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Mike Herbert built Illinois Volleyball from the ground up.



Mike Herbert, Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame
Mike Pearson, Fighting

“This installment of features legendary Illinois Volleyball coach Mike Herbert. In September, he and 11 other athletes will be inducted into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics named 12 new members to the UI Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2023, including athletes and coaches from nine teams. This is the seventh Hall of Fame class. It includes two Olympic medalists, members of their sport’s national hall of fame, national champions, high professional draft picks, a Super Bowl champion, and a national record holder for more than 70 years. 

Mike Herbert put Illinois Volleyball on the map.

Legendary volleyball coach Mike Herbert knows how to deal with adversity and the unexpected. Born in Long Beach, California, in 1944, Herbert lost his father — a fighter pilot — during the Korean War. “I must have heard a thousand times from well-meaning relatives and acquaintances, ‘Now that your father’s gone, you have to be the man of the house.’ Herbert wrote in his autobiography The Fire Still Burns. “I didn’t want to be the man of the house.

He learned to channel that into an inward motivation to compete and strive for excellence. “I began to develop a strong competitive urge,” Herbert wrote, “a will to succeed.” Not only did Herbert succeed, but he also became one of the great volleyball coaches in NCAA history.

The Long Beach native discovered the game after transferring to The University of California at Santa Barbara. Pittsburgh hired Herbert after discovering him playing volleyball at a local YMCA league. Pitt paid him $2,500 to coach the Panthers. Consequently, the investment paid off for Pitt; Herbert led the Panthers to two appearances in the National Championships.

Herbert builds the Illini program.

After a brief stop at the University of New Mexico, the University of Illinois hired Herbert. Chuck Erbe, who he worked for at the World University Games, recommended him to Illinois. While some would see a program going nowhere, Herbert saw an opportunity to build an elite program.

His players bought into what Herbert was trying to build from the start. At first, Herbert was building a program in Champaign, including facilities and the bare minimum. “We kept on pushing for the bare minimum,” Hebert wrote. “We were making a point, and our players loved it. ‘God,’ they said, ‘we’ve never had anybody stand up for us.’ That was a big deal for them. They knew their coaches respected them and believed in them, and were willing to fight for them. Finally, one Sunday night, Don and I met at the gym and dragged every bit of junk out into a hallway. The next day, we went to practice, and the pile was gone. It must have taken the maintenance staff several hours to load the stuff into a truck and haul it away. Don and I exchanged secret smiles.”

In 1983, Illinois volleyball finished 5-25. However, they played hard and began to take on the identity of their new head coach. Though they were not the most talented team, they played hard and carried themselves like champions. Four years later, the Illini would make its first of two Final Four appearances. With the help of three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Mary Eggers, the Illini would be the first volleyball team west of the Mississippi to be ranked number one.

Congratulations to the late Mike Herbert, volleyball coaching legend and Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer.


Armchair Illini is a comprehensive site dedicated to covering University of Illinois Athletics owned and operated by Alex Kyi. Dante Pryor has been writing about College Football for years on Saturday Blitz and is now the Lead Football Author for Armchair Illini.