Matt Fuerbringer watches intently during warmups, first with hands on hips before he crosses his arms in front for a brief moment and then immediately moves them behind his back. After that, it’s a series of gestures to motivate the team a thumbs-up, high-five, hug and a handshake among them.
The assistant men’s volleyball coach for the U.S. Olympic team adjusts his headset well before the first ball is struck, then is right in the huddle during timeouts and hollering from the bench, fingers clasped around a clipboard.
A former standout player in both indoor and on sand, the 42-year-old Fuerbringer has been the reliable, right-hand man for John Speraw as he balances dual coaching roles with the national team and UCLA.
He has helped get the US into the semifinals Friday against Italy. Fuerbringer and the U.S. indoor team are winners of four straight since a 0-2 start in Rio.
It’s also the Olympics that Fuerbringer never had as a player. He came close to making the beach team for London four years ago.
“I do miss playing, yeah, I miss it a lot. But this is a different type of love, it’s a different type of impact,” he said. “It’s really fun that these guys let me be on the journey with them.”
While he loves being part of the indoor team’s run in Rio, he still couldn’t wait to steal away to Copacabana beach and root for his old beach volleyball partner, Nick Lucena.
He got a thrill watching Lucena on the sand alongside Phil Dalhausser before they were eliminated in Monday’s quarterfinals.
For the indoor team, not only is Fuerbringer the eyes for Speraw as needed, he’s the one who makes at least one trip each winter to check up on the American players abroad with their professional club teams.
“Of the whole staff, he’s the one who’s kind of been there and done that,” technical coordinator Nate Ngo said. “He played on the indoor national team and had an awesome career on the beach, so his ability to relate to the guys and know what they’re going through in a big moment, he’s been in those situations.”
Captain David Lee counts on Fuerbringer to discuss ideas and strategy in the middle of matches, during training or off the court.
When the Americans began by losing their first two in Brazil, Fuerbringer and the staff stressed the basics: “Get back to just focusing on effort and not the results.”
“It’s great to have a guy who’s competed at the highest level and knows what we’re going through, and he obviously brings a big impact to our blocking defense,” Lee said. “So that means I have a lot of discussions with him. He’s always there for me to figure out what to do on the next play.”