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Game, set, match

Mike Sciacca

By his own calculations, Richard Leach says he has clocked some

540,000 miles on the road, making the daily drive from his Laguna Beach

home to the University of Southern California campus for the past 23

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years.

It was there that Leach coached the Trojan men’s tennis team, and

while the Monday through Friday drive all those years may have been

monotonous, it has amounted to the trip of a lifetime.

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“I have had a marvelous time. It has been 23 years worth of great

memories,” said Leach who, come June 1, will step down from his coaching

duties following the completion of the 2002 season.

“It was just time to step down,” he explained. “All I did was take the

torch from my coach, George Toley, and carried it for 23 years. Now it’s

time to pass it on to someone else.”

Leach, 62, will remain with the university as emeritus director of

men’s tennis. In his new role, he said, he will advise athletic director

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Mike Garrett and the new men’s coach in the development of the program.

“I will work as a consultant in any way they may need me,” Leach said.

“It’s hard to quit coaching but this way, I still will be involved in

some way.”

His replacement has yet to be named.

“We are losing a legend at USC and in the tennis community,” Garrett

said.

Leach, indeed, will be hard to replace.

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He led the Trojans to three national titles (1991, ’93, ’94), seven

conference championships and 22 postseason appearances.

His teams also advanced to the NCAA semifinals eight times and the

quarterfinal round on three occasions. He calls his 1987 squad, which was

32-0 before it lost in the NCAA semifinals to host Georgia before 6,000

fans in Athens, Ga., perhaps his best team.

He also won his first national title and tasted sweet revenge by

beating Georgia on its home court in Athens in 1993.

Leach was named national coach of the year twice (1987, ’91) and

Pacific-10 Conference coach of the year four times ('87, ’91, ’92, ’94).

He also produced 35 All-Americans during his tenure.

“I’ve accomplished everything that I set out to do when I took the job

in 1980,” he said.

He played for the Trojans as a freshman in 1958, and in the seasons

between ’59-'61. He earned All-American status as as senior.

To say that Leach bleeds Cardinal and Gold is an understatement. He

even coached two of his own children at the school. Rick and Jonathan --

both Laguna Beach High graduates -- starred for the Trojans.

Rick holds the distinction of being named the only four-time

All-American in both singles and doubles. He played for his father from

1984-'87. At 37 he is the oldest player -- he plays doubles -- on the

Assn. of Tennis Players tour.

Younger brother, Jonathan, played for USC between ’91-'94. He was a

two-time All-American and was on Trojan teams that won four Pac-10 titles

and three national championships.

You can feel Dick Leach beam with pride when he recalls the 1994

national final, played at the University of Notre Dame, against Pac-10

rival Stanford. With the match tied at 3-3, Jonathan was playing a

Stanford rival who had beaten him twice during the regular season. But

the third time turned out to be the charm for the younger Leach, who

defeated his opponent, and presented his father with his third NCAA

crown.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Dick Leach said with a smile

coming through in his voice. “Not many fathers get to be with their sons

for four years, especially their college years.”

Dick Leach and his sons also have dominated father and son national

competitions. He has won nine national titles with Rick (between 1979 and

‘99) and four more with Jonathan (in the mid-1990s).

Rick also kept a promise he made to his mother, Sandra, when he was 6.

“He told my wife that he was going to win Wimbledon one day and if he

did, he’d buy her a car,” Dick Leach reminisced.

True to Rick’s prediction, he won the 1990 Wimbledon men’s doubles

title. And yes, true to his word, he presented his mother, who had driven

him to countless juniors tournaments as a youngster, a new Mercedes.

“We’ve had so much joy in these past 23 years,” Dick Leach said. “My

family and I will always cherish that. But now, I get to stay around the

house more with my wife.”

Dick Leach says he will now leave most of his driving to the range,

where he said he hopes to get his golf handicap down to “single digits.”

He says he’ll still play tennis four times a week but that retirement

will allow him to catch up on his reading, and play in his garden.

“We live in such a beautiful place,” he added. “I was on the road for

23 years, and now it’s time to stay closer to home.”


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