If you’ve ever visited with the likable and laid-back Arizona coach Dave Rubio, you know he’s a think-outside-the-box kind of guy.
But the pandemic shed some new light on the second-longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12.
Not only is he an avid surfer — we knew that and just wait until you see the video at this story’s end — but Rubio is a ballroom dance instructor and loves old cars.
Like his 1971 Volkswagen van. Or the 1955 Chevy 3100 truck that’s been in the family since the 1960s.
I was planning on catching up with him later in the summer to talk Arizona volleyball — his program has been decimated the past two seasons by concussions — but in early April, and then re-Tweeted again on Mother’s Day, there was this post in which he dances with his mom:
Wishing a happy Mother’s Day to all Wildcat moms out there! Thank you for everything that you do!
Now feels like as good a time as any to repost this video! ❤️💙
— Arizona Volleyball (@ArizonaVBall) May 10, 2020
So let’s start there with a guy who heads into the next season, his 29th at Arizona and 34th overall, with an overall record of 649-404.
“I taught ballroom dancing when I was (the coach) at Cal State Bakersfield for five years,” Rubio said. “And I took a lot of ballroom dance (as a student) at Cal State Northridge. That’s how I was able to go in and teach it. Very remedial. Ballroom 101. Basic steps with a few variations. But I’ve always enjoyed it.”
His mom, Shirley, deserves much of the credit.
“When I was growing up she was dancing all the time and teaching me when I was 7, 8, 9 years old. Just basic footwork and steps on different dances. At Northridge I eventually became a physical-education major and they had a lot of ballroom dances. And the head coach at the time, Walt Ker, was teaching a lot of classes. So I naturally took all the classes there and it was fun. I enjoyed it.”
His mother went to be with her son and his family in Tucson right before she would have been shut down in California. Shirley, by the way, turns 83 in June, while her son will be 61 next month.
Rubio said his assistants have been on him to Tweet more, so dancing with mom was just the thing.
“I knew that she would love the opportunity to dance and my kids were in the background,”
Rubio said with a laugh. “That was really fun and I’ve certainly gotten a lot of mileage out of it. It’s amazing how many people bring it up.”
And there are the aforementioned Chevy Truck and VW van, and also a 1977 Ford XLT Ranger.
“I’m a car guy,” said Rubio, who trails only Utah’s Beth Launiere in the Pac-12 and ranks 13th overall in the NCAA for coaches who have been at their school the longest.
“I’d have dozens of cars if I had the space and the money.”
Rubio said he inherited the 1955 Chevy 1300 when his father passed away “and my father-in-law and I stripped it down to the frame and built it back up.”
The VW has a sun roof, which is a great place for your long board to pop through, and in addition to that and the Ranger, “we have three or four other cars besides that.”
Rubio said he’s not particularly mechanical, but “I always loved cars and back in the day, in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, I was buying and selling cars a lot. Muscle cars. I had a 1970 Challenger, a ’68 Ford Mustang Fastback, and a ’55 Suburban. I had a lot of different cars I wish I’d hung on to, but I would just trade them around. At the time you could do that and not spend a lot of money.”
Arizona finished 11-9 in 2018, 11-9 in the Pac-12, and made a first-round NCAA Tournament appearance. There was every reason to figure the Wildcats would be pretty good again last fall. They were sixth in the coaches preseason poll. But on their way to a 15-17 finish, 5-15 in the league, one thing led to another.
“It was the second year in a row we had several concussions and (in 2019) we just didn’t have the depth to deal with it,” Rubio said.
I watched Arizona play at Utah in early November and the Wildcats were so thin Rubio had a 5-7 DS playing rotations at opposite and middle. And Arizona still took Utah, ranked 17th at the time, to five.
“Our starting middle was out, our starting opposite, and the person who was going to back up the opposite was out as well.
“And then our starting libero who started the season wasn’t back yet because she had severely strained her hamstring.”
Despite it all, Arizona won three of its last six matches, winning at Oregon and Oregon State, losing to Washington before upsetting No. 22 Washington State, and after getting swept by UCLA before it lost at home to Arizona State in five, 17-15 in the fifth, to end the season.
Things, however, are looking up. Arizona was just outside the top 10 in the VolleyballMag.com NCAA recruiting-class ranking, getting an honorable mention, and was No. 9 nationally by PrepVolleyball.com.
Arizona will, however, be young. The Wildcats roster will have no fewer than nine true freshman this season, two redshirt-freshmen and two sophomores.
“Inexperience is kind of a death sentence. I mean it’s very unforgiving when you’re going into conference with a lot of freshman,” Rubio cracked. “That’s unless they’re exceptionally talented and the good news is I think we have some pretty talented freshmen.”
Some are walk-on defensive specialists, but still, that’s a bunch of youngsters.
“You just don’t know how they’re all going to develop, but certainly coming in the door with the notoriety and the experience and the club successes they’ve had, on paper it’s one of the better recruiting classes we’ve had in several years.”
A few of those players could make impacts from the get go. Jaelyn Hodge, a 6-foot-1 outside from Chandler, Arizona, was on the VolleyballMag.com Girls Fab 50 list. And Rubio said that not too many people know about 5-9 Mexican Sofia Maldonado.
“She’s terrific,” Rubio said.
There’s height, too, in that freshman class.
China Crouch, a middle from Oceanside, California, might not only make the all-name team, she’s 6-6. And Lauren Ware is a 6-5 product of Bismarck, North Dakota, who is also going to play basketball after the volleyball season.
“She’s going to be an impact player for us, as she will be for women’s basketball,” Rubio said.
The top returner is 6-1 senior outside Paige Whipple, who was sixth in the Pac-12 last season with 3.94 kills per set. The only other senior is Akia Warrior, a graduate-student transfer from Fort Worth, Texas, via Belmont. Warrior’s mother Val Novak was an All-American setter for Terry Pettit at Nebraska, and her father, Steven, grew up in Tucson and played basketball at Air Force.
Two others transferred in, German middle Merle Weidt from Rutgers (who is in Tucson during this time), and outside Dilara Gedikoglu from Tulsa (who made it home to Alanya, Turkey). One key player left, opposite Katie Smoot, who will sit out a season after transferring to Cal.
Two other key players won’t be back. Opposite Liz Shelton, who had concussions, will medically retire, Rubio said, and middle Shardonee Hayes, also out last season with a concussion, also retired.
Anyway, back to Rubio’s other passion, surfing.
“My dream is to retire and live in San Diego and surf every day,” Rubio said. “That’s what I do other than read and work out.”
One of his best surfing buddies is Tod Maddox, the volleyball coach at Bishop High School in La Jolla and an Art of Coaching clinician.
“There is certainly a segment of us who grew up in Southern California and surfed,” Rubio said. “It was part of the culture. Beach volleyball and surfing.”
And when you mix cars and surfing? Take the time to watch this video: