Coaches have similar style, careers

by Tim Klobuchar

The coaching careers of Mike Hebert and Chuck Erbe have always had a unique symmetry — meeting each other in similar ways and always successful.
Both coaches served as assistants for one another at some point, both helped one another get a head coaching job at a Big Ten school, and both are known as builders of volleyball powerhouses.
The biggest difference between Hebert’s and Erbe’s careers might be evident Saturday, when Erbe brings his Big Ten-leading No. 9 Michigan State team to the Sports Pavilion to face Hebert’s much-improved Gophers.
Erbe, with a trip to the national semifinals last season, has already established the Spartans as a national power. Though Minnesota is 21-8 in his first year, Hebert hopes the Gophers have only begun their climb to the top of the Big Ten.
“We both like to build teams,” Erbe said. “We relish the challenge. We’re alike in style, in that we’re both fundamental coaches. We’re also in the same generation of coaches. We came up through the coaching ranks at the same time.”
Erbe was one of the pioneers in the development of women’s volleyball in the United States, and found his first collegiate success at the University of Southern California. He won four national championships there between 1976 and 1981. He coached the U.S. women’s volleyball team at the World University Games in Bucharest, Romania, in 1981. Hebert was one of his assistants, and the two first got to know each other on that trip.
Two years later, when the Illinois coaching position opened up, Erbe, still at USC, was the leading candidate. He almost left the perennial championship contender for the weak Illinois program because he was tired of his job and the location.
“I hated the West Coast with a passion,” he said. “There were too many people, too much everything.”
Erbe said it was one of the toughest decisions he ever made, but he declined. That led to Hebert’s big break.
“They asked me if there was someone I knew that could do the job,” Erbe said. “Without question, it was Mike Hebert.”
Obviously, Hebert took advantage of the opportunity, winning three straight Big Ten championships from 1986-88. Meanwhile, Erbe’s career at USC was approaching an inglorious end.
“I was burned out,” Erbe said. “I didn’t like my work environment. That led to disenchantment with my job, and that led to less desire to do my job.”
Erbe, who was a controversial figure at USC because of his temper and his intense training methods, finally resigned after the 1988 season. Everyone knew Erbe could coach though, including Hebert.
“When he called me, I told him I had a job open,” Hebert said. “I was glad to take him in.”
Erbe served as an Illinois assistant for the 1989 season, a chance for which he was grateful.
“It gave me some time to decide what I wanted to do with my life,” Erbe said. “And after that year, I knew I wanted to be a head coach.”
For the next three years, Erbe coached the nationally prominent Sports Performance club team in Chicago. When the Michigan State job became available in 1993, Hebert helped out again. When MSU athletic director Merrilee Baker called Hebert for input, Hebert, who said he had felt a “professional obligation” to Erbe since he got the Illinois job, recommended Erbe for the job.
“I told her Chuck was a very good coach,” Hebert said. “She told me later that I was one of the most important phone calls she made.”
Hebert, of course, wanted a change of scenery after last season, and left Illinois for Minnesota. He departed under better circumstances than Erbe did at USC, and he is more reserved in his methods and demeanor. Still, the coaches give similar lessons that make their respective renovation projects work.
“They both do an excellent job in training techniques and skill,” said Lynne McDonald, who played for Erbe’s 1977 national champion USC team and is now a Hebert assistant. “A lot of coaches cannot do that.”