic gold medal — were covered in goose bumps.

“Oooh,” he said, pointing at an arm. “Karch bumps.”

He was telling a little story about the first team he coached, which was nothing like this team, and the interruption of goose bumps and a smile was as unexpected as a hiccup. Kiraly, still gracefully lean and square jawed, speaks slowly and thoughtfully, with crisp enunciation and long pauses. What comes out of his mouth sounds like a final draft.

But he has plenty of big stories to tell. As a player, he led U.C.L.A. to national championships, won gold medals with the American indoor team in 1984 and 1988, and won another in the inaugural beach volleyball event at the 1996 Atlanta Games (with Kent Steffes). He was named the best volleyball player of the 20th century by the sport’s international governing body.

But he did not begin coaching until about 10 years ago, when his sons reached high school at St. Margaret’s Episcopal, a small private school in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

“They lost every match, and they lost every game of every match,” Kiraly said. “So they lost, 3-0, 31 times. My wife said, ‘You’ve got to help them out — help them get a little better.’ So I thought, Yeah, I’d like to see them taste a tiny bit of success. At least win a game in volleyball.”

So one of the world’s most famous volleyball players became a co-coach of the St. Margaret’s team. The next season, they won a game — “They celebrated like they had just won the national championship,” Kiraly said, and he told them that if they could win one game, they could probably win two, maybe even three. And that is what they did, taking the match, 3-1.

And by the time Kristian Kiraly was a senior and Kory Kiraly a junior, St. Margaret’s was in the small-school title game, and the following year they won the thing.

Just as he got to that part of the story, Kiraly’s body tingled and was covered in bumps. He smiled.

“I’m kind of a volley-nerd at heart, and I’ll gladly fess up to it, but little things get me really excited,” he said. “For those kids who endured that tough season, a really tough season, and for them to go as far as they did and eventually lead to a title is a tremendous life lesson.”

 

Kiraly won an Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball in 1996.Credit: Bob Galbraith/Associated Press 

While Kiraly was co-coaching volleyball at St. Margaret’s, the United States men’s team won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The coach, Hugh McCutcheon, decided to move to the women’s team, and Kiraly became a candidate to replace him. But the leap from St. Margaret’s to the national team was too big, even for Kiraly, and he knew it.

Instead, he became an assistant to McCutcheon, the job overlapping with his stint at St. Margaret’s for a couple of years. At the 2012 London Olympics, the American women won a silver medal for the second Olympics in a row, both gold medal match losses coming to the Brazilians. And when McCutcheon left afterward, Kiraly got the head job, with the mission to go to Brazil in 2016 and finally win gold.

As Kiraly sat in a warm gym and told the story about St. Margaret’s, a white dry-erase board that he used to coach the women’s national team stood nearby.

“We fight for and protect the relentless pursuit of that which has never been done,” was written on it.

Recalling Rio de Janeiro

On a Friday afternoon in early June, Kiraly left his cluttered office at the American Sports Center in Anaheim, a Costco-size warehouse housing a sea of hardwood courts for volleyball and basketball. It is where U.S.A. Volleyball trains. Kiraly’s office, on the second floor, has a window overlooking the courts. A primary purpose of a tall metal cabinet is to support a tangle of trophies won over the last couple of years.

There was a team scrimmage that night at a nearby high school, open to the public, so Kiraly wore a U.S.A. shirt tucked into belted pants. For someone who grew up playing on the East Beach courts in Santa Barbara, who won 147 beach tournaments as a pro and was a six-time most valuable player of the Association of Volleyball Professionals beach series in the 1990s, pants and a collared shirt count as formal dress.

He slid his 6-foot-3 frame into the driver’s seat of his Honda Accord. The back seat was smothered by a bag of volleyballs. He called his wife, Janna, and after he hung up, as he drove down Orange County’s wide boulevards divided by manicured medians, he soon was telling another story, this one about the first time he played in Rio de Janeiro.

It was the junior world championships in 1977 at the Maracanãzinho, the spiritual home of indoor volleyball for five decades, the same building where the sport will be held at the Summer Games in August.

“We were a hair away from making the final four,” Kiraly recalled. “We were upset by Mexico, of all teams, and finished seventh.”

He has a mind like that, filled with details, and his upright and methodical manner can sometimes make it seem as if he spent most of his emotion back on the beach courts in the 1990s. Sometimes when it seems that he is finished speaking, and the gap in the conversation begs to be filled, he starts again.

“You can be in a meeting and be like, Oh, there’s this awkward silence,” middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo said. “It’s not like he’s trying to get more out of you. He’s just thinking about things and wants to get the best response for you.”

But then Kiraly talked about the fans in Brazil, where volleyball trails only soccer in popularity. It is an intriguing notion, the United States women’s team winning its first Olympic gold medal in Brazil, and it is not lost on Kiraly.

“I much prefer playing in front of a hostile crowd than a passive one,” he said. “In fact, I like playing in front of a hostile, energetic crowd more than a home crowd.”

Kiraly turned, smiled and pointed at his arm. Goose bumps.

Looking to Be Better

At Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana, Kiraly unfolded a volleyball cart from his trunk, loaded it with balls and wheeled it down a grass hill to the gym.

“B.Y.O.B.,” he said.

His players see Kiraly as modest, transparent and fair, someone who rarely raises his voice and always asks about family. Players said that when he meets with them, Kiraly always ends the conversation with a question: How can I be better for you?

“I told the team in the first meeting we had three years ago, ‘None of us is good enough.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Yet,’ ” Kiraly said. “And that starts with me. I was an assistant coach the previous four years. We wanted to stand at the top of the podium in London. We fell a hair short. So it started with me not being good enough, and this constant process of mastery and seeking improvement every day.

“So I have to be a model for them, too. I’ve got to push the limits of my ability. I’ve got to make mistakes. I will gladly fess up to them in the interest of being a role model as a learner. I have a ton to learn, because I haven’t been a coach very long.”

At a major tournament in Peru in 2009, when Kiraly was an assistant, a stomach bug rendered several American players sick. During a timeout, one of them threw up on the court.

 

Kiraly at a practice this month, where he spiked a few shots, above. His coaching philosophy entails five F’s: fast, family, fun, fortitude and ferociousness. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times 

“And before anyone could react, Karch grabs a towel and starts to clean up,” the veteran setter Courtney Thompson said. “We talk about it so much. Here’s the king. The king cleaned up your vomit.”

Kiraly rolled the cart of balls into the empty gym, already decorated with butcher-paper posters painted by students in sloganeering support of Team U.S.A. He embraced Marv Dunphy, the longtime coach at Pepperdine who coached the men’s national team to a gold medal over the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Kiraly was the team captain.

“When I said, ‘end line,’ when I wanted to talk to the team, and there were a couple of stray balls, he wouldn’t come to that line unless those balls were shagged, picked up and put away,” Dunphy said. “There was a standard of performance, maybe higher for him than anyone I’ve been around, for everything he did.”

Dunphy was a consultant for the women’s team and Kiraly’s roommate at the 2012 London Games. When Kiraly became the head coach, he asked Dunphy to help coach the team through Rio, too. The men sat and talked for 30 minutes as the gym filled and the women arrived for warm-ups.

Dunphy remembered Kiraly wound so tightly as a player that at a tournament in France, Kiraly stayed on California time; he sat in the hallway reading and pacing through the night so he would not keep his roommate awake. At a tournament in Tallinn, Estonia, Kiraly was spent at the end of a five-set victory over the Soviets.

“He was in a little ball at the end,” Dunphy said. “I don’t even think they had a post-tournament ceremony because our trainer wouldn’t let them drag Karch off the floor. They wanted to get him off, behind the bleachers, and our trainer said don’t touch him. He was in so much pain. It was one of the great memories.”

The point in telling the story was to show how fiercely competitive Kiraly was as a player, and Dunphy said he had not changed.

“Karch can grind,” Dunphy said. “And when you combine grinding with talent, you can do anything.”

A More Selfless Vibe

The women’s team, with a roster of 19, was divided into a “red” squad and a “blue” squad for a best-of-five scrimmage. Only 12 will make the Olympic roster. Kiraly coached the red team, composed of probable starters in Rio. He mostly stood quietly on the sideline. His squad won, three games to one.

 

Kiraly was on the United States team that won gold at the 1984 Olympics, beating Brazil. He will be in Rio this summer as a coach. CreditBob Daugherty/Associated Press 

Kiraly summarized his coaching philosophy with five F’s: fast, family, fun, fortitude and ferociousness. He wants his team to keep opponents off balance with low sets and quick hits. He wants players never to give up. He wants them to smile and get along.

“They should feel safe and free enough to derive some satisfaction out of what we do,” Kiraly said. “It’s hard enough. If it’s all business, it’s that much more difficult. People should enjoy being with good friends and competing.”

Several veteran players said the vibe was much healthier now than in years past — more selfless, less selfish.

“He was around the last quad, and that was something that was definitely lacking,” Akinradewo said. “We had lots and lots of talent, but we weren’t the best of teammates. He wanted to make things different, and he’s done that.”

She cited the 2014 world championships, where the United States, so close so many times, won gold for the first time in one of the three major international tournaments: the Olympics, the World Cup and the world championships.

“That was the first time where everyone was celebrating one another’s success, and when things weren’t going as well, everyone was gathering around that person and trying to lift them up,” Akinradewo said. “In the past, there would have been a lot of rolled eyes and ‘Oh, I didn’t get the ball so I don’t really care.’ I think that will serve us well.”

The Americans are ranked No. 1 in the world, making them a favorite for gold. But competition is tight. China, Brazil, Russia, Japan and Serbia are all serious contenders.

“There are lots of good teams out there,” Kiraly said. “A number of them add up to about the sum of their parts. Some of them add up to less than the sum of their parts. We want to be a team that adds up to more than the sum of our parts. We’ve got really good parts. If we can add up to more, we’ve got a really powerful equation.”

U.S.A. Volleyball has seen enough that it recently extended Kiraly’s contract through the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Not bad for a man whose previous coaching experience was limited to a small private high school.

“Our sons joke now: ‘O.K., Dad, we get it,’ ” Kiraly said. “That seems to be the conduit to becoming the U.S.A. national coach, coaching St. Margaret’s. The Tartans.”

The level might be different for the United States women’s team at the Olympics, but the pursuit is the same — to do something that had not been done.

Kiraly might soon have that story to tell, and the goose bumps to go with it.

COURTESY, NYT

KARCH KIRALY

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