I admit it – it was a major character flaw. In 1980, as I was starting Inside Tennis, I heard all these fabulous comments about Stanford coach Dick Gould. “That guy’s a legend – none better.” Five of Gould’s players had recently reached Wimbledon’s round of sixteen. “He’s so supportive,” was the airtight conventional wisdom. “In a league all his own,” they said. “He’s among the best college coaches in any sport ever.”
Sure, UCLA had the Wizard of Westwood, basketball coach John Wooden. But Stanford boasted its own coaching royal, Dick Gould, the Prince of Palo Alto.
In 1982, there were ten former Stanford players in the top 100. Still, my inner skeptic shouted, “No way – this guy can’t be that good – no one is. There’s got to be a catch, some hype here.”
I started to drill down. At tournaments across the globe, I’d quiz his former players – from John and Pat McEnroe, Tim Mayotte and Scott Davis to Jonathan Stark, Jared Palmer, Dan Goldie, Alex O’Brien and the Bryan brothers. I’d ask, “Is Gould really as good as his reviews?” Certainly one of his former players would crack and dish some dicey dirt. I craved a big reveal. A little hint of vanity or an ethical violation or two sure would have added some spice.
It never came. The takeaway was clear: Eagle Scout, American pie, straight shooter. After a decade or two, I gave up. I sighed, “Maybe, in this case, all that is Gould does indeed glitter.” Eventually, I came to agree with Bob and Mike Bryan’s dad Wayne, who gushed, “The closer you observe, the better he gets. He’s great from a distance, but he’s even greater up close. He’s like the Grand Canyon, Big Sur, Yosemite and Disneyland – he’s not overrated.”
For starters, Gould’s achievements astound. In 35 years at the helm, he won the NCAA championship an amazing 17 times. His players won 10 NCAA singles titles and seven doubles crowns. Nine of his players reached the ATP’s top 15. Thirteen won at least one Grand Slam, 16 played Davis Cup, 16 were Olympians and fifty were All-Americans. Pretty ridiculous, yes? Gould, who racked up an .840 winning percentage, was the Collegiate Coach of the Decade in the 1980s and the 1990s and was named the coach of the 20th century.
Take a deep breath, good readers – there’s more.
As the greatest entrepreneur and showman in collegiate tennis, he brought the sport indoors. For years, Friday night tennis rocked Maples Pavilion. There, the Stanford band, rabid fans and the media descended to watch the likes of Roscoe Tanner, John McEnroe, Sandy Mayer and Tim Mayotte.
All the while, he was a master recruiter. “Gould doesn’t recruit,” sighed rival coach Dick Leach of USC. “He reloads.” A key to his success was his high-bar credo: “All I have to do is recruit 90% of the best players in the country.”
But Gould’s favorite stat is that for 35 years every four-year player at Stanford left school with at least one championship ring. When that streak was broken, Gould finally stepped down as coach and transitioned to become Stanford’s Director of Tennis.
Here, his considerable motor revved up again. An inspired entrepreneur, promoter and fundraiser, he raised something over $30 million for assorted projects. He created one of the great tennis sites in the west, the Taube Family Center, which has long hosted the Bank of the West Classic. He twice brought the NCAA tennis championships to Stanford and tirelessly taught kids at his Nike Camp each summer. Few in tennis have been more giving to kids and the community. After years of backing the Mid-Peninsula Tennis Patrons, he became the backbone of the extraordinary East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring program.
There are many ways to think of Gould. The author of popular tennis books, he’s a master doubles guru, and an unabashed proponent of serve-and-volley tactics. He has a penchant for brothers (Sandy and Gene Mayer, Mark, John and Pat McEnroe and Bob and Mike Bryan) and lefties (JMac, Roscoe Tanner, Nick Saviano, Peter Rennert, Jim Gurfein, Jeff Salzenstein, Jeff Tarango and Bob Bryan).
Gould has a certain gravitas based on his integrity, class, commitment to the community, and, of course, years of excellence. The guy has guided young campers and collegians, and raised money for needy kids. But he’s also a no-nonsense businessman and an unsparing troop master who time and again led his teams into enemy territory – Athens, LA, or Berkeley – to survive howling (frat boys can be nasty) crowds and emerge triumphant.
The Bay Club’s Gordon Collins, the former head of the USPTA, recalled, “Dick was in charge of slapping us all upside the head and getting us into ‘the industry thing.'” He told us, “This is how you act, this is how you respect your opponents and your fellow pros. Even if you fight tooth-and-nail, once the competition’s over, there’s nothing but respect. He’s never asked for a thing from anybody. He’s always the one giving.”
And in 1978-79 Gould gave us one of the most scrutinized coaching jobs in the annals of the college game when he guided a ferocious genius, John McEnroe, through a tumultuous and triumphant year. The 18-year-old freshman had just reached the Wimbledon semis and was burned out. Gould brilliantly read the weary man-child and the moment. “The words John McEnroe and practice just don’t go together,” quipped broadcaster Ted Robinson. “So Gould told John, ‘Don’t worry, just be ready for the matches.’” John won the NCAA singles and doubles championships and has been a dedicated Gould backer ever since. “It speaks reams when you see the loyalty that Dick commands,” notes Robinson.
Never the easiest character to wrangle, McEnroe repeatedly has shown that loyalty. “Dick had a joie de vivre that spread,” Mac told IT. “Even when he had to make some hard decisions that some of the players weren’t happy with, they all loved him.
“Dick always reaches out, like when my dad passed. The guy’s amazing. He just always has a way about him. He puts a smile on your face.”
Even Gould’s fierce foe, UC Berkeley coach Peter Wright, raves about the man. “Dick’s gift is that he’s great at everything. He’s the gold standard. He brings people together and makes them feel special. There’s coaching and there’s business – Dick excels in both.
“One of the first calls I got when I got the coaching job here was from Dick. He said. ‘I really want you to be successful, because our rivalry is very important.’ Dick’s not here to win at all costs. He’s genuine in his desire that college tennis be successful. He’s such a classy human being. He writes handwritten thank you cards – he’s still old school. He knows that resonates well.
“He’s the icon, the deacon of college tennis. He changed the landscape. A lot of people copied what he did. His influence has gotten us to where we are now.”
As great as Wright’s take on Gould was, Wayne Bryan went even further. “Gould is not the greatest college tennis coach of all time. He’s the greatest college coach of all time. He’s off the charts – he’s an amazing human being. You’re left to ask, ‘Is this real or an act?’ This son-of-a-gun is like this every day of his life.
“I told my boys, ‘Stanford might be the greatest academic institution in America, but I want you to observe and watch Dick Gould every day, because you’re going to learn more from him than you’ll learn from any of Stanford’s unbelievable professors.’ Nobody has people skills and wisdom like he does. He’s so positive, so caring – I would love to see him be president of the United States.”
Gould will never become president (then again, these days, who knows?), but he certainly should be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. His mindbending record dwarfs others. His Card dynasty reigned long. He coached the greatest collegiate player ever, guided dozens of fabulous pros, transformed the college game, built and sustained a singular tennis center, inspired generations of kids and built community and heritage like no other figure in the west. And get this – everybody loves him. And why not? I’ve been privileged to know well the likes of the heroic Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King, and I feel I can note that Coach Gould, with all his skills, knowledge and generous actions, is made of similar cloth.
So what’s a guy got to do to get a nod of recognition in this sport? Folks, the takeaway here is a no-brainer: give this singular tennis hero and humanitarian what he deserves – a niche in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.