San Diego State football Coach Doug Scovil is an avid tennis player who is familiar with match points.
Entering the fifth year of his self-proclaimed "five-year plan," is Scovil down, 30-40, on his own serve and facing a match point that could determine his future as coach of the Aztecs?
"Maybe there is a little more pressure this year," Scovil admitted, "but personally, I'm looking forward to it. We're getting to the point where we want to be. Let's hope I'm not being too optimistic or overconfident, but from this point, we'll get better and better."
Scovil's contract runs through the 1986 season, but contractual obligations have not saved too many coach's jobs.
If the Aztecs get off to a losing start, will Scovil's job be in jeopardy?
"No," said SDSU interim athletic director Robert Rinehart. "Every year, a coach's performance is looked at. It will be the same this year."
At the end of last season, when the Aztecs finished 4-7-1, former athletic director Mary Alice Hill said the 1985 season would be a "crucial" year for the entire department. And particularly for the football team. Hill's view was echoed by many boosters, who were less than pleased with the team's losing ways.
However, the recent turmoil in the athletic department, which ultimately resulted in Hill being fired by President Thomas Day, has led to a cry for stability by boosters and Rinehart.
The mild-mannered, non-controversial Scovil represents stability. Thus, there appears to be less of a movement by Rinehart and by boosters to put the heat on the football coach.
Actually, the most heat is coming from Scovil himself.
"I'm pretty impressed with one thing," booster Joe Schultz said. "Doug is not reluctant to put the pressure on himself. He seems more upbeat this year, and he is certainly optimistic and enthusiastic."
Said Bob McCray, president of the Aztec Athletic Foundation: "This is the most upbeat I've seen Doug. He really feels he has a club that can do well. It was always cautious optimism in the past. This year, it's optimism."
That's a switch for Scovil, who is more often described as being realistic and patient.
When Scovil came into a program dependent on junior college transfers, he said it would take five years to recruit and develop a class of high school players. He felt that transformation would convert into victories by the 1985 season, a time when the Aztecs would be near the NCAA allotment of 95 scholarship players.
"He's (Scovil) been catching up since he came here," Rinehart said. "With this year, we're back on par with the rest of the teams."
Now that four years have passed and the Aztecs have more than 90 players, does Scovil think his five-year forecast was too premature or bold?
"I'm not backing out," Scovil said. "I think we'll have a good team, but I can't tell you how many games we'll win because we have a tough schedule."
In addition to the Western Athletic Conference schedule which includes road games at Brigham Young, Air Force and Hawaii, SDSU will play UCLA, Stanford and Oregon.
"As for the five-year plan," Scovil said, "I had to explain to people what we were trying to do . . . I knew it would be tough, but I didn't think it would be as tough as it has been. There is a temptation to keep bringing in JC kids because it's a quick fix. But we did what we had to. You never have true numbers if you stay with JCs."
Speaking of numbers, Scovil has a 19-26-2 record in four seasons, including campaigns of 2-9-1 in 1983 and 4-7-1 (4-3-1 in WAC) in 1984. Last season, the Aztecs came within a few yards of defeating nationally-ranked UCLA and Oklahoma State. They lost both games by a total of three points.
"I did not feel bad about last year," Scovil said. "I felt we were making progress because we were still in transition."
The period of transition or at least of toleration of a transition appears to be over.
"I don't think there is any more 'next year' in the back of his (Scovil's) mind," said Tom Ables, a longtime booster. "Doug has put the pressure on himself this year, and I sense a real feeling of confidence. He has never over-promised. There have been some disappointments along the way, but there has always been a consistency of purpose."
It's that same consistency of purpose and bulldog determination that led Scovil to take the job at SDSU.
When Scovil was an assistant coach and the offensive brain trust behind the BYU passing attack from 1977 through 1980, his teams led the nation in passing each season he was there. It was a very satisfying time for a man who has loved the passing game since he played in high school.
But . . .
"When you're an assistant coach," Scovil said, "you're always thinking about becoming a head coach."
In 1981, two years after Scovil's Cougar teams broke 13 NCAA offensive records, he eagerly accepted a four-year contract to coach the Aztecs. His contract was extended for two years by former athletic director Gene Bourdet and President Day in 1983.
"When you get the opportunity to be a head coach," Scovil said, "you have to take advantage of it and have fun."
Have the past four years been fun?
"It's always been a struggle," Scovil said, "but I like running a program the way I think it should be run. That's the only way. If you can't, it's time to leave."
Scovil says he has been able to run the program his way. Along the way, the 57-year-old said he has learned a lot about being a head coach. Being a head coach at the College of San Mateo and the University of Pacific was one thing, and serving as an NFL assistant with the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears was another.
But neither of those jobs kept Scovil off the tennis court nearly as much as does his current job.
"There have been more demands on my time here," Scovil said. "I have to wear a lot of hats, and it's been interesting."
It's also been different. As an assistant coach, Scovil spent many more hours with film projectors than with people. His low-key, quiet personality seemed more fitting in a dark room than on a sun-soaked field.
"I have become more used to promoting the program," Scovil said. "It's part of the job. We need to do it, and some of the functions are fun."
But they are not as much fun as coaching on the field and dealing with the players.
Some coaches change moods more often than Mickey Rooney changes wives. Not Scovil.
"Everybody knows this is a pressure year," wide receiver Vince Warren said, "but I can't notice the pressure effecting him." Warren redshirted a year and is starting his fourth year under Scovil.
"He knows what he's doing," Warren said, "and only yells when it's needed. If there comes a time for yelling, he'll yell."
It is common to hear Scovil come into the locker room and say, "Good job, men."
Said Rinehart: "Doug would not embarrass any of his athletes, even to the point of taking some flak himself. He is a good, honest, straightforward man. Basically, Doug is a gentleman of the first order."
When is the last time a football coach, of all people, was spoken of in that manner? "I don't yell at players much," Scovil said. "I try to pick my spots. But I've yelled on occasion. You bet. We all have our times when we get fired up."
Scovil seems to be particularly fired up for this season.
"At the start of each year, Doug would explain to me how the season would go," booster George Webster said. "It usually went about the way he said it would. This year, he feels we might have the most exciting team in years. He's got me convinced."
If that excitement translates into Aztec victories, beginning Sept. 14 against Cal State Long Beach at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, Scovil will be back at deuce in no time. He'll probably be serving for the match moments later.