Retiring Pepperdine legend Marv Dunphy “best coach I ever went up against”

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Marv Dunphy coached tthe USA to the 1988 Olympic gold medal

If you ask current and former Pepperdine men’s players what their favorite Marv Dunphy saying is, a majority bring up the phrase “better the ball.”

“I was a middle, so I didn’t touch the ball a lot,” deadpanned former Pepperdine great Brad Keenan. “But it was always ‘better the ball.’ That still comes out of my mouth a lot at practice.”

Keenan and many others throughout the volleyball community reacted Monday to the news the legendary Dunphy, one of the most well-loved and respected people in volleyball, announced his retirement as men’s coach at Pepperdine, the picturesque school in Malibu, Calif., that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

Retired UCLA men’s coaching legend Al Scates said Dunphy, “was the best coach I ever went up against.”

Dunphy posted an on-court record of 612-277 (.688 winning percentage) over 34 seasons with the Pepperdine men’s program. His 1978, 1985, 1992 and 2005 teams won NCAA titles. Dunphy is a three-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation coach of the year and was named the AVCA national coach of the year in that 2005 title season.

He also made seven Olympic appearances as a coach, including directing the 1988 U.S. men to an Olympic gold medal. He was a trusted advisor also to women’s Olympic coaches and regarded as one of the best people in the sport.

Marv Dunphy

“I’ve decided it’s time,” the 69-year-old Dunphy said in a Pepperdine news release. “It’s just time and there’s not a lot more to it than that. I’m grateful to Pepperdine for all that it’s given me. I can’t imagine any other institution being as supportive of a coach as Pepperdine has been to me.

“I’m really grateful to the leadership of this university: Andy Benton, Bob Thomas, Wayne Wright, John Watson and Steve Potts. They let me go away to get a doctorate and come back, and to coach a couple Olympic teams and come back. The hardest thing is leaving the players. I want to thank our current and former players for giving me the privilege of being their coach and for all that they brought to this program.”

Sean Rooney, another former Pepperdine great who was a member of the 2005 title team, was on Dunphy’s staff the last two seasons.

“He’s been the leader of Pepperdine men’s volleyball for so long it’s hard to measure and separate the man and Pepperdine volleyball,” said Rooney, who noted he also is leaving Pepperdine to spend time with his family and heal up nagging playing injuries.

“He has meant so much to me on and off the court and he means so much to my family and kids. I was able to work with him these last two years and I’m glad I had the opportunity. It was one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Keenan said when arrived in Malibu, the improvement in his game was almost instant.

“When I got there, I was nowhere near ready,” he said. “After two months in the fall I was starting. I can’t pinpoint it. I instantly saw myself get better. He knows how to teach each individual player.

“If you need it tough, he’ll give it to you tough and if you need it light he gives it you light. He’s definitely an all-time great. He’s had a hand in so many Olympic medals and look at all he did at Pepperdine. You always want Marv on your side if you want to win.”

Retired USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal played for Dunphy in the early 1970s and later coached with him.

“Marv is one of the really special people in the sport,” Beal said. “One of the great coaches who has ever been in our world. He’s touched more players and has established higher standards than almost anybody can think of.

“We’re lucky to have him in volleyball. A term you commonly hear in volleyball is someone is a player’s coach. I don’t think that’s all Marv was. He’s clearly a coach players loved to play for and because of that, lots of times teams overachieved because he has such a positive personality and was able to get so much out of his players. He always found the best way to communicate what he wanted his players to do. He would make the small changes that allowed you to be a better skilled performer. He is a remarkable role model.”

Scates had nothing but praise for his former rival.

“Marv retired at 69, but he worked all year in volleyball,” Scates said. “He’s put in a pretty full career I would say.

“What I like about Marv the most is his players always think very highly of him. He prepared teams so well. They always were ready to go. What they did at the beginning of the season is what they did in May. His teams had good technique and they were solid all year. Marv is a straight-up honest guy. Some coaches you could trust and others you coluldn’t. Some guys wouldn’t have their gym available to you for practice. Not Marv. He is a solid guy who has done a lot for volleyball.

“We will miss him. He’s a great coach who had a great career winning four NCAA titles.”

Scates said another impressive aspect with Dunphy was his run with the 1988 Olympic team.

“He had the whole team back from the 1984 championship team and he didn’t try to change it,” he said. “He went with what was working. He was smart enough to know what he had was good. He kept the same starters and the same system and won a gold medal.”

Penn State men’s coach Mark Pavlik first met Dunphy in the late 1980s.

“The more I got to know him a friendship blossomed,” he said. “It was probably less about volleyball and more about enjoying Marv the man and his family. Anytime I had a question I knew I could pick up the phone and talk to Marv.

“This is a guy who has achieved excellence at the highest levels of the game but still could laugh at himself. He has affected so many of us and has set a standard that all of us as coaches try to get up to and he has been there to help us along the way. Every Wave player I got to know as more than just competitors are outstanding men and Marv Dunphy is a big reason why. I’m happy for Marv but sad for NCAA men’s volleyball. Talk about a guy who has affected so many players and people over the course of a career.”

Beal holds Dunphy in the highest regard in the sport.

“The respect he has for the sport and the dignity he has demonstrated is something special,” he said. “One of the traits that defines great coaches is they love people. Marv had the wonderful ability to strike up a conversation with anybody. Marv’s impact on the sport is very difficult to overstate. We are lucky someone like Marv Dunphy decided to spend his career in volleyball.

“It’s been a privilege and honor for me to be part of Marv’s career. He’s one of the very select few that left a really indelible mark on this sport. He’s one of the icons.”

A total of 11 Pepperdine alums who played for Dunphy have competed in either indoor or beach volleyball at the Olympics and have brought back seven gold and two bronze medals. A Pepperdine alum has played volleyball in each of the last nine Olympics.

Dunphy will remain at Pepperdine during the 2017-2018 school year in order to continue teaching his coaching class and to assist with special projects for the athletics department and men’s volleyball program.

Dunphy’s retirement continues a recent trend in which many of the “old guard” have retired, especially in women’s volleyball, including Hawai’i coach Dave Shoji, Stanford’s John Dunning, Cal’s Rich Feller and Long Beach State’s Brian Gimmillaro.

Click here to read the complete Pepperdine news release with more about Dunphy’s career.

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