Colorado volleyball assistant coach Leonid Yelin has likely the most distinguished résumé of any assistant to come to CU in any sport.
In January, Yelin announced his retirement from the University of Louisville. The program’s head coach for 15 years, Yelin led the Cardinals to 14 NCAA tournaments, including four appearances in the Sweet Sixteen. Many expected Yelin to land a head coaching job at a BCS conference school, so it came as a surprise to many when Colorado head coach Liz Kritza announced in June that she would be bringing Yelin on board her staff.
“I retired from Louisville, but I’m not retired from volleyball,” said Yelin, 61. “I’ve known Liz Kritza for a really long time, so when this opportunity came, I decided that it would be nice to be here. [It’s a] good school, a good conference and a good town.”
While Yelin spent the past 15 years at the same job, he is no stranger to abrupt changes in scenery. In 1989, Yelin fled his native Uzbekistan, where he was the country’s national women’s volleyball head coach, two years before the nation gained independence from the Soviet Union. He took a job at Division II Barry University, in Miami Shores, Fla. At Barry, Yelin started a trend that would become a theme throughout his career — winning. He transformed a Barry team that went 8-17 in his first season into one that would win the Division II national championship five years later.
Following Yelin’s national championship run in 1995, he was named Louisville’s head coach. Wins came to the Cardinals right out of the gate, achieving a 28-5 record in Yelin’s first campaign as head coach. His most successful seasons in the Bluegrass State came in the mid- 2000s, where he won 30 games in both 2004 and 2005, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in both years, but Yelin’s mantra at Louisville was consistency. He missed the NCAA tournament only once in his 15 years, and won 20 games in all but four of his seasons at Louisville.
He retired ranked 16th on the NCAA all-time wins list.
Part of the reason Colorado is so attractive to Yelin is the conference they play in. The Pac-12 is considered by many to be the most competitive volleyball conference in America. With that distinction comes a heavy challenge for the Buffs. Already rebuilding, CU has to step up even more to secure
a .500 record and a chance at an NCAA berth.
“It’s going to be really tough,” Yelin says. “They were building their program in the Big 12, which wasn’t an easy conference. But now, in an even stronger conference, you have to step up everywhere. The athletes have got to be better. Everything has to be better, because it’s such a strong conference, so everything has to be close to perfect.”
It’s not certain where Yelin will go from here. He hinted that Boulder may just be a stepping stone and that he’ll evaluate his options after the season ends in December. Should he decide to head coach again, he would be highly sought after. But one thing’s for certain: Yelin brings experience to the CU huddle that will be sorely needed, especially when the program hits the grind that is the Pac-12 conference.