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Weiner Lands at Keene State After Long Coaching Rally

September 30, 2013
Bob Weiner
Bob Weiner

Bob Weiner has found a volleyball home at Keene State. But it wasn’t easy. A volleyball vagabond in his younger days, Weiner sampled more homes than newlywed couples on the HGTV show “House Hunters,” looking for just the right place to set up his net and teach the sport he became enamored with as a teenager growing up in California.

Ambitious yet insecure in his own ability, Weiner however didn’t fit the profile of a long-term buyer. A transient offering a temporary fix, Weiner would’ve been better off renting, packing up his volleyballs and heading to the next location.

“Prior to Keene State, I had been at three different schools – four years and out.” said Weiner describing his modus operandi. “Generally that’s what I did. I came in, built up the program and then moved on.”

Even the taste of success couldn’t keep him from pulling up the stakes of his volleyball net and heading to the next challenge. Coaching an Iona women’s volleyball team on the cusp of reaching the NCAA tournament, Weiner never got a chance to enjoy the team’s ultimate win in securing a berth, leaving the program for family reasons.

Despite the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment he felt after leading the Keene State women’s volleyball team to its first Little East Championship and NCAA appearance in 2008, Weiner was ready to move on. “I actually looked around for other jobs,” he admitted.

Fortunately, Weiner heeded the advice of Keene State men’s basketball coach Rob Colbert. “He told me for once in my life I should stay and enjoy the fruits of my labor,” Weiner said.

Although the team endured an 18-17 record the following year, Weiner knew Colbert was right. For the first time in his 26 years of coaching, Weiner decided that it was time for a change and stayed.

Weiner’s motivation to move might be traced to his upbringing. At the age of 7, Weiner and his family left New York City for the West Coast. Reaching Las Vegas, Weiner and his older sister Jeanne were given the option of relocating to San Francisco or the Los Angeles area. The appeal of warmer weather won out, and the family settled in the San Fernando Valley.

Consumed with sports 12 months a years, Weiner and his buddies were also into music. Beatle-wannabees, the guys switched their post-pubescent minds into overdrive coming up with such memorable names as Four-Play and the Ducks.

Getting their drivers’ licenses, Weiner and his friends were able to leave the not-so-cool Santa Monica for ultra-cool Zuma Beach, where they discovered the advantages of playing volleyball. “We started playing because girls were playing,” said Weiner. “It was always a guy and a girl, so the goal was always to meet a girl who played volleyball so you could play with her.”

It’s safe to say just about everyone has had someone in their lives who played a role in their future; in the case of Weiner that person was Glen Sherman. Sherman had heard that Weiner had been playing volleyball on the beach and invited him to play in a few indoor matches. Weiner called it a horrific experience. “They had learned about positions and I was a bull in a china shop – taking balls for other players,” recalls Weiner. “But I remember doing it and people saying, ‘You have an aptitude in this.’”

In the summer of 2012, Weiner returned to California for his 40th high school reunion and personally thanked Sherman for getting him started in a sport that ultimately became his career.

Weiner attended Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif., where he played football and baseball. A defensive back who also ran back kickoffs and punts, he readily recalls his first start as a junior against powerhouse San Fernando High School, a team that featured future Heisman Trophy winner Anthony Davis and former Southern Cal and NFL running back Manfred Moore. Birmingham was no match for their conference rivals, losing 63-0.

Weiner’s moment of glory on the high school baseball diamond came his junior season when, due to players’ injuries, he was called up to the varsity. “I had this ridiculous hot streak and at the end of the year I was ninth in the City League in hitting and they published it in the LA Times. I started getting letters from college teams,” said Weiner. “They didn’t realize it, but by my senior year I was back to being me again.”

Keeping his baseball dream temporarily alive, Weiner attended Pierce Community College before transferring to UCLA. Indecisive about what path to pursue, Weiner changed majors seven times before trying his hand at theater. “What they asked me to do, I seemed to be able to do -- which was act,” said Weiner.

Weiner appeared to have found his calling. Well-known playwright and director Gary Gardner had taken him under his wing and Weiner enjoyed expressing himself though the words of characters. The ultimate moment came his senior year when he got to direct one of his own plays. “It was one of the most terrific experiences I ever had,” said Weiner. “To have my words that I typed on an old Smith Corona typewriter in my kitchen spoken in front of a 2,000-seat theatre full of people laughing at stuff I wrote was one of the best feelings in the world.”

Earning his degree from UCLA in the fall of 1977, Weiner took a temporarily job as a preschool teacher and recreation director before returning to academia as a TV and stage directing major at UC Irvine.

Frank Sinatra might have had Bob Weiner in mind when he sang “regrets, I’d had a few” in the song “My Way.” “I was accepted to the screenwriting program at UCLA and regret not going back,” he said. “I was also afraid that I wrote the three things at UCLA that I had in my head and didn’t have another idea. Nothing else popped into my head.”

While one curtain was closing, another one was about to open. Given an assistantship at Irvine, Weiner discovered a love for teaching. “It wasn’t so much the subject matter but being in front of people,” he said. Living on the beach while attending grad school, Weiner was able to briefly continue his flirtation with volleyball before moving on to the next scene in his complicated life.

