Szabo: Newland goes into Hall of Fame his way

One of the first topics that Ted Newland mentioned Saturday night in his USA Water Polo Hall of Fame induction speech was love. Yes, before he went on to blast other longtime coaches and decry the current state of USA Water Polo, he brought up love.

"I have a gift, and not many people have it," Newland said. "I can give love. You can laugh, I don't care, but I can. If you can give love, people will love you and they'll follow you to hell, because every human being, like it or not, wants to be loved."

Newland could feel the love in the room at the Hotel Irvine Jamboree Center. More than 400 people attended the Hall of Fame induction and national awards presentation, which USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said was the most ever for this event. Many were former players there to support Newland, the 86-year-old who, to a large degree, helped bring high-quality water polo to Orange County.

They call him "the old man," but he wasn't always that way. Newland initiated the water polo programs at Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools before coaching at UC Irvine for 39 years, piling up 714 wins — the most in collegiate history — and three national championships. More than a dozen of his players went on to become Olympians, including ceremony attendees like Genai Kerr and Ryan Bailey.

Kerr was on the host committee. He said during the event reception that he admired the way that Newland led by example, both on the pool deck but also in life.

At times, Newland's speech seemed like just a rant. At other times, it seemed like a roast. But I felt that his speech, which ran about 17 minutes, showed just how much of a leader he was. It was electric. It was funny, sharp, to the point and also jaw-dropping honest at times. In that way, the speech was vintage Newland.

He called out some of the other more successful coaches in the room, Jovan Vavic and Terry Schroeder. Newland is clearly not a fan of the way that Vavic, who has won 13 combined men's and women's national championships at USC, recruits international players to play for him.

Minutes earlier, Vavic had received the Monte Nitzkowski distinguished coaching award. Newland clearly had a different view.

"Jovan coaches nothing but foreigners," Newland said, to plenty of nervous laughter. "He wins, that's all you think about. I don't think he's a great coach, I'll tell you right now. Anybody can win if you buy the talent."

At first, I thought that it was just the ranting of an old man, well, "the old man." But again, Newland's speech was sharp. The larger point that he was making was that it's not the way to build a successful U.S. national team.

"You've got to decide in water polo what your aims are, and what the hell you're trying to do," Newland said. "If you're trying to win the Olympic gold medal, you cannot bring in tons of foreign players, buy them, and have them play in the U.S."

The state of water polo in this country concerns Newland. He also blasted Terry Schroeder, a three-time Olympian as a player who also coached the USA in two Olympics. Team USA won silver at the 2008 Olympics, before a disappointing eighth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics. Schroeder has now returned as head coach of Pepperdine, where he previously coached from 1986-2005.

Newland called the eighth-place finish at the most recent Olympics "terrible" and said he was "ashamed."

"There were some good players on that team," Newland said. "I know, I coached them. Hell, you had [Ryan] Bailey. You won't find a better two-meter man. You had [Jeff] Powers … I'm ashamed. I can't believe it.

"I'll tell you right now, I'll tell him right to his face: Terry Schroeder is a terrible coach. I'm not kidding. That's what I believe. I used to love to coach against him. I knew I could always beat him. He was easy money."

Newland said he wasn't trying to be "snotty" or trying to put people down. He said he was just pointing out that USA Water Polo needs to know where it's going.

Soon after that, Newland completed his speech. He got the Oscars treatment, as the music started playing while he was still talking. But he got some more shots in anyway.

"Understand what's going on," he said. "We're going to lose U.S. water polo. We're not going to have water polo in the United States, because you're going to ruin it … the old man's going to be gone. I'm dying, OK? I'm not living much longer, OK? Who's going to replace me? Who's a gifted coach out there? You better start thinking about who's going to teach the players, so we can win."

The evening's program continued, although Newland certainly was a hard act to follow. Longtime Sunny Hills High Coach Jim Sprague, official Andy Takata and former women's national team player Sandy Vessey-Schneider also were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But everyone seemed to be still buzzing about Newland's speech, and for good reason. Even in retirement, Newland is demanding.

"He was one of those guys that you didn't want to let down," said Tom Warde, who was the National Player of the Year on the 1989 UC Irvine national championship team. "He gave a million percent at all times … You just have the ultimate, highest level of respect for the guy. As young men we wanted to impress and not disappoint him, ever. I think that's why he got such great results."

Now that's love.

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