Escaping Nineveh: Baylor volleyball’s Ryan McGuyre prioritizes faith, family

Baylor volleyball head coach Ryan McGuyre has been with the Bears since 2014 and set the all-time win record on Sept. 9. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo Editor

By Jackson Posey | Sports Writer

In 2004, the California Baptist University men’s volleyball team walked onto the court at the national championship game alone.

The Lancers only had one volleyball coach on staff, Ryan McGuyre, who coached both the men’s and women’s teams. The women’s team had struggled the previous season, finishing conference play 1-19, and McGuyre knew he was on the hot seat. But when he got the call that his wife was going into labor, he booked a ticket for a 5 a.m. flight back to the West Coast.

“Turned out to be a pretty, pretty awesome day,” McGuyre said. “My son [Tristan] was born, and the men ended up winning the national championship. But I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to be part of it. But [in hindsight] I felt like, probably there was maybe a little bit of a test there.”

If it was a test, McGuyre passed with flying colors, and the following years bore the fruit of that intentionality. Eight months later, he coached the women’s team to their own national championship, finally able to be on the sidelines. In 10 seasons at California Baptist, McGuyre’s teams combined to win nine national titles. And this year, almost two decades after that first championship, he set Baylor’s all-time wins record with his son Tristan as a team manager.

“It gets me choked up, honestly,” McGuyre said. “[It’s] probably been hardest on my wife. Uproot California — she grew up Huntington — to go to Maryland, [to] Florida, to Texas. It looks different. It’s hot here. There’s no beaches. But it’s home. It’s family. I love it.”

McGuyre’s path to Waco was anything but typical. After a soccer injury forced McGuyre to sit out his freshman season of high school football, he went back to his middle school to start his coaching career as offensive coordinator of the flag football team.

To rehab from the injury, he continued coaching and started playing volleyball — his second-choice sport. With flag football in the fall and boys’ volleyball in the spring, McGuyre thought he had it made. But it wasn’t long before his college-aged self was thrust into the role of JV girls’ volleyball coach.

“I thought I was going to be coaching junior high boys’ flag football, maybe basketball my whole life,” McGuyre said. “And the AD was like, ‘Hey, our girls’ volleyball team’s not doing very good, so I need you to give up football.’ And I had no sisters or anything, so to give up football to do girls’ JV volleyball? That was my first time coaching female athletes. And oh man, it was a train wreck. … I felt like I knew the game, but, you know, girls still had cooties to me. I was a shy guy.”

Around the same time, McGuyre became a player-coach at Biola University, where he led the club team to a national championship. He coached there for a few seasons after graduation before moving up to take the California Baptist job.

“I took the job the same year I got married, and it paid much better than my alma mater,” McGuyre said. “Everyone says money’s a stressor, so hey, I was coaching the men and the women.”

The first season saw the women’s team post a nine-game improvement from the previous year’s team — still a losing record, but with progress. However, what should’ve been an “awesome, special” second year was ground to a halt by a rash of injuries.

“Injuries just devastated us,” McGuyre said. “Our setter was in a car accident. Our middle tore her meniscus jumping out of her truck. … One girl did an ACL sprain just hopping over lines in a warmup. And it got so bad we had to borrow a water polo player so we weren’t forfeiting matches. And she would be, like, our kill leader. She wouldn’t practice; she’d just come to the matches so we didn’t have to forfeit, to get six out there.”

That team started the season strong but finished 1-19 in conference play as the injuries continued to pile up. With a wife to take care of and a child on the way, McGuyre’s seat grew warmer, and his faith — the driving force behind his personal and professional life — was put to the test.

“Definitely a lot of extra time in prayer for strength to keep the main thing, the main thing,” McGuyre said. “I [didn’t] want to get fired with my wife giving birth and having this losing record on my last stop.”

That year, McGuyre righted the ship, winning two titles on the way to becoming California Baptist’s all-time winningest men’s and women’s volleyball coach. His nine combined national championships put him among the most successful coaches in the nation.

But in late 2011, on the heels of consecutive men’s national titles and a women’s national title, McGuyre wound up on the wrong end of backroom politics amid a large-scale athletics department exodus and was let go. The men’s interim coach led the back-to-back national champions to a 12-16 record and was replaced the following season. The program that had nine national titles was disbanded in 2017.

