The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Barry Goldberg, who built American University into a volleyball power, dies

Barry Goldberg continued to coach American University's volleyball team even after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer last year. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Barry Goldberg, American University’s longtime women’s volleyball coach, died at 61 Saturday night, the school announced, a little more than a year after being diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer that had spread to his bones.

Goldberg coached AU for 34 seasons, rebuilding a program that once had been dropped by the school and turning it into a small college powerhouse that went to 18 NCAA tournaments and staged one of the sport’s biggest upsets when it beat Duke to go to the Sweet 16 in 2013. He and his wife, Bonnie, also started and ran the massive Capitol Hill Volleyball Classic that completely fills the Washington Convention Center every Presidents’ Day weekend.

But Goldberg also will be remembered for continuing to coach last year, even after doctors told him he only had a year to live. Despite sagging energy and a hacking cough that never went away, he coached American through its season last fall, with his final game being a loss to Navy in the Patriot League Quarterfinals.

“Let’s make something,” he said at the time. “Let’s do something while we’re living.”

He built a volleyball power on optimism. He’s fighting cancer the same way.

Goldberg, whose 812 victories were fourth among active coaches as of the end of last season, said he had chances through his career to coach at bigger schools but he always said no, preferring to stay at the college that became his coaching home.

As he built AU’s program he adopted an unorthodox coaching style, sitting with his legs crossed on the bench and rarely yelling at his players during games. Sometimes, during really perilous moments, he wouldn’t even address the players, telling them to “figure it out,” in the belief that if he helped them through every tough point of a match they wouldn’t learn to fight through life’s bigger problems.

Last month, American announced it will name the court in the school’s planned volleyball arena after Goldberg.