New York University hired Andrew Brown to coach its women’s volleyball team in January 2018. Since then, the Violets have done nothing but win.
They just completed their most successful season in years, reaching the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 2004. For Brown, a high school volleyball standout who started coaching right after college, this is the pinnacle.
“We have talent up and down our roster, but it’s these really special students that make our team so successful, and such an amazing thing to be a part of,” he told Outsports.
When Brown started at NYU, he was the only male coach in his conference, the University Athletic Association (UAA). It is the premier conference in Division III, and competition is fierce.
But over the last five years, the Violets have stood above the rest. They’ve posted a .764 winning percentage since Brown was hired, and made the playoffs every season.
Last year, they went 28-2, and won their first-ever UAA Championship.
Brown is completely out to his players and fellow coaches, but it wasn’t always that way. As a high school and college athlete, he remained closeted, fearful of being labeled the “gay volleyball player.”
Nowadays, he has no problem being the “gay coach,” because he’s learned that’s just one part of his identity. It’s also a bit of a superpower.
“I joke that I’m the perfect kind of hybrid coach for women’s volleyball,” he said. “Because I am gay, I’m very protective of them and making sure they’re safe, and I’m super supportive of them.”
Brown was hired for his first college job at just 24 years old. St. Peter’s University hired him one day before its first match of the season, tasking Brown with turning around a demoralized program that finished 0-33 the previous year.
The turnaround didn’t take long. They won a match their first weekend.
“I was looking at my sophomores and they were crying,” he said. “I put two-and-two together that that was their first win as collegiate athletes, and how special that was for them. For me, coming from a lot of success in volleyball, I really appreciated that moment for them.”
That’s not to say Brown hasn’t encountered speed bumps on his road to success. At first, some of his fellow male coaches viewed him suspiciously, not sure of how to approach the confident gay guy who stands at 6-foot-3.
There was one particular incident with a tennis coach that’s stuck with Brown. It taught him a valuable lesson about establishing boundaries and being vocal about them.
“Over my coaching career, being a male coach in a male-dominated profession, college sports, there is an assumption of who you should be as a male,” he said. “I think it knocks them through a loop when you’re a little more confident with yourself as they are with themselves as straight men.”
After his run at St. Peter, Brown spent three seasons at Union College, where his teams went 66-38. Now at NYU, Brown, who also recently completed his masters in sports business, feels like he’s found his home.
“It’s a dream job, and it’s just an amazing place to develop who you are,” he said.
Part of Brown’s development has meant carving out his own volleyball community. He’s proud to say that some of his best friends have come through the world of gay volleyball. They all offer an incredible support network for each other.
“It’s been amazing. I think now I’m just trying to find ways to give back to the community, and be able to pave it forward,” he said.
By sharing his story, Brown is hoping to inspire other gay volleyball players and coaches who may feel uneasy about coming out. Looking back, it’s the best decision he’s ever made.
His only regret is that he didn’t do it sooner.
“My message to my younger self would be, ‘Take advantage of those people who are there to be supportive, and just allow yourself to be really genuine with who you are,’” he said. “You can grow that network from Day One.”