10 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, January 8, 1999
'The challenge of getting healthy is 50 percent of it and letting
investment is the other 50 percent.' Former Michig
- Greg Giovanazzi,
an volleyball coach
By Jon Zemke * Daily Sports Writer
man, and I'm
that I had the
pla for him. "
- Maggie Cooper
Michigan volleyball player
me love it
- Anne Poglits
Michigan volleyball player
unched over at a small round table reading a book,
former Michigan volleyball coach Greg Giovanazzi
ooks like any other patron. He didn't have the grim
face that many of the other studying customers had at the cof-
fee shop. A small grin crept across his face through a freshly
grown beard. His contentment with the world seemed complete.
This wasn't the face of a man who has been forced to retire
from the job he loved so much. It wasn't the look of a man
who is recovering from a neurological disorder that has com-
pelled him to leave the players that all but worship him.
Coaches in this situation would normally seem distraught,
depressed or even bitter. But there is a serenity that exudes
from Giovanazzi. A state of calm, contagious competitiveness.
Around Giovanazzi, it's easy to realize exactly how great life
is and want to make it better.
This shouldn't be surprising, considering Giovanazzi grew
up on the beaches of Los Angeles, roaming around Venice
where he picked up on surfing and its relaxed lifestyle. But
behind that laid-back demeanor is a resilient competitiveness
that rubs off on nearly everyone he meets.
An athlete's perspective
Giovanazzi received a full scholarship at UCLA, the pre-
mier volleyball program in the nation at the time. While there
he learned the art of bench jockeying while he played behind
some of the greatest names in volleyball history. Karch Kiraly,
the volleyball equivalent of Michael Jordan, and Fred Sterm,
who would go onto coach the U.S. men's volleyball team in the
'92 Olympics, were just some of the more notable players for
which he guarded the water.
At UCLA, Giovanazzi fit in in a way he did not during his
high school days. He was star in waiting amongst other stars,
which was in stark contrast to high school, when he was the
only non-Mormon player on an all-Mormon team.
"I was always the token non-member" Giovanazzi said.
"Kind of the ringer."
It was on this team that Giovanazzi caught the eye of the
major college volleyball programs in the nation.
"I went to UCLA and I watched their games all the way
through high school," Giovanazzi said. "They kept winning,
and they always won. I wanted to be a part of that."
While at UCLA, however, Giovanazzi became aware of a
certain limitation that may have hampered his playing career.
"He can't jump to save his life" said former UCLA and
U.S. National team assistant volleyball coach Jeanne Reeves,
a friend of Giovanazzi since childhood.
And so he was labeled with the nickname "Jumping Gio"
because of his gravity-prone tendencies.
To persevere over his leaping handicap, Giovanazzi adopt-
ed the competitive nature of his teammates.
"They live on the edge," Giovanazzi said. "Winning is
about living on the edge. It's not about balance."
Off the court, there wasn't anything balanced about
Giovanazzi's junior year team. When his team lost to
Pepperdine in the decisive fifth game of the 1978 NCAA
championship match, the players were incredibly upset. To
them, that one loss meant the whole season was wasted.
Denny Kline defined being on the edge that night. He ran
23 miles back home after the match still in his uniform.
"He told us he didn't want to get in the car with a bunch of
losers;' Giovanazzi said. "I didn't have that intensity when I
came (to UCLA), but when I left I did."
It served him well as he went on to play professional vol-
leyball in Italy and made the Pan Am Games team and the was
in the final round of cuts for the '84 Olympic team.
A coach's perspective
But several knee surgeries put an end to Giovanazzi's playing
career soon afterwards, and he embarked on his coaching career.
He was the top assistant coach for UCLA men's and
women's volleyball teams, and helped bring the U.S.
women's team to international prominence when they
won the bronze medal in the '92 Barcelona Olympics.
Then he made his way into Ann Arbor and beat out
a man named Russ Rose, current coaching legend at
Penn State, for the position.
