A MOVER AND A SHAKER : Well-Traveled Glenn Marx Intends to Make a Lasting Imprint on Revamped Basketball Program at Mira Costa High
Relaxing in his government class at Mira Costa High, away from his duties as boys’ basketball coach, Glenn Marx typifies the laid-back image of the Manhattan Beach school.
Trim and tanned, he looks younger than his 38 years. His casual attire of white polo shirt and gray slacks is consistent with the beach life style.
But looks can be deceiving.
“Somebody once said I make Bobby Knight look like Snow White,” said Marx, revealing a side of himself that contradicts his personable demeanor.
Coaching colleagues and former players are familiar with Marx’s darker side. They describe him as demanding, disciplined and driven.
Perhaps that explains how Marx, at 27, earned South Bay Coach of the Year honors in 1979 after guiding St. Bernard to the Southern Section 4-A semifinals and laying the foundation for a dynasty that continued through the ‘80s.
His background might explain why people believe Marx can turn around a Mira Costa basketball program that has experienced more failures than successes in the past decade. The Mustangs were 18-47 in the past three years under three different coaches.
Marx, a graduate of North Hollywood High and Cal State Northridge, acknowledges that it will take more than a strong personality to build a winner.
“The brash, egotistical Larry Brown image is something I’d rather not be stuck with,” he said, referring to the nomadic coach of the San Antonio Spurs. “I’m more interested in what we’re trying to do.”
Although he has been a coaching maverick, working at four high schools and three Division I colleges in the past 11 years, Marx says he has no intention of making a quick exit from Mira Costa.
He left an assistant coaching position at the University of Hawaii to take over the Mustang program last October, two months before the season started. Since then, he has worked diligently to implement a state-of-the-art conditioning program and persuade as many boys as possible to come out for basketball.
Marx is already beginning to see dividends this summer. The Mustangs split two games in the L. A. Games and opened the St. Bernard summer league last week with a victory over Thousand Oaks.
“I think he’s had a good impact,” Redondo Coach Steve Shaw said. “I think they’re going to have a solid program in the next couple of years. He has some good young kids and he’s doing good things with them.”
Shaw witnessed a giant leap in Mira Costa’s improvement last February when the Mustangs upset Redondo, 43-42, on a last-second, three-point shot in the regular-season finale. The loss knocked Redondo from second to third in the Ocean League and left Mira Costa with a 7-15 record.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more thrilled in my life than when we beat Redondo,” Marx said.
This from a man who has coached and scouted on the major-college level and, through his affiliation with all-star teams, has worked with many of the nation’s finest young players.
After years of chasing the gold ring, Marx says he’s settling down.
“I want to get tenure,” he said. “I want to buy (property) in the South Bay area. I’ve seen. I’ve traveled. I’ve coached basketball in three different countries. I’ve coached on most levels. I’m the best teaching coach I’ve been. I have the best perspective I’ve had and I’m really enjoying myself.”
Bob Mandeville, who played basketball for Marx at Notre Dame High and is now the school’s baseball coach, says it is difficult not to have an opinion about his former mentor.
“Glenn Marx was always in the spotlight as far as controversy,” he said. “Either you liked him or you disliked him. There’s no happy medium with the guy.”
Marx is still trying to live down an incident that occurred during his first season at Notre Dame in 1980.
After a win at Daniel Murphy High, Marx confronted a referee and was assessed six technical fouls, according to Jay Privman, who covered the game for the Daily News. Murphy’s best shooter made 11 of 12 free throws (two per technical) to reverse the decision.
Notre Dame protested the game and was eventually awarded the victory. But publicity from the incident proved damaging for Marx. He was suspended for the remainder of the season pending an investigation by the Catholic Athletic Assn. Notre Dame, ranked second in the Southern Section 4-A Division behind Inglewood at the time, finished a disappointing third in the Del Rey League.
“I know he went after the referee to voice his opinion,” Mandeville said. “I’m a referee, and it happens (to me) after every game. I believe to this day that the referee overreacted.”
Marx said the incident, which was distributed over the news wire services, was blown out of proportion by the media. He said the junior varsity coach was assessed three technicals, but that Marx was credited with all of them because he refused to talk to reporters after the game.
“I had no comment,” he said. “So they figured I got them all.”
Marx admits he has always been an emotional coach during games, although he says he has mellowed over the years.
“I’m kind of aggressive. It’s kind of a Rick Pitino-type of enthusiasm,” he said, referring to the fiery coach who recently took over the Kentucky basketball program. “I don’t sit there with my legs crossed when I coach.”
Redondo’s Shaw was only aware of Marx’s reputation before last season.
“I had heard that he was pretty wild and could really go off,” he said, “but he was very calm and under control.”
Mandeville says Marx struck an intimidating figure when he took over the Notre Dame program after coaching St. Bernard for three years.
“At first you fear what’s going to happen to you,” he said. “Then you realize he’s making you a better player. I remember him coming down on Saturdays and working with me. He showed quite a commitment. I was very appreciative for what he did.”
Marx returned to Notre Dame in 1981 and coached the team to the Del Rey League championship and the second round of the playoffs. The Knights were led by Nigel Miguel, who went on to play at UCLA.
