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Leach Is Retiring as USC's Tennis Coach

April 24, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dick Leach, nearing the end of a long and storied career as men's tennis coach at USC, wondered when he would know it was time to move on. Would it be a feeling? Some sort of sign? Too many days of driving 100 miles round trip to USC from his home in Orange County?

A trusted friend told him: "You'll know."

The moment arrived Sunday night. He returned home after an emotional 4-3 victory at Stanford and couldn't sleep. Leach got up, wrote a letter to his boss, Associate Athletic Director Daryl Gross, detailing his plan to retire at the end of this tennis season in June. "Then I went to sleep," Leach said. "It must have been the right thing."

Leach took the job in 1980 and in 22 postseason appearances won NCAA team titles in 1991, 1993 and 1994. Additionally, he coached two NCAA singles champions--Robert Van't Hof in 1980 and Cecil Mamiit in 1996--as well as three NCAA doubles champions.

"It's been wonderful," said Leach, 62, adding he was lucky to have been able to coach his two sons, Rick and Jon, at USC for four years. He will stay involved in the program, advising Athletic Director Mike Garrett and his successor as tennis coach, as well as fund raising, remaining on the staff as emeritus director.

"That was really nice of 'SC," he said. "They wanted me to stay longer."

Previously, speculation had centered on Rick Leach taking over for his father. But the school will go on a nationwide search because Rick is simply doing too well on the ATP Tour and realized he isn't suited to the sidelines.

"He really missed the pro tour [after a year as an assistant]," Dick Leach said. "He just loves to play. He's still playing at a good level. After a year, he decided coaching was not for him. When we were driving home, he would say, 'How in the world have you done this for 23 years?'"

Rick, 37, has had extraordinary success late in his career. He won the Australian Open doubles title in 2000 with partner Ellis Ferreira, and they won the ATP World Doubles Challenge Cup in Bangalore, India, in February. Leach has won at least one title every year for the last 16 years, the longest streak among active players on the tour.

Still, there won't be any shortage of applicants for the position at USC. Three of Leach's former assistants are coaches at prominent Division I programs.

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