Former Pitt volleyball head coach Chris Beerman passes away at 53 after being hospitalized with COVID-19

Volleyball legend and former Pitt head coach Chris Beerman passed away at the age of 53, after being hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.

Pitt News archival photo

Volleyball legend and former Pitt head coach Chris Beerman passed away at the age of 53, after being hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.

By Alex Lehmbeck, Sports Editor

Volleyball legend and former Pitt head coach Chris Beerman, who led the Panthers’ program from 2000-2007, has passed away at the age of 53. Beerman was hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.

“The volleyball community is hurting today with the loss of Chris Beerman,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said. “I did not know him well, but I have so much respect for his leadership and legacy with Pitt volleyball. We mourn with our alumnae and send our thoughts and prayers to his family.”

Beerman had a profound impact on volleyball at multiple levels of the game that reached far beyond his years in Oakland. Before his coaching days, Beerman played at the collegiate level for Ball State, leading the Cardinals to three consecutive NCAA Men’s Final Four and earning All-American honors twice. He holds eight Ball State records, including career kills.

Following his decorated playing career, Beerman quickly moved up the coaching ranks. He started as an assistant with the Cardinals, and later became the head coach at James Madison University, where he posted an impressive 90-36 record from 1996 to 1999. 

After earning CAA Coach of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons, Beerman accepted the head coaching position at Pitt in 2000, taking over a program that had faded from its Big East dominance of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The Panthers hadn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance in five years, and finished the 1999 season with a record of 12-10.

Pitt’s reputation saw an immediate boost with the arrival of Beerman, going 22-10 in his first season at the helm. The team went 26-6 in 2003, the school’s highest winning percentage in 13 years, and won the Big East Championship over Notre Dame, the first time the Panthers had ever defeated the Fighting Irish in South Bend. 

The Panthers went on to win their first round NCAA tournament matchup that year, making Beerman just the third head coach in the program’s 29-year history to achieve the feat. He received the 2003 Big East Coach of the Year award.

Beerman finished his tenure at Pitt with a 154-89 record, coaching five AVCA All-Americans — Wendy Hatlestad, Diane Andreyko, Megan McGrane, Megan Miller and Gini Ullery.

“Chris Beerman was not only a great coach, but an even better person. He shaped my life in ways that only those that knew him will understand. He lived and breathed confidence, absolute strength both physically and mentally,” Andreyko said. “Chris will live on because legends never die.”

After his collegiate volleyball coaching career came to a close, Beerman found a new home in Lexington, Kentucky. He founded the Lexington United Volleyball club, a youth training initiative that guided players 9-18 years old. 

The Lexington community came together to support Beerman as he battled COVID-19, a gesture of appreciation for the lives he has impacted on and off the court. A family friend started a GoFundMe page to help his family while he was in the hospital, which has raised more than $63,000 as of Monday night.

A coach and friend to his players, Beerman will be remembered not just for his many accomplishments, but for his passionate drive to succeed. Stephanie Ross, an outside hitter for the Panthers from 2005-2008, said Beerman’s blue-collar “grinder” personality embodied the city of Pittsburgh perfectly.

“He loved to work, he loved to compete, and not only did he love to win, he wanted to win in a way that would gut our opponents. He never cared who was on the other side of the net,” Ross said. “It wasn’t always ‘roses and sunshine’ but I know that I am the strong, independent woman I am today because of my time with Chris. And for that I will always be thankful.”