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Occidental's Sports Director Quits to Spend More Time With Family

July 24, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

When Mike Zinn finally made up his mind to resign as athletic director and head basketball coach at Occidental College late last month to sell shoes, no one was happier than his wife.

After spending the last 10 summers virtually alone raising their four sons while her husband put in 16-hour workdays, Zinn's wife, Teri, is finally getting some help this summer.

"I'm tickled," said his wife of 12 years. "It was time for a change. You know it's hard raising four kids alone."

You might say the sudden resignation was a "family decision" for Zinn, now a West Coast sales and promotions representative for Converse Inc., the manufacturer of sporting goods. Zinn, 35, whose last day at Occidental was July 11, less than three weeks after being contacted by Converse, had been the athletic director since 1982 and head basketball coach since 1980.

For Family and Self

"I did it as much for my family, as I did for myself," said Zinn, who came to Occidental in 1977 as an assistant basketball coach. "It got to a point where I felt I put my family through a lot in terms of me not being home a lot. But now there's a little stability with Converse."

Although his resignation was sudden, Zinn said, the decision wasn't.

"I felt a number of months ago that coaching was great and I liked being here, but if something else ever did come up with somebody like Converse, I would jump on it and never look back. It was fun to do, but it was something that once I got into it a few years, I thought, 'I'm not going to be doing this when I'm 60.' "

Most Oxy coaches were not surprised.

Lynn Pacala, who will replace Zinn at athletic director Aug. 15, said she knew Zinn was thinking of leaving. Pacala, who will also remain the physical education department chairman, was the interim athletic director in 1981-82 before being replaced by Zinn.

'Hard to Replace'

"Mike's a super guy," said Pacala. "It's going to be hard to replace someone who's been in the department that long. We wish him a lot of luck."

Zinn's departure was almost as surprisingly sudden as his arrival as athletic director. Only 31, he was offered the position even though he had little administrative experience.

"When I took over as athletic director it was the old right-place-at-the-right-time. I was lucky that I got a chance to do it at such a young age."

One of his main goals was consistency in Occidental athletic programs.

"I realized that it was unrealistic to think we were going to be champions at everything every year, but what I wanted to do was to see if we could create an atmosphere where we could be competitive and challenge for the conference championship in every sport, every year. We might finish third, but we're going to be challenging."

Zinn's philosophy seemed to work.

Steady Improvement

In his first year as athletic director in 1982-83, Tiger men's teams placed fifth in overall Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference competition and won championships in basketball and track. By 1985-86, the Tigers had improved their overall league standing to second with championships in football, track and cross-country.

The women's athletic program did just as well in 1985-86 by placing second in overall league competition with championships in tennis, cross-country and track. In Zinn's four years, the women never placed lower than second.

"We've got great head coaches," said Zinn in an interview before his departure. "Our head coaches have gotten good athletes. That's been the difference in the Occidental success. . . . We're still getting the good student, but now we're getting the good student who is also a good athlete. These are the kids that can play at a higher level, but because of all the things Occidental has to offer, they like it here."

Football has shown the biggest improvement. Although operating under a budget that Zinn claims is "smaller than a (Division I college) monthly phone bill," Occidental has won three consecutive SCIAC championships and gained three straight Division III playoff berths since Dale Widolff was named head coach in 1982.

Praised by Widolff

"We've had some tremendous success with our football program," Zinn said. "When I came here, the typical Oxy season was 2-8. Then they turned that around and have had national rankings and were on TV once when the NFL strike was going on."

Widolff attributes some of his success to Zinn.

"He's made my job easier by taking over some of the responsibilities coaches had to do in the past, like handling ticket sales and officials," Widolff said.

"Since this was his first administrative position and this was my first head coaching job, we went through some of the problems together. If I ever had a problem all I had to do was go talk to him. He's the easiest guy I've ever had to work with."

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