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The WRIGHT Way to Athletic Success at Pepperdine

July 31, 1986|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

Among the pictures hanging on the office walls of Pepperdine Athletic Director Wayne Wright are two of sailboats, one braving a stormy sea and the other at anchor in a safe harbor.

"I like to tell people that this is where I am," said Wright, pointing to the wave-battered boat, "and this is where I'd like to be," pointing to the other.

If perilous seas constantly torment college athletic directors, Wright has shown an unusual capacity for riding out storms. He's been at it for 10 years.

Only coaches seem to get fired more often than leaders of major college sports programs, who must deal with a variety of factors: better job, can see to it that a university's teams win more games.

There are larger university sports programs--with more money--that try to lure away the best coaches.

And then there's the problem of maintaining a sound program, in which teams win in the arena and at the box office.

If the number of wins are the sole criterion for retaining an athletic director, the 52-year-old Wright, who coached Pepperdine baseball teams to a record of 194-166 from 1969 through 1976, has given the administration little reason to give him the heave-ho.

In Wright's decade at the helm, Wave teams have a record of 1,801-988, a winning percentage of .646. National rankings and postseason appearances have become a matter of form for Pepperdine teams. In the last academic year, 8 of its squads were ranked among the nation's top 20, 3 in the top 10.

In the last 10 years, Pepperdine men's volleyball teams have won three NCAA Division I championships. The first came in 1978, the second in 1985 under Coach Marv Dunphy, who took a leave last year to become head coach of the U. S. men's team for the 1988 Olympics, and the third in 1986 under first-year Coach Rod Wilde, a three-time All-American at Pepperdine who played for Dunphy's 1978 champions.

Outstanding Tennis Record

Some of the coaches who have worked for Wright during most of his tenure include: Allen Fox, men's tennis, nine seasons, 200-57, .778; Rick Rowland, men's swimming, nine seasons, 68-26, .723; Jim Harrick, men's basketball, seven seasons, 138-66, .676; Gualberto Escudero, women's tennis, nine seasons, 172-88, .662; Dave Gorrie, baseball, eight seasons, 324-166, .661, and Roland, water polo, 11 seasons, 243-126, .659.

In 1985, Nina Matthies' first year as women's volleyball coach, her team was only 6-25 with players she inherited and walk-ons. In the last two seasons, with players she recruited, her squads have gone 44-30.

Pepperdine will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1987-88, and the school's athletic success didn't happen overnight.

It had winning teams at its old campus at 79th Street and Vermont Avenue in South-Central Los Angeles, including a mythical small-college national championship in football in 1947. But, except for basketball, the competition was mostly of the small-college variety--and so were the facilities.

Winners Attract Donors

The school didn't start to go big time in sports until it opened its Malibu campus in 1972. As its sparkling seaside campus grew, so did its fund-raising. And so did athletics, which made it easier for Pepperdine to raise money. Winning teams tend to attract donors with deep pockets.

If it were not already a university with law and graduate schools as well as satellite centers, Pepperdine could still be categorized as a small college. Its undergraduate enrollment at Malibu is only about 2,400.

But, except for the fact that the Waves don't play football, there is nothing small-time about Pepperdine athletics. Its teams win, its seven men's and six women's teams qualify for NCAA Division I status (The NCAA requires six each), and its athletic department had a $2-million budget last year.

With big-time status, however, come big-time problems.

Wright said his budget consists mostly of grants-in-aid or scholarships to athletes. A full ride for an athlete next fall, when tuition rises from $9,440 a year to $10,200 and room and board is expected to top $4,000, will be more than $14,000.

"Sometimes the more successful you are, the more it costs you," Wright said. "And costs go up every year, both internally and externally. It gets tough."

It got especially tough early this year when Wright had to decide to drop one men's sport because the university had increased its women's teams to six to meet NCAA Division I requirements.

Tougher on Rowland, whose men's swim team was eliminated and its funds ($167,000) spread among women's sports. Rowland resigned as water polo coach and confined his duties to teaching and the campus ministry. Terry Schroeder, a three-time All-American under Rowland and a star of the 1984 U. S. Olympics team, will be the new water polo coach next fall.

Swimmer Kept Scholarships

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