'Trailblazer' Cathy George retires as MSU volleyball coach; national search to begin

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  • Cathy George
  • Alan Haller
    American football player

Cathy George realized she didn’t have the same zest for the job that she’d loved for so long. And the energy for it didn’t seem to be coming back.

If she wasn’t all in, if her enthusiasm for the work wasn’t at the level she demands of those around her — especially her players — it was time to step aside.

“I have to be what I tell everybody else to be,” George said Friday evening, a couple hours after telling her team she was retiring as Michigan State’s volleyball coach after 17 years.

George leaves as MSU’s all-time winningest coach, having won 302 matches since taking taking over in 2005, reaching the NCAA tournament 10 times, including seven straight seasons from 2011 to ’17. MSU made three Sweet 16s during her run and, in George’s final NCAA tournament appearance, reached the Elite Eight.

George was a pioneer before that, as the first woman to coach a team to the Final Four, taking the University of Texas-Arlington there in 1989. She began her career at North Dakota State in 1987 and first made her name in this state coaching Western Michigan from 1994 to 2004.

“She was a trailblazer,” MSU athletic director Alan Haller said Friday evening. “ ... She’s a true ambassador for our department and our community. Cathy George should be celebrated. That’s what we plan on doing.”

George said she decided to retire just this week, telling Haller on Thursday. While they had been in communication since the end of the season, Haller wasn’t expecting that conversation now, thinking she was there to have a meeting about allocation of funds from a significant gift by a donor. Instead, the next coach will have that conversation with Haller.

They gathered the team together Friday afternoon to share the news.

George said her players didn’t see it coming. She believes she’s leaving behind a talented squad that’s on the verge of turning a corner after a few tough seasons. She wants MSU to hire someone who will help them turn the corner.

“Alan really wants volleyball to be good,” George said. “It mattered to me that I went out the right way.”

Haller said he plans to begin a national search for George’s replacement.

“This is not a situation where I’m going to have a committee do the search and participate in interviews,” Haller said. “I’m going to be involved in the entire process, because it’s a sport that’s very important to me.”

Haller said he looks forward to having George around much the way former football coach Mark Dantonio is still a presence on campus. George said she and her husband Jerry plan to stay in the community.

“I plan to stay here, be in the stands,” said George, whose two sons are both MSU graduates.

George said she’ll miss the players and the people most.

“I just love that fight you have, you’re all woking toward something together. That bond you have is special,” she said. “It’s so many people. It’s the players. It’s the people that work here. The colleagues. The friends we’ve made in the community. I love everybody. It’s all of that. I’m enriched by all the people we’ve met.”

Contact Graham Couch at gcouch@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Cathy George retires as MSU volleyball coach; national search to begin

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