Newcomb, UCI volleyball patriarch, dies

Bob Newcomb, who founded the UC Irvine men's volleyball program and was the Anteaters' first coach, died on July 10. He was 81.

Newcomb, known by UCI players, coaches and fans as the Godfather of a UCI men's program that has won four NCAA championships since 2007, was also founding director of the UC Irvine Center for Statistical Consulting and a 45-year member of the UCI community.

"He was the start of UCI men's volleyball" said Anteaters Coach David Kniffin, who considered Newcomb a friend and mentor. "Not only did he start the program, he was responsible for keeping it going a couple times [when its existence was threatened by budget cuts]. He was the team's lifeline."

Newcomb, Kniffin said, also began the men's volleyball club program at UC Santa Barbara, from which he received his Ph.D. in mathematics, before joining the UCI faculty in 1969.

He founded the volleyball program at UCI in 1970 and was head coach through 1974.

"I think he saw the value of the student-athlete experience and that it was at one with the mission of the university," Kniffin said of Newcomb, who was commissioner of the Southern California Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. — later renamed the Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. — from 1975 through 1992. "He loved the game and the people in it and he saw that it amplified the collegiate experience."

Newcomb wrote the initial proposal and lobbied for the establishment of the men's volleyball scholarship program in 1988-89 and served on the NCAA men's volleyball championship committee from 1989 to 1992. He was committee chair from 1990 to 1992.

He was a mentor to players and coaches alike and the Robert Newcomb Student Award scholarship is presented annually to the UCI player that demonstrates excellence in academics and leadership.

"He was very proud of the program's success, but in watching him talk to other people about the program, his opening and closing lines were always about relationships and how special the group of guys were," Kniffin said. "He'd only throw in a short blip about championships in between. He would talk about how proud he was of the players, and only tack on the fact that one was a pretty good player, or walked out of here an All-American.

"Anyone who talked to Bob would tell you that the whole world stopped when you were in a conversation with him, because he made you feel like the most important person in the world," Kniffin said. "It's so rare to meet someone so selfless and inclusive. So many people who knew him through our program never knew all the things he was involved in on campus. And [his diverse involvement in UCI] was all about relationships and creating a better community. It was always much bigger than volleyball."

Newcomb was a lecturer in social sciences until his retirement in 2006 and he also served as acting associate dean of both undergraduate and graduate studies in social sciences.

He taught statistics and, in 1996, founded the center for statistical consulting, for which he served as director until 2011.

In 2012, the department established an annual lecture and graduate fellowship in his honor.

He won the UCI Alumni Assn. Distinguished Teaching Award for his work in social sciences and education in 1980.

In retirement, he served as director of the ICTS's biostatistics unit. He established the Orange County Long Beach chapter of the American Statistical Assn. and served as its founding president. He also continued to teach after retirement, completing his last course in the spring quarter of 2014, several weeks before his passing.

He was honored by the American Volleyball Coaches Assn. in 2006.

"He was a special man," Kniffin said. "It's hard to find the words to honor him, but he inspired a commitment to living, because of all the things he did and the way he impacted so many lives. The best I can do is to try to live a little more like Bob."

Newcomb is survived by his wife, Betty, Daughters Jhyl Mumford and Dale Marcikic, son Scott Newcomb, brother David Newcomb and grandchildren.

The family has asked that, instead of flowers, donations be made to the Robert L. Newcomb Graduate Fellowship Fund and the Robert Newcomb Student Award for Men's Volleyball.

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