“It’s more complicated at faith-based [universities],” McGuyre said. “I was winning, but I saw [the athletic director] fire like three basketball coaches in the middle of the season — and for finishing like second or third. Wrestling coach was a good friend, got let go. Golf coach, cross country coach, soccer coach. So I was kind of there, and all of a sudden, they went through like 20-plus coaches. And I was younger then and spoke up, you know, maybe too much. All my friends were getting fired, and I didn’t like it.”

For McGuyre, the move represented a course correction from God. He was offered an assistant coaching job with Arkansas head coach Chris Poole and prayed about it. He and his wife “felt a peace” to take the job, but at the last minute, he turned it down.

“I felt like God called me to go, and I wimped out and said no,” McGuyre said. “I justified staying, but I knew I was supposed to go. And I’m returning teams that just won national championships, and so it was kind of popular. … I probably kind of pulled a Jonah, and the way I got let go from CBU was getting swallowed by the whale.”

Somehow, McGuyre still wound up coaching with Poole — this time as an assistant head coach at Florida State University. And though it wasn’t as stark an experience as the repentance of Nineveh, it was there that McGuyre learned how to be a major-conference head coach.

“[The whale] took me where I needed to be, you know?” McGuyre said. “And so, that’s why I’m thankful for God’s sovereignty, because I ended up at Florida State, which was with Coach Chris Poole somehow, even though I said no [previously].”

After stops at the University of Maryland and Florida State, that sovereignty led McGuyre to the one place he swore he’d never go back to: a Christian school.

“I had mentioned that I never want to go back to faith-based university again. God just kind of laughs at you when you say those things,” McGuyre said. “And I really loved the impacts at the big state schools because I think when you share God’s love with people that haven’t heard it, they really get excited about it. … Part of the challenge sometimes when you’re at faith-based places is that balance of grace and truth.”

Baylor hired McGuyre in late 2014, during the earliest stages of what became the most tumultuous period in the university’s history.

“I get to Baylor, and six months later, the AD that hired me is gone, the football coaches are gone, the president of the university is gone,” McGuyre said. “Stephen A. Smith [is] on ESPN saying, ‘Don’t send any females to Baylor University.’ And so it was very challenging right out of the gate, not only trying to get a program back on the winning record, but now the schools we’re recruiting against were speaking such damaging words — untrue, really — about Baylor and us and me and everything.”

In the midst of that firestorm, McGuyre managed to build a people-first culture that emphasizes personal growth over winning. That culture endures to the present day and has proven strong enough to withstand the challenges of the transfer portal era.

“He loves all of us as people, and I think that as a team, it’s amazing that he cares so much about us being better people, because I think that translates onto the court,” freshman outside hitter Kyndal Stowers said. “We always say, ‘Leaders love.’ When you have those traits off the court — like loving people, being kind, all those things — it translates onto the court.”

After sweeping James Madison on Thursday, Baylor is heading to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to play the winner of Kentucky and Wofford. McGuyre has led the Bears to eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a national semifinal berth in 2019, and they’re just getting started.

“As you go through [the] season, you expect to see growth no matter what,” junior outside hitter Elise McGhee said. “I feel like we obviously turn it on at the right time, and I’m really excited that we’re obviously going to the tournament playing really great volleyball.”

Since his time as a middle school flag football coach, McGuyre has coached at six universities, stretching from Orange County to Florida, from SoCal to Maryland. But with all those travels behind him, setting the wins record at Baylor just felt different.

“It is special just because Baylor feels like home,” McGuyre said. “Baylor feels like home. Waco feels like home. And I would say personally, there is just a self-satisfaction. I said, ‘Hey, thank you Lord for calling me here.’”

Jackson Posey is a sophomore from San Antonio, double-majoring in Journalism and Religion. He tries (and sometimes succeeds) at merging personal and analytical sports coverage in a way that emphasizes the importance of holistically understanding the people behind the game. In the not-so-distant future, he hopes to pursue a career in Christian ministry, preaching the good news of Jesus by exploring the beautiful intricacies of Scripture.