Each of the past four years, the Rams volleyball team has been either the regular season or tournament champion of the Mountain West Conference. While the volleyball squad has seen many new faces in that time, there has been one constant: head coach Tom Hilbert.
In the five seasons Hilbert has coached at CSU he has a 142-26 record (.845). That makes him the winningest coach in school history. He has taken the Rams to the NCAA tournament all of the past five seasons and has a perfect record when playing in the first round.
Hilbert led the Rams to a top-15 ranking in the polls every week in 2000 and 2001, and they were ranked third in the nation for five consecutive weeks in 2000. During that time the Rams beat UCLA, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.
“There’s been so many memorable experiences, but the one that stands out was beating UCLA on national television during the 2000 season,” Hilbert said.
Hilbert has seen his volleyball program become one of the most competitive in the nation, but hasn’t let it get to his head.
“It’s more about the players than about me,” Hilbert said. “We put together a good group of athletes who have strong character, then teach them fundamental skills and how to win.”
Winning is what Hilbert’s teams are good at. This season he finds his team in a familiar position: at the top of the conference. His dedication to the sport of volleyball is unparalleled and his desire to spread the enjoyment of the sport is the fire that keeps him coaching.
“We’ve built up really good home attendance and have provided some great entertainment,” Hilbert said. “I feel that the sport is special. It combines a lot of aspects of other sports, like the intense athletic and tactical nature.”
As a boy growing up in Oklahoma, Hilbert played a lot of volleyball. It’s also where he began his coaching career.
“Believe it or not, Oklahoma is actually a big men’s volleyball state,” Hilbert said. “I started off coaching boys but I found that girls were more pure in their athletic experience. I found that to be very refreshing.”
After five seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, Hilbert took a head coaching position with the Idaho Vandals. In his eight seasons at Idaho, Hilbert accumulated a 174-72 record (.707) and led the Vandals to the Eastern Division title in 1996.
With the extraordinary success Hilbert has enjoyed in his career, there may be worries that he will move to a bigger program. Fortunately for CSU, these worries are unfounded.
“This will probably be my last coaching job,” he said. “It has all the elements that I want – it pays well, we have great attendance, and we have the respect of the administration.”
Hilbert lives in Fort Collins with Leslie, his wife, and his two-year-old daughter Myles.
“I love the size of Fort Collins, it has a lot of culture and a high quality of life,” Hilbert said. “I don’t like big places, big athletic departments, big cities.”
Hilbert said his most disappointing moment as a coach was losing the Mountain West tournament to BYU at Moby arena in 2000.
“I really wanted to win it in front of the fans,” he said.
This year, Hilbert will have the opportunity to exorcise some ghosts as the tournament comes back to Fort Collins and will be shown live on the Fox Sports network.
Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin