Arizona State ’82
Debbie Brown, head coach of the University of Notre Dame volleyball program from 1991-2014, will not return in 2015, it was announced December 4, 2014.
She closed her Irish career with a 636-330 (.658) career record including a 519-247 (.678) mark with the Irish. Her squads made the round of 16 in the NCAA Championship six times, highlighted by a trip to the 1993 quarterfinals. Fifteen regular-season conference championships and 13 league tournament titles were among the accomplishments of Brown-led teams, which won 20 or more matches 19 times in her last 28 seasons.
Brown led her teams to 26 consecutive winning seasons from 1985 to 2012, 13 finishes in the top 25 of the AVCA national rankings and 22 invitations to the NCAA Championship (including a streak of 15 consecutive bids from 1992-2006).
A two-time winner of the Mikasa Award during her collegiate days as volleyball’s best all-around player, Brown notched her 600th career win as a head coach and her 500th victory as the leader of the Irish during the 2012 campaign, while her 630 wins entering the 2014 season ranked her 13th in that category among active Division I head coaches. In fact, only four active coaches in 2014 had more wins in as many or fewer seasons than the co-captain of the 1980 United States Olympic team.
Notre Dame Coaching Highlights
When taking over the reins at Notre Dame, Brown inherited a program that had just five winning seasons in its first 11 years of varsity volleyball action. After going a combined 27-0 with four titles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference from 1991-1995, she immediately helped her squads become a perennial BIG EAST Conference powerhouse during the program’s 18-year run in the league (1995-2012). During that time the Irish won nine BIG EAST Tournament Championships and were a runner-up five times in 18 tournament appearances. The Irish qualified for the postseason tournament every year they were in the league. They also boasted home BIG EAST win streaks of 45 matches (10.1.99 – 11.09.02), 35 matches (9.30.05 – 10.4.98) and 19 matches (11.16.08 – 10.3.10).
In 2005 the Irish put together one of the best campaigns in program history by posting the school’s first 30-win season since 1994. All four of the team’s defeats came in five-set matches. Notre Dame went 5-1 against top-15 teams and earned an all-time Irish high No. 6 seed in the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame played host to the first two rounds and advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 1997 before falling in five sets to Wisconsin. The Irish – who rattled off a 15-match winning streak and spent a program-record 11 weeks in the AVCA’s top 10 – went 13-1 while winning their 10th regular season BIG EAST Championship in 11 years of league membership. In a clash between two top-10 teams, Notre Dame handed Louisville a five-set defeat in the conference tournament finale to give Brown her ninth BIG EAST Tournament title.
For her efforts, Brown was recognized as the 2005 BIG EAST Volleyball Coach of the Year – the league’s first five-time winner of the award – and was named the top coach in the AVCA’s Northeast Region before becoming a finalist for the AVCA’s national award.
In league play from 1991-2012, Notre Dame teams under Brown were downright dominant as the Irish sported a 230-33 (.875) record in regular season action against conference teams (27-0 vs. the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and 203-37 vs. the BIG EAST). That record included a 117-12 (.907) record at home and, at one point, a 79-match winning streak against conference foes (regular season and postseason).
Under Brown, Notre Dame was perfect in BIG EAST regular season play seven times (including a 14-0 mark in 2009), going on to win 11 regular-season titles and nine tournament championships.
Notre Dame Player Honors and Awards
Brown saw her Irish players gain AVCA or Volleyball Magazine All-America accolades on 23 occasions, with middle blocker Lauren Brewster (’06 graduate) becoming the first Notre Dame player to be selected as an AVCA All-American (third team in 2004 and second team in 2005) in program history. In 2005, the Brentwood, Tennessee, native became the first player in school history to earn both athletic and academic All-America honors in the same season.
In 2009, three of Brown’s players were named All-Americans. Serinity Phillips was selected to the third team while Christina Kaelin and Jamel Nicholas earned honorable mention honors.
A pair of sophomore standouts became the latest honorees in 2012 as Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser brought home honorable mention All-America accolades after impressive campaigns. Just a year later, Houser became just the fourth player in Irish history to earn AVCA All-America or honorable mention All-America accolades twice in a career as she was tabbed an honorable mention all-American for the second season in a row.
Brown’s players also earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors three times, while they won the conference player-of-the-year award nine times and were named the top player in the league tournament on 12 occasions. In all, Brown-era Irish players combined for 76 all-conference honors, including 41 first-team selections. During the program’s remarkable run in the BIG EAST, six players earned player of the year honors while 59 (32 first team) received all-BIG EAST scrolls. In 2013, Houser became the first Irish player in program history to garner all-ACC honors (third team).
Regionally, Notre Dame student-athletes garnered all-region or all-district recognition from the AVCA 54 times since Brown’s arrival.
Since the NCAA first began keeping official national statistics in 1994, Notre Dame’s first two national statistical crowns came in 2003 as the Irish led Division I in blocks per set (3.72), with Brewster topping the individual category (1.78).
On the coaching front, seven of Brown’s former Irish assistants went on to become head coaches: Robin Davis (Boise State before returning to Notre Dame), Andria Harshmann (Grace College) Devin Scruggs (Nevada), Steve Schlick (Cal Poly), Sue Woodstra (Pittsburgh, California, Humboldt State), Leah Johnson (SIU Edwardsville) and 2004 AVCA National Coach of the Year Jim McLaughlin (Washington), who led the Huskies to the 2005 NCAA title, and returned to Notre Dame in 2015 as the program’s new head coach.
Coaching Prior To Notre Dame
Before coming to Notre Dame, Brown also coached several premier players at Arizona State, including three-time Olympian Tammy (Webb) Leibl (1988-96) and All-Americans Christy Nore and Regina Stahl. The Sun Devils were ranked among the top programs in the nation for six seasons, and in 1986 Brown led the Sun Devils to a 27-7 record and earned Pacific-10 Conference Coach of the Year honors. She compiled a 117-83 record en route to five NCAA Tournament berths while at Arizona State.
After serving as a program consultant since 1986, Brown took a leave of absence from Arizona State in 1988 to serve as an assistant coach for the United States National Team before accepting a full-time national team position in 1989. Brown’s duties centered on helping improve the national team’s defense and her efforts played a role in a United States bronze medal finish at the 1990 World Championship in China. She also coached national teams in the 1985 and 1991 Olympic Festivals before accepting the head position at Notre Dame.
Debbie Brown grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of El Segundo and became one of the nation’s top prep players. She competed as a 17-year-old for the United States at the 1974 World Championship in Mexico City and a year later played on the adidas team that won the USVBA title.
After graduating from El Segundo High School, she captained the University of Southern California to a 72-1 two-year record and national titles in 1976 and 1977, including a 38-0 run in 1977 that, until 1998, was the only unbeaten season in Division I women’s volleyball history. Her 1977 squad is still considered one of the all-time greatest at any level of volleyball. Brown (then Debbie Landreth) twice was named a collegiate All-American and received the Mikasa Award as the “nation’s best all-around player” in 1976 and 1977.
USC paid tribute to Brown during the 2008 season by naming her a program “All-Time Great,” an honor shared with Trojan teammate Sue Woodstra. A permanent banner with Brown’s name (Landreth) and jersey number (No. 5) now hangs from the rafters of USC’s Galen Center. In addition, the team’s best passer is awarded with the Debbie Landreth Award at the program’s year-end banquet.
The 5-foot-8 outside hitter left USC prior to her junior year as she accepted an invitation to train full-time with the U.S. National Team. She co-captained the team to a fifth-place finish at the 1978 World Championships. A year later, she and her teammates – including all-time greats Debbie Green, Flo Hyman, Rita Crockett and Woodstra – qualified for the Olympics in Moscow and were considered serious medal contenders before the United States elected to boycott the games. Four of Brown’s former United States teammates went on to become college head coaches.
After serving as co-captain of the 1980 Olympic team, Brown completed her degree in physical education at Arizona State in 1982. As an undergraduate she began her coaching career as an assistant with the Sun Devils under Dale Flickinger, filling that role from 1980-82 before serving in the same capacity at Central Arizona College during the 1982 season. She returned to Arizona State as head coach in 1983.
In May of 1995, USA Volleyball named Brown an “All-Time Great Volleyball Player,” the highest honor given by the organization. Brown and fellow honoree Karch Kiraly, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, beach volleyball legend and current head coach of the USA Women’s team, were recognized at the U.S. Open Championships in Springfield, Mass., and had their photos and records added to the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Mass. Established in 1954, the “All-Time Great” designation honors players with Olympic, national team or All-America honors, U.S. Open Championships and overall dominance during a particular era. Among the 51 previous winners before Brown were Hyman, Woodstra, Green, Crockett and Laurel Brassey – all former teammates.
Brown earned USVBA All-America honors eight times and won the USVBA’s Kilgore Sportsmanship Award in 1983. Brown was a six-time USVBA first team All-American and played for the 1975, 1985 and 1986 USVBA national championship teams. In 1992, she joined several of her former Olympic squad teammates to capture the USVBA senior division national title in Reno, Nevada.
Additional Service, Awards And Honors
Brown has previously been a member of the USVBA (now USAV) Board of Directors and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council. She served a two-year term (1995-96) as president of the American Volleyball Coaches Association and was a member of its All-America selection committee. In 2003, Brown was recognized for her outstanding career by the NCAA with the Silver Anniversary Award, which annually recognizes six distinguished student-athletes for accomplishments since concluding their collegiate playing days 25 years earlier. She was also inducted into the El Segundo High School Hall of Fame in 1989.
Her international experience and travels have afforded her the opportunity to coach and play in 26 countries across the world. In honor of her work, Brown was selected as an Olympic Torchbearer for the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch Relay when it traveled through the Northern Indiana area.
Recognizing Brown’s effort and success, the Notre Dame Monogram Club bestowed upon her an honorary monogram at the annual club banquet in 1999. Brown was inducted into the Colorado Springs (Colo.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 along with fellow teammates from the 1980 United States Olympic women’s volleyball squad.
Brown has been actively involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes serving as a motivational speaker and coach at national banquets and camps. Brown and her husband, Dennis, who is the assistant vice president for University Communications at Notre Dame, have been married for 33 years. They serve on the area committee for Young Life and are active members of Oak Creek Community church in Mishawaka. Brown has regularly served in the children’s ministry and has attended the Women’s Bible study.
The Browns have two sons, Connor and Ryan, who both attend Notre Dame. Connor is on pace to graduate in 2016, while Ryan is set for 2017.