Two years earlier, Marx worked with another talented group of players at St. Bernard. The Vikings featured four future Division I players--Butch Hays (Cal), Lance Washington (Utah State), Michael Gerren (South Alabama) and Billy Knox (St. Mary’s)--and they helped put St. Bernard on the basketball map by reaching the 4-A semifinals at the Long Beach Arena.
St. Bernard Coach Jim McClune, an assistant under Marx at the Playa del Rey school, remembers the transition the players had to make when Marx arrived.
“I don’t think the kids had ever played for anybody as demanding as Glenn,” he said. “It was a period of adjustment, but I really think that the kids responded to him.
“He was a very demanding guy to work for. We had our run-ins, but I think the best testimony is that we’re pretty good friends now after 12 years.”
Looking back, Marx says he might have put too much emphasis on winning early in his career.
“When I was starting out, I thought basketball was the only thing that existed at the school I was at,” he said. “A lot of times people play on your ego. They say, ‘Oh, you’ve done such a great job.’ One of my biggest regrets at St. Bernard is that I think I was given too much credit for the rather quick emergence of the basketball program.”
He says that it gave him a false sense of importance.
“I appreciate what I have now,” he said. “Before, I didn’t realize.”
The last time Mira Costa boasted a big-name player was in 1984, when 6-foot-10 Eric Leckner blossomed under the tutelage of former Coach Jim Nielsen.
Leckner went on to star at Wyoming and now plays for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Assn.
Marx doesn’t know if he has any players of Leckner’s caliber, but he says the cupboard is no longer bare at Mira Costa.
“I predict that in two years we’ll have seven players over 6-foot-5,” he said. “We have many young kids who are 6-2 and 6-3 with size 15 feet.”
The best of the youngsters is Chris Davis, a 6-foot-6 1/2 forward who will be a junior next fall. Davis blocked seven shots in the first half of Mira Costa’s win over Mayfair in the L. A. Games and will be a mid- to high-level Division I prospect by the time he is a senior, Marx said.
The coach is also excited about the futures of two other juniors--6-foot-4 Scott Letourneau and 6-foot-5 Brent Cashin--and several promising sophomores.
There seems to be no end to Mira Costa’s sudden wealth of young basketball talent. But Marx says that helping his players improve physically and academically is just as important as seeing them develop on the court.
Under the supervision of Marv Marinovich, a well-known strength and muscle development coach who has worked with professional athletes, Marx has implemented a conditioning regimen that incorporates the latest techniques in weight training, running and jumping. Marinovich has used the techniques with his son, Todd, a candidate to replace Rodney Peete as quarterback at USC.
“We have a lot of 14- and 15-year-old skinny kids who, if they were to play against a Morningside or somebody in our league, would be marginally competitive right now,” Marx said. “But continuing this program for a period of time, they’ll all of a sudden be 6-6 17-year-olds who have been through two years of intense weight training.”
Marx predicts that Mira Costa, which finished sixth out of eight teams in the Ocean League last season, will contend for a playoff berth next year and the league title the following season.
Another reason for optimism is the cooperation between the basketball team and Mira Costa’s highly successful volleyball program. Marx says there was one volleyball player competing in basketball when he started coaching at the school. Now there are nine.
Canyon Ceman, a forward for the basketball team and an All-Southern Section setter in volleyball, has noticed a difference in the basketball program since Marx replaced Bruce Colin, who did not return after the Mustangs went 4-16 in 1988.
“There’s a lot more intensity and desire to win,” the 6-foot-5 senior said . “We’re taking more steps toward conditioning and improving our athletic ability. (Marx is) more dedicated to victory. He knows how to run practices and get the most out of his players.”
Marx also wants his players to get the most out of their studies.
“We have tutoring within our program, where our seniors have tutored our sophomores and freshmen,” he said. “We have a brand new team room that Jim Nielsen developed and we’ve furnished. I’m encouraging the players to use it for studying.”
Marx said a Scholastic Aptitude Test preparation video will be available to the school’s athletes next year.
“What we did at St. Bernard is what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “Those kids not only went on to do well athletically, but do well in college. And that’s been a big focus here. We want to get the kids who are dedicated basketball players to concentrate on their academics.”
Why Mira Costa?
Marx says he is frequently asked that question.
It is a natural inquiry, considering the other schools where he has worked. After his stint at Notre Dame High, he got a taste of the Ivy League as a full-time assistant for one season at Brown University in Rhode Island.
He returned to the Southland upon the death of his father and served as coach for three years at Los Amigos High in Fountain Valley. Next he became an off-campus assistant under George Raveling at USC while he taught at Mira Costa in 1987.
When an assistant position at Hawaii opened up the following year, it gave the bachelor yet another opportunity to expand his coaching horizons.
He has coached 19 players who have gone on to the NBA.
So, why come to basketball-poor Mira Costa?
“There are some stereotypes about Mira Costa and certain beach schools that I think are invalid,” he said. “Corona del Mar (in Newport Beach) this year made the CIF finals in basketball, football, volleyball and tennis. What we would like to see here is a Rolling Hills, Palos Verdes-type of program where every year we are very competitive.
“The first thing you have to do is get the kids in your school out for basketball. I think a lot of people recruit from the outside and have success with that, although I hate to say it. But I think what you really need to do is recruit from within. Get a volleyball kid out. Get a water polo kid out. Get a football kid out. And then coach them.”