Marrying his first wife, who happened to be an actress, Weiner decided to move back to Manhattan. But quicker than a New York minute, he was off again, this time to Roger Williams College in Bristol, R.I., where he spent three semesters teaching theatre. But Weiner hadn’t quite lost the acting bug. Taking a semester off, he took a couple of acting gigs, including a commercial for Miller Lite Beer that went national. “I’m one of the guys at the bar behind the celebrities,” he said.

A rolling stone, Weiner spent time in Georgia, Williamstown, Mass., and Minneapolis, where he decided a jump start to his career was in order and began working on his PhD.

Never completing the degree, Weiner was on the move again, accepting a teaching job in the fall of 1986 at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H. “They picked me up at the airport and took me to the Fitzwilliam Inn,” said Wiener. “The next morning I woke up and walked over to the intersection of routes 12 and 119 and I’m saying to myself, ‘Where the hell am I?’’’

Despite his initial apprehension, Weiner finally made it to the FPC campus and accepted the job. Little did he know at the time, it would be the start of his volleyball coaching career. Moving from NAIA to NCAA Division II classification, Franklin Pierce needed to add women’s volleyball to its roster of sports. FPC Athletic Director Bruce Kirsh asked Weiner if he would be interested in coaching the team. “I told him I never coached, but he didn’t seem to mind,” said Weiner. “He was looking for someone just for a year.”

With the season set to start in a month, Weiner hit the recruiting trail – walking over to the dorms on campus. “I had about eight days to go through the dorms and find players,” said Weiner, who ended up nurturing the program from its infancy into varsity status.

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Weiner had found his calling. “I’m in a gym and teaching people how to do play volleyball and it’s really cool. This is who I am,” said Weiner.

While Weiner made inroads coaching, recruiting was a different story. “I didn’t know how to find players,” he said. “The first year they gave me money, I spent in on the worst kid and she lasted about two weeks.”

Weiner eventually built the program, winning more than 20 matches in his last three seasons and earning an ECAC tournament berth.

Finding his niche, Weiner began looking for a full-time coaching job. The good news: he found a position at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. The bad news: Macalester had gone 3-102 the previous three seasons.

Taking over a program with a national recruiting base, Weiner started to see positive results on the court. By the time he left in 1997, the Scots had become a formidable power in the highly competitive Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Aspiring to coach at a higher level, Weiner interviewed at three schools, including Keene State, before taking a job at Division I Montana State University-Northern in Havre, Mont. “It was in the middle of nowhere, but it was full time and fully funded with 12 scholarships, so I went,” said Weiner.

It wasn’t a long stay. “It was too rural and not for me. Too many guys with hats, belts and buckles,” said Weiner.

With no plans, Weiner moved to New Hampshire, living in a friend’s garage in Hollis. Once again applying for jobs, he landed in Worcester, Mass, coaching at Assumption and teaching at Worcester State. “I tried to settle down and start a life,” said Weiner, who met his current wife, Linda Lawson while living in Worcester.

Although he led Assumption to its first-ever berth in the Northeast-10 tournament, Weiner found himself at the volleyball crossroads again in the summer of 2000, deciding on coaching opportunities at Providence College or Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.

He ultimately picked Iona, returning full circle back to Manhattan. Weiner flourished at Iona, leading the Gaels one dig away from an NCAA tournament berth. Leaving a team that ultimately earned a long–awaited national tournament bid the following year, 2004, Weiner left Iona so his wife could be closer to her family. “I built it, but didn’t get a chance to experience it,” said Weiner about his NCAA Iona team.

Facing a side-out one again, Weiner and his wife moved back to New Hampshire, close enough to both his job coaching at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and to his wife’s family in Maine.

Except for the great sushi on Hammond Street, there were few perks to the job at Pine Manor. “We had six kids and an 18-game schedule,” said Weiner. “I’d walk around the campus and ask, ‘Would you like to play volleyball on our team today?’’’

Like a libero leaping to make an out-stretched pancake dig, Weiner jumped at the opportunity to come to Keene State in the fall of 2005. Unlike his previous coaching positions, he’s still here several years later. “My wife believes this is the best place I’ve ever been,’” said Weiner, now in his ninth season with the Owls. “It’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in one place. There has to be a reason for that.”

A lot has to do with the team’s accomplishments. Since taking over the program, Weiner has coached the team to unprecedented success, leading the Owls to a 180-107 record with six post-season appearances in the past seven years, including the team’s lone LEC championship and NCAA tournament berth in 2008.

“Coach Weiner not only taught us the sport, but provided us with the motivation to be successful,” said Brittany O’Bryant, a record-setting middle-hitter who played on KSC’s 2008 championship team. “We went into that Little East tournament thinking no one could beat us.”

These days, Weiner is content. “I love it here,” he says. “If I made a list of things that really annoy me or things I want to complain about, they’re so small and so inconsequential compared to everyplace else I’ve ever been. “We’re competitive in the region and we get great support from the administration, the coaches and the athletes. What else could you want?

“It’s amazing it’s worked out so well,” Weiner added. “I’ve been boring the past couple of years. I haven’t moved, got married or divorced. I just show up and work.”