The New U.S. Coach : Dunphy Now Guiding National Men’s Volleyball Team

Times Staff Writer

Marv Dunphy started a new job a few weeks ago. His position is one of considerable authority, one that clearly establishes him as an expert in his field. He’s the new boss, the guy who will be making all the high-level decisions.

Still, Dunphy was careful not to come on too strong in his first week on the job. Conscious of making this a smooth transition, he used the time to get better acquainted with his co-workers and underlings.

“I couldn’t very well come in and give a state of the union, according to Dunphy,” he said.


That wouldn’t be Dunphy’s style. Besides, it probably wouldn’t go over too big in an organization that did all right before his arrival.

Dunphy was handpicked to succeed Doug Beal as the coach of the U.S. national men’s volleyball team, assuming the post less than a year after that team won its first Olympic medal in the sport--a gold at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Such success has brought increased exposure and visibility to a sport in search of both, making these critical times for volleyball in the U.S.

The man entrusted with directing volleyball’s new box-office attraction is well aware of his position. “Surely, it’s the elite coaching job in volleyball in the United States today,” Dunphy said.

That’s not to suggest that Dunphy was unhappy in the job he left behind.

He began his coaching career at Pepperdine, where he had been an All-American player, an assistant coach, and finally head coach. In six seasons under Dunphy, Pepperdine compiled a 118-32 record and reached the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. final four five times.


The Waves won the championship in 1978, and this spring gave Dunphy a going-away present in the form of another NCAA title with a victory over USC.

The success made Dunphy the wizard of driftwood around Malibu, but there were still those who wondered what he was doing coaching in a city known more for its mudslides and celebrity residents than its university on the hill. “Why Pepperd een ?” they asked.

“People used to ask me, ‘Marv, you’ve done well here. Are you ready to move on to a name school, a name athletic department?’

“But they weren’t sitting in my office. They weren’t looking out over the ocean. I tell ya, there’s not a better place to work.”

Especially when you live a short and scenic drive from the office. Dunphy, who was born and raised in Topanga Canyon, lives in Calabasas, not far from Pepperdine along Malibu Canyon Road. As attractive as the new job was, it had its drawbacks. He would have to relocate in San Diego, to be near the U.S. team’s training headquarters. And in a sense, leaving Pepperdine meant leaving home.

“A little bit of my blood is in the volleyball program at that university,” he said. “It was a real tough decision.”

Dunphy reasoned that there is never really a right time to make such a move, but this was a career opportunity too good to pass up. He was granted a four-year leave of absence from Pepperdine, which made the decision considerably easier. He is expected to serve as the U.S. coach through the 1988 Olympics at Seoul, South Korea.

So, Dunphy is now selling his home in Calabasas and leasing one in the San Diego area. And the U.S. players, eight of whom were members of the 1984 Olympic team, are getting used to their new boss.

Dunphy has a reputation of being one of volleyball’s premier teachers and tacticians. He has written a book and published several articles on the subject, and served as a researcher for ABC-TV during the ’84 Olympics. Dunphy believes in doing his homework.

“The guys that I played for were good teachers, and coaching is really the highest form of teaching,” he said.

These are some of the things Mr. Dunphy’s students can expect from their new teacher:

--Audio-visual aids, and lots of them. Dunphy is a firm believer in the use of videotape to expose weaknesses and perfect techniques. It’s not exactly a new concept in sport but it’s one Dunphy uses to the hilt.

--John Wooden-like composure on the bench. “I went to as many UCLA basketball games as I could, but they were Coach Wooden games to me,” Dunphy said. “I was oblivious to the players.”

Wooden’s influence taught Dunphy to keep his head while others around him were losing theirs. Gary Sato, Dunphy’s assistant on the Pepperdine team that won the NCAA title in 1978 and now an assistant coach on the national team, has never known his boss to throw a chair.

“The players can go up or down (emotionally), but he brings them back to an even keel,” Sato said. “I don’t think he strives to do that directly. That’s just the way it is. That’s the effect he has.”

--An expansion of the job program that began during Beal’s tenure. The program enables players from the national team to train full time in San Diego and work part time in jobs that might prepare them for careers after volleyball. The fringe benefits are nice. The players get paid full-time salaries, and are given 90 days of paid vacation a year to enable them to travel for competition. Dunphy said this provides the national team with the stability he said it needs.

“In our sport, we can’t take an all-star team and do well internationally,” he said. “Basketball can take the fourth-, fifth- or sixth-best group of guys and just wing it, go out there and slam-dunk and dominate. Our talent pool’s not big enough where we can do that. We need to involve the Steve Salmons, Pat Powers, Steve Timmons and Karch Kiralys over periods of time. We need to make the program as attractive as we can to keep young, elite athletes involved.”

--A nice guy. Dunphy prefers to think of himself as a player’s coach, the type who can get the most from his players without a crack-the-whip approach. He puts a lot of emphasis on maintaining a good relationship with his athletes.

“It’s not a buddy-buddy relationship, but I’ve always told my players that I try to be fair, honest and open,” he said. “You have to respect the fact that everybody’s different.”

Said Kiraly, a key member of the ’84 Olympic team and the current national team captain: “He’s a little more friendly with the players. He’s got a different style.”

More friendly?

Kiraly didn’t mention names in his comparison, but Beal’s comes immediately to mind. Beal was the man in charge during the U.S. climb to prominence in men’s volleyball, but he wasn’t exactly a popular figure in volleyball circles. Some players said they had trouble relating to him.

During the Olympics--a time when the sport could have used a good public relations man--he had a somewhat stormy relationship with the media.

Beal, formerly the coach at Ohio State, was said to have problems dealing with some of the off-court aspects of his position. There were reports of personality clashes between volleyball players, generally characterized as a free-spirited bunch, and the Midwestern coach who, as one player said, was “not into having fun.”

Dunphy said those reports were blown out of proportion.

“That was a rags-to-riches story, and somehow it got turned into the cool guys vs. the guy with the Midwest values,” he said. “That wasn’t the case at all.

“The real story was rags to riches. We had unparalleled success for the first time in men’s international play. We have some tradition now in U.S. volleyball that we’ve never had before.”

Now it’s up to Dunphy to build on that tradition.