‘I feel like I’ve done it all’: University of Manitoba volleyball coach Garth Pischke to retire

By | March 13, 2020

Legendary volleyball coach Garth Pischke says the cancellation of the 2020 U Sports men’s volleyball championship hasn’t changed his plans to retire at the end of his 38th season as the head coach of the University of Manitoba’s Bisons men’s team.

U Sports and the U of M announced late Thursday night that the annual tournament would be postponed amid COVID-19 concerns.

The national tournament would have been the first time in 44 years the school had hosted the event.  

It was also supposed to be a fitting way for Pischke to end his storied career with the Bisons.

“It’s disappointing that it happened like this, but I’m not disappointed for myself, I’m disappointed for my players and my staff,” Pischke said Friday.  

“The staff at Bisons sports that works so hard to put this plan into place, and for the University of Manitoba — there’s such a rich history of successful volleyball here at the University of Manitoba that I really felt they deserved the chance to host this.”

The 64-year old says his decision to step back from the team was a tough one, and one that he didn’t make overnight.  He says being able to finish his career on his home court really appealed to him.  But he understands the decision to cancel.

“I’ve been through a lot of things and I’ve been to a lot of national championships, and I guess that’s what makes it a little bit harder. I know how important, how exciting … how gratifying it is for the players.

“I’ve been so fortunate that really, that’s why I’m so ready to retire. I feel like I’ve done it all. You know not just my playing career, but my coaching career in Manitoba.”

WATCH | Garth Pischke reflects on four decades of playing and coaching volleyball:

The U of M Bisons volleyball coach looks back at his 38-year career leading the men’s team. 1:30

Pischke’s playing and coaching career spans four decades.

As coach, he has led the Bisons to 27 appearances at the U Sports national championships, earning nine gold medals, nine silver and five bronzes.

In 2014, Pischke’s Bisons topped the University of Regina in straight sets to notch his 1,240th win. That victory meant he became the all-time winningest collegiate coach in North America — topping Al Scates, who led the University of California Los Angeles men’s volleyball program to 19 national titles.

Pischke’s impressive coaching record is a testament to his reputation as one of the best volleyball coaches in history.

“I really felt that my volleyball knowledge took off very fast. I had a lot of international experience,” he said.

Garth Pischke (15) makes a block during action against Japan at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Calif. (The Canadian Press)

That experience includes playing for Canada’s national teams as a middle blocker while in high school. He played on two Olympic teams in 1976 and 1984. The Winnipeg native also enjoyed a short professional career in the U.S., where he was named rookie of the year in 1978, and league MVP in 1979 of the now-defunct United States International Volleyball Association.

“I was very fortunate to play at a very high level when I was really young,” says Pischke. “When I started coaching at the University of Manitoba there was players on the team that were older than me.”

WATCH | Highlight reel of Garth Pischke’s international playing career:

Before becoming the Bisons head coach, Pischke played internationally, including on two Olympic teams in 1976 and 1984. 1:36

Pischke became the coach of the Bisons men’s volleyball team in 1979 at the age of 23.  Under his guidance, the U of M has been viewed as one of Canada’s elite university programs.

“I’ve had players that have played for me that have gone on to coach at other universities,” Pischke said.

“Hopefully, they’ve taken some of the knowledge that I gave them and then they’ve taken their own knowledge, and its just made for a better product.”

If you ask Coach Pischke what his biggest accomplishment is, however, it would be coaching his children.

He gets emotional talking about coaching his daughter, beach volleyball player Taylor Pischke, and his son Dane at the U of M for five years. The father-and-son duo shared a special moment winning a bronze medal at the U Sports final in 2012.

An impact on the game

One former player who has gone on to coach is Scott Koskie. Koskie started playing under Pischke in 1989 with the Bisons, and would also play for him on Canada’s national team. He is now an assistant coach with the Bisons men’s team, working under his former coach.

“It’s been a real privilege, a real honour to work with him. I played for him for 10 years and I’ve coached with him for another five,” Koskie says. 

“He doesn’t have to say anything. It’s just kind of his actions and how he carries himself when he comes into the gym. He’s just excited to be on the court and talking about the game.”

Koskie says Pischke has had more than just one sole impact on the game. He believes his mentor’s legacy is his drive and passion, and how it has been passed on to all those who had the chance to play and work with him.

“The most interesting thing about his legacy is how he just passed his will to win onto everybody else.”

WATCH | Scott Koskie looks back at playing under Coach Pischke and now working alongside with him:

Pischke’s former player, Scott Koskie, talks about what it was like to play on the Bisons and now coach alongside his former coach. 1:37

Bisons captain Kevin Negus knew of his coach’s history and reputation even before playing for the University of Manitoba.

“Obviously everyone knows Garth. He’s a legend,” the fifth-year student said. “He’s really knowledgeable, so whatever he’s passed on to us has really been advantageous.”

Negus says his coach’s departure is bittersweet for the team.  

U of M Bisons volleyball captain and fifth-year student Kevin Negus practises with the team ahead of the 2020 U Sports national championship in Winnipeg March 13-15 at Investors Group Athletic Centre. The tournament has been cancelled over concerns about the coronavirus. (Warren Kay/CBC)

“Learning everything from Garth has been pretty good for both senior players and for the younger players as well,” he says. “It’s going to be good to have a new coach come in and refresh the program up a little bit.”

Pischke says the Bisons will have plenty of great candidates to fill his position, and whoever his successor is will continue to build on the reputation the U of M has established nationally.

“It’s one of the premier positions in the country, so I think that it’s going to be in great hands and be interesting to see what happens. I know I that I will have very little to do with it,” he said.

‘It’s unfortunate, but I guess these things happen’

Pischke says he understands cancelling the tournament was especially disappointing for the players.

“I know what goes into the process to get here and to have it disappear at the final possible moment,” he says.

“It’s tough for them to handle and to accept.  It’s unfortunate, but I guess these things happen.”

Pischke says he is especially upset for his captain, Kevin Negus, who is in his final year with the Bisons.

“He was looking forward to do this and to do it at home in front of his family and friends, would have been more special.”

Pischke says he doesn’t know when the University of Manitoba will get to host the U Sports nationals again, but hopes it will be sooner than later since many of the current Bisons are first- and second-year players.

Brandon University is supposed to host the 2021 U Sports men’s national volleyball championship.

“I’m extremely comfortable with this being the end of it,” Pischke says. “And just looking forward to spending a little less time in a gymnasium.”

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