Michigan gained what many consider
the best coach in the history of the vol-
leyball program when Giovanazzi
took over. But his success on the
court wasn't immediate.
Three years after he took over in
'92, he led his team to its first post-
season tournament when the '95
squad went 2-2 in the National
Top: "NATH" R" " ' " "/iA ve: "UVI" U^
Michigan volleyball coach Greg Giovanazzi gives his team some advice during a game earlier this season. The Michigan
volleyball team finished the season 1218.
they wanted to as they made their way to the second round
before bowing out to Temple in four games.
Despite going into the national spotlight as the new
Cinderella team, Giovanazzi showed the savvy he gained from
coaching several other winning teams. He treated these games
just as he would have treated any other.
"If he would have done something amazingly different, it
would have freaked us out a bit more than we were already"
junior middle blocker Anne Poglits said.
But the purpose ofGiovanazzi's program wasn't the number
of wins and losses. It wasn't about what tournament they made
or who they beat.
It was about making people better.
"I think I relate well to the people I coach, and I like the
people I coach and I love the game," Giovanazzi said. "It
seemed like a pretty good combination:'
Giovanazzi's players earned 40 academic
All-Big Ten selections during his
tenure, including 10 in the '98
season. Shareen Luze
won the Big
Ten Medal of
Honor as the ,
top scholar ath-
lete in the con-n-
a habit of relating
to people very well,
very quickly. His
players loved his style Y' 1b <a d
of coaching so much he J \
was revered as father fig- ka k
"He had one of the best
demeanors," Reeves said.
"He. was totally in control g
Everybody loved him. All the e
players did because he had such as
great personality. He just makes.
you feel like a great person." 6
"He always treated us as
equals," Michigan junior
defensive specialist Maggie
"He made playing volleyball at
Michigan just as good as it could
possibly be," Poglits said. "He just taught us a lot about
not how to play the game but how to love the game:'
A friend's perspective
Giovanazzi's tenure at Michigan came to a
screeching halt in early December, when
Giovanazzi was ordered by his doctors to
resign from his coaching duties. The neuro-
logical disorder has been with Giovanazzi for
ed a nationwide search for a replacement.
"I feel really positive that they'll find somebody really good
to coach this team, and I feel really positive that the move is
the right move because I wasn't in a good place physically"
He plans to stay in Ann Arbor with his wife Deb Moriarty,
who is an assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs at
the University, and 5-year-old daughter Casey.
"Now I get to do a little bit of the Mr. Mom thing," he said.
"That will help my health."
His resignation might be a blessing
in disguise for Giovanazzi that will
free up time for activities he deems
"His favorite thing to do is
spend time with Casey," Cooper
said. "They have a very close
Giovanazzi has no regrets
when it comes to his deci-
( sion. He put his priorities
in order and decided to
* - maintain his health by
I \ spending more time
5e with his family. Even
though he doesn't
9 like to be separated
from the team he
-( ( put so much
\ aheart into, he
-"1 still firmly
(\1 r i g h t
\ la "The
getting healthy is
50 percent of it and letting
go of the investment is the other
50 percent," Giovanazzi said. "I'm just
excited to see (the team's) next step. I don't feel
heartbroken at all. I feel positive about it. I think it's
like when you take that next step you miss that past chapter,
but it doesn't necessarily mean you want to go back."
His players and friends believe he made the right choice
also, but that doesn't mean that they have to like the fact that
they no longer play with - or against - such a great person.
"It's a huge loss for me;' Rose said. "This is my favorite per-
son in the conference."
Giovanazzi's players shared that sentiment of accepting a
loss for the overall better gain when they talk about him.
He was "a very kind, giving, thoughtful, very in tune with
his emotions;' Cooper said. "Kind of a father figure. He was
a great man in every sense of the word."
A finalI nerisnective
"Its a huge
loss for me.
This is my
pr son in the
- Russ Rose
Penn State volleyball coach