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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Corso Punching Out, but Work Remains

Water polo: Happy for the experience, coach of U.S. team heading back to Harvard-Westlake without gold medal he wanted.

July 28, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Rich Corso used to work 18-hour days toward his goal of someday becoming head coach of the U.S. men's water polo team.

Then, in 1993, he got the job and started working 18-hour days, again at the expense of his personal and family life, toward his goal of guiding that team to a gold medal in the Olympics.

Friday, perhaps, was Corso's last 18-hour day.

The United States lost, 5-4, to Spain in the quarterfinal round of Olympic competition at the Georgia Tech Aquatics Center.

The U.S. is out of medal contention, and soon Corso will be out of his coaching job.

And, yes, as a matter of fact, he does have a few regrets.

He regrets that Spain played such dogged defense.

He regrets that several shots his team worked hard for bounced off the bar of the goal.

He regrets that oftentimes it seemed as though his players were trying just too hard.

He regrets that even the best of teams usually need at least some measure of luck.

And, of course, he regrets. . . . Well, actually, that's about it.

The long hours and sacrifices?

Heck, they were worth it.

"I can honestly say I wouldn't have traded this experience for the world," Corso said less than an hour after the loss. "I would not change a thing, and I can go back three years and say that."

Corso, a Van Nuys resident, became coach of the U.S. team in 1993, a year after the Americans finished fourth in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Though gutted by retirements, the United States retooled under Corso, gradually inching up in the world rankings and winning the gold medal in the 1995 Pan American Games.

Corso, 42, has been a coach half his life. Born in Flushing, N.Y., and raised in East Hartford, Conn.--"not exactly water polo hotbeds," he says--Corso realized early he could be a better coach than he ever was a player.

"On a good day, if I was in my zone, I was maybe, maybe, mediocre," he said. "I knew I wasn't ever going to be a great player or swimmer, so I put all my energy into teaching and coaching."

Corso instituted a comprehensive year-around training program for the U.S. team, but none of his players worked any harder than he did.

The first year he held the job, Corso also was head coach at Harvard-Westlake High in North Hollywood and worked in the school's admissions office. In effect, he had three almost full-time jobs.

The most time consuming, water polo, paid $7,000 annually the first two years. This compared to six-figure incomes earned by some European coaches, most notably Italy's Ratko Rudic, who reportedly makes almost $500,000.

A significant raise--subtract a 0 from Rudic's deal--allowed Corso to take a leave of absence from his job at the school last year, but his schedule was no less hectic. He is a stickler for detail who scouts and studies film religiously.

"Rich worked tremendously hard and did a great job with this team," said Bret Bernard, vice president of USA Water Polo.

Of course, a man so immersed in his job has a price to pay.

"It's scary when you reach the point where you don't remember who taught your kid how to ride a bike," Corso said. "It's time to do some of that."

Corso has two daughters, Meredith and Meghan. Meredith, the oldest, will be a freshman at Harvard-Westlake this fall and her dad his eagerly anticipating watching her play for the school's basketball team.

"That's what I'm going to do, watch her play for four years," Corso said, "because after that she's going to be gone. She'll be in college and I won't have that opportunity again."

Corso's chance at guiding the U.S. team also was a long time coming. He was an assistant at Stanford in 1976, head coach at Yale in '77 and an assistant at UCLA from '78 to '85 before taking his position at Harvard-Westlake.

In terms of national experience, Corso was head coach of the U.S. junior team from 1984 to '88 and was an assistant when the Americans won the silver medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Passed over for a position on the staff for the '88 Games in Barcelona, he was boss of Canada's national team from 1990 to '92.

Though "devastated" by the loss to Spain, Corso was philosophical afterward even while teary-eyed.

"I had my opportunity. I had my window," he said. "Now I'm going to take everything I've learned in the last 10 years and go back and help our students at Harvard-Westlake."

Corso wasn't necessarily referring to the water polo team, but he managed to force a smile when reminded about the challenge that awaits him there.

In 11 years under Corso, Harvard-Westlake failed to advance to the playoff semifinals only four times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Profile

* Coach: Rich Corso.

* Discipline: Water polo.

* Hometown: Van Nuys.

* Coaching background: First Olympics as head coach. Goalkeeper coach in 1984 when U.S. won silver medal. This trip, Americans lost only to reigning world champion Italy in pool play, but were eliminated from medal contention in a 5-4 quarterfinal loss to Spain on Friday. Will coach the Harvard-Westlake High boys' team in the fall.

* Record: Lost to Greece in consolation game Saturday, falling to 3-3.

* Personal: Was snubbed in bid for assistant's post on Olympic staff in '88, prompting him to consider taking a job coaching European power Wasserfreunde Spandau. Instead, he created his own Harvard-Westlake Water Polo Foundation, a team that went on to win consecutive indoor national championships from 1989-91. His first two years as national coach he earned a stipend of only $7,000.

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