The late great college coach Coach Dick Leach, who passed away on October 10 at age 83, could be a smooth operator. He admitted that he was able to recruit his son Ricky to USC because he, “was sleeping with his mother for years.”
But who are we kidding? The beloved Leach, who from 1980 to 2002 coached USC, was far more than an adept recruiter. He coached the Trojans to four national titles. He was Southern California tennis royalty. His teaching skills, character and bigger-than-life personality have long been celebrated in tennis circles around the world.
Bob and Mike Bryan’s dad Wayne said, “I couldn’t be more heartbroken. Dick was my idol. He knew tennis inside and out and gave me such wise counsel. A great player, a great coach and a great father, he was so proud of his daughter Mindy and his two sons. And he was so much fun and a wonderful speaker. There won’t be another Dick Leach. He was such a unique individual. His passing is a real loss for tennis and the world. I couldn’t be more sad.”
Leach’s two sons Ricky and Jon played for USC, and Ricky won nine Slams and was No. 1 in the world in doubles. (And, BTW, he inspired a couple of seven-year-olds named Bob and Mike Bryan). Dick’s daughter-in-law is none other than Lindsay Davenport, who’s won three Slams. And Leach’s grandson Jagger Leach is a notable junior prospect.
Dick, who succeeded the legendary George Toley, was one of the last survivors of a golden era of college coaches, including UCLA’s Glenn Bassett, Georgia’s Dan Magill and Dick Gould. The Stanford legend told Inside Tennis, “It’s a sad day today, full of great memories. How well Dick represented USC and the sport of tennis! And he was such a great family man as well. We all learned so much from him…He made us all better!!”
Leach played for three years for the Trojans before going on to battle on the circuit. He then coached high school tennis and became a considerable tennis club owner.
He then became one of tennis’ best-ever college coaches, an ITA Hall of Famer and twice National Coach of the Year. He was the Pac-10 Coach of the Year four times. He produced more than 35 All-Americans, including two NCAA singles champs (Robert Van’t Hof and Cecil Mamiit) and three NCAA doubles titlists (his son Ricky and Scott Melville, Eric Amend and Byron Black). Zimbabwe’s Wayne and Byron Black brothers went on to become a dominant ATP doubles team.
Other standouts Leach mentored included Luke and Murphy Jensen, Brian MacPhie and Washington’s longtime coach Matt Anger.
From 1969 to 1975, Leach was the head pro at the San Marino Tennis Club, and he owned four tennis clubs: Big Bear Tennis Ranch; Westlake Tennis and Swim Club; Ojai Valley Racquet Club; and the Irvine tennis mecca, the Racquet Club of Irvine.
A great competitor with strong flat shots and imposing volleys, Dick won 15 USTA National Father and Son doubles titles (10 with Ricky, five with Jon). “He was always level-headed,” said Gould. “Winning was important to him, but it wasn’t the end all.”
His longtime friend and foe Charlie Hoevler affectionately called Leach a “real tennis guy.” Long a Trojan loyalist, Dick called USC “the greatest University in the United States.” When he retired, he told the LA Times, “It’s been wonderful. In these 23 years, I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do. I’m most proud of my NCAA titles and that both my sons played for me…My goal, which later became somewhat of an obsession, was to win an NCAA team championship, so I wanted to improve the way that everyone played.”
Also reporting – Steve Pratt