Elaine Michaelis: Mormon Coach

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Elaine Michaelis Mormon Coach
Courtesy BYUTV

Elaine Michaelis is a former women’s volleyball coach, having coached at Brigham Young University for over forty years. She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Michaelis grew up in Garland, Utah, where she learned to love sports from her father, Art. Her high school didn’t offer many girls’ sports, but at BYU she played on volleyball, basketball, and softball extramural squads, the only thing available to women at the time. She graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s in physical education, intending to teach elementary education. She signed a contract with South High School in Salt Lake City, but a BYU administrator asked to see her contract, took it, and said, “I’ll take care of this. You’re going to teach at BYU,” which she did. She began coaching in 1961 and earned her master’s in physical education in 1962. Over the years, as women’s athletics increased in stature and began offering scholarships, Michaelis was part of that development: she was heavily involved in the national Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women until the NCAA took over in the early 1970s.

At that time, Michaelis focused solely on volleyball after having spent many years coaching both volleyball and basketball. She also directed the women’s intramural and extramural programs for ten years. Her volleyball teams never had a losing record from 1969 until 2002, when she retired from coaching. Her teams had 28 consecutive winning seasons, qualified for 30 of the 33 national tournaments, and earned 23 conference games. In 1993, her team made it to the NCAA Final Four. When she retired from coaching, she was ranked No. 2 all-time in Division I volleyball victories and with the most wins by a female coach in collegiate volleyball at any level, even without counting her first eight seasons, which had no records kept. She retired as the all-time leader in victories among female coaches in collegiate volleyball at any level with an 886-225-5 (.792) record. She is also praised for her ability to hire good assistant coaches.

Michaelis had served as BYU women’s athletic director from 1995–2004, but that came abruptly to a close in September 2004 when she was fired. The Deseret News reported her perspective on the events:

Last spring, BYU's athletic department decided to conduct a self-study. Michaelis had a feeling that advancement vice president Fred Skousen wanted to consolidate the men's and women's athletic departments. He didn't ask her opinion, so she sent him a memo to explain why the two shouldn't be combined. She expressed her views to him on another occasion.
When the study was completed, Michaelis and Hale discussed the results with Skousen and they wondered about the administration's next step. Michaelis said she told Skousen that if the plan was to combine the athletic departments, then she would be more than happy to retire. But she didn't hear much more after that.
"I kept thinking something would happen, but time went by and we got into the fall," Michaelis says. "And I thought they must not be doing it this fall."[1]

Michaelis and Hale attended their bi-monthly meetings with Skousen, which she thought would be just a regular meeting. But Skousen told her that the departments were combining, that there would be a change in leadership, and that neither her contract, nor Hale’s, would be renewed. The news release sent out by BYU didn’t acknowledge her long list of accomplishments and she was not invited to the press conference. But she was generous in her regard for the other coaches and for the university. She didn’t want the administrative decision to affect the university in a negative way. But in the end it was a public relations mess. Skousen later apologized to her for how the situation was handled.

In 2005, she was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. She was honored with the Mountain West Conference Dr. Albert C. Yates Distinguished Service Award in 2005. The volleyball court in the Smith Fieldhouse at BYU was named in her honor in 2005, and in 2008 she was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame.