Gould's Game

Photo: Peter Stember

A generation is plenty long in the real world. In the span of a generation, sputnik gave way to a space station, Jim Crow to Tiger Woods, the Indian to the Cardinal.

But in college sports, a generation is just four years, the time it takes for the names on a roster to turn over completely. That means a coach like Dick Gould, who is now in his 33rd season, has thrived for a remarkable eight generations. During that time, Gould, '59, MA '60, has built a dynasty, perhaps the top intercollegiate sports program ever. On a campus where six different Stanford squads were national champions last year, where coaches routinely preside over teams at the Olympic Games, where the biggest headlines are reserved for the basketball team, Gould's program still stands out like tennis whites at a black-tie affair.

After playing tennis for Stanford himself, Gould returned to campus in 1966 to take the helm of a second-tier power. Since then, he has captured 16 national championships, including the last four. His teams won four NCAA titles in the '70s, six in the '80s and six -- so far -- in the '90s. Gould has coached nine NCAA singles champions, five doubles champions and 42 All-Americans. He has coached players with long hair and short, players with wooden racquets, for God's sake. "Is this going to be an obituary?" Gould asks. "I was here before Leland Stanford, you know."

Gould laughs. He doesn't feel old and, other than crow's feet and a couple of baselines creasing his face when he smiles, he looks the same as he did 20 years ago. His words still come with topspin, fast and clipped. At 61, he sounds and acts like a young man in a hurry. "You can always grow," he says. "I'm better than I was last year and the year before."

Just ask Wayne Bryan. A tennis pro in Santa Barbara, Bryan for years has watched Gould's career from afar. In 1997, Bryan's twin sons, Mike and Bob, enrolled at Stanford and began playing for Gould. "The closer you look at the Stanford tennis program, the better it looks," Bryan says. "There aren't a lot of things you can say that about. A movie star doesn't usually look better. But like Disneyland and the Grand Canyon, Dick looks better up close."

Led by the Bryan twins, and by senior Paul Goldstein, Gould's 1998 team was perhaps the best in the history of the sport. When two college teams meet, they play six singles matches, each worth one point, and three doubles matches worth a total of one point -- for a grand total of seven points. Last year, in a perfect 28-0 season, the Cardinal lost just three points. Imagine the football team going an entire season and giving up three touchdowns. "It will flat-out never happen again," Gould said last May after he accepted the championship trophy. "It won't even come close to happening again. This is the best team I've ever had."

Gould does more than coach. As a fund-raiser, he found donors to endow Stanford's 4.5 NCAA-allotted men's tennis scholarships and in recent months he's been working to identify other donors to endow his post as director of men's tennis. He also raised $5.6 million to expand the tennis stadium in 1997. As a promoter, Gould has attracted sellout crowds to the 7,391-seat Maples Pavilion, where through the years he occasionally staged matches to showcase the team's talent. As a recruiter, he defines his success by the number of top players who were academically eligible for Stanford that he didn't sign. Gould counts two: Dick Stockton and the late Vitas Gerulaitis. Still, he balks at taking too much credit for the program's success. "That's not me," Gould says. "It's the school and the tradition."

After a third of a century, it's difficult to separate Gould from the Stanford tennis tradition -- or from Stanford itself. His wife, Anne, is an alum, as are her parents, his parents and two of his grandparents. His first wife, Margi, also graduated from Stanford, as did two of their kids, Sheri, '84, and Rick, '90, MBA '95. Over the years, Gould has served as a blackjack dealer at Senior Casino Night, hosted Stanford Alumni Association travel trips and run a popular tennis clinic at Reunion Homecoming. He and Anne, '72, MA '80, who coached the women's tennis team for three years in the 1970s, have named Stanford the beneficiary of his sizable retirement plan. "We have great affection for the place," he says.

"He's just the whole package," says athletic director Ted Leland. "He still works hard and he doesn't miss a trick." Or the tiniest detail. "I saw him the other day and I said, 'How's it going?' " says Leland. "He said, 'I'm not happy about this. I'm not happy.' It was some invoice for $34."

The truth is, Gould is almost always happy. He's congenitally positive, greeting old friends and new acquaintances alike with a politician's firm handshake and hearty smile. "At one point every fall," says Leland, "he brings the freshmen into every office in the athletic department. 'Here's so-and-so,' Dick tells them. 'She's the best accounting clerk ever. We couldn't live without her.' "

Gould is so upbeat, in fact, that his personality runs toward Reaganesque. The typical Cardinal student-athlete sees through a coach's Gipper-like pep talks. But anyone who believes that Gould is manufacturing his optimism discovers the truth soon enough. "Even when he was bullshitting you, he believed in what he was saying," says former Stanford athletic director Andy Geiger, who holds that position now at Ohio State. "A phony is a guy who doesn't believe his shtick. Dick has a shtick and believes it heart and soul."

The importance of that shtick shouldn't be underestimated in a sport such as tennis, where egos must be constantly massaged and reinforced. After all, Gould coached freshman John McEnroe for one season, 1978, before the young star turned pro. "It's hard to motivate six prima donnas," says former Stanford player Jim Hodges, '80. "You want the team to win but you want everybody to lose so you can move up the ladder. Dick always knew what was best for the team." As Geiger puts it, "He gets guys who think they should play No. 1 to play No. 4 and enjoy the team."

Hodges knows well Gould's talent as a motivator. A freshman in 1977, Hodges, by his account, peaked that first season. In his senior year, he left the team. Now a pilot with Delta Airlines, Hodges still marvels at how Gould maneuvered him, never allowing his growing disgruntlement to affect the rest of the squad. Hodges recalls an incident during practice that typifies Gould's understated approach to discipline. "I was not doing well," Hodges says. "I chucked my racquet into the side of the fence." Gould called to him, "Jimmy, Jimmy! C'mere. I want you to meet somebody." Hodges stalked over. "This is Andy Geiger," Gould said, "our new athletic director." Point made. "That was all he did," Hodges says. "I felt about an inch tall."

To Anne Gould, that sort of subtlety is a secret to her husband's success. "He's not a ranter and raver," she says. "He respects the intelligence and integrity of his players. He has a nice way of dealing with people, and he doesn't have to be right all the time." But, she adds, "when he has a strong opinion, he'll let them know."

When Gould took the coaching post in 1966, collegiate tennis was a gentleman's game. Recruiting consisted of replying to letters received from potential players. Gould became one of the first coaches to actively seek top prospects. He did it, he admits, to loosen the stranglehold that USC and UCLA had on college tennis. "The L.A. schools would tell prospects, 'It always rains [at Stanford].' The first year I coached, I pulled out a rain table for the state. We get less than half an inch more than they get." Gould realized he needed to aggressively promote Stanford tennis. "I came into the job in an era when people began to realize recruiting wasn't a bad word. It's sales."

On the other hand, says Tim Mayotte, Gould acted as if rainfall didn't exist. "I would take a nap before practice," recalls Mayotte, '82, who won the NCAA singles title in 1981. "So many times I would wake up, call and say, 'Dick, it's raining.' He would always say, 'Tim, it never rains on practice day. Come on down.' I'd say, 'Damn it, Dick, it's raining!' How do you deal with that? You'd go down there, and sure enough, you'd get a practice in. He prepared you for the positive."

But positive thinking goes only so far, and Gould carries a few other tricks in his tennis bag. Mayotte recalls a Gould strategem involving teammate Scott Bondurant, '82. "It was a really big match versus UCLA," Mayotte says, relishing the details of the story. "Third set, Bon Man is serving to Bruce Brescia at 5-4. The score is three-all. We played no-ad, so this is match point for the team. Gouldie got into that position where he's bent over with his hands on his knees. He calls Bon Man over. Scott's waiting for Dick to say some strategy. Finally, he says, 'Dick, what do you want?'

" 'Nothing,' Gouldie says. 'I just wanted to intimidate Brescia. Throw the serve into the box. Brescia is going to miss it.' Scott served it five miles per hour and Brescia hit it into the net. We won the match."

That his strategy consisted largely of smoke and mirrors brings up another side of Gould's career: some say his success has little to do with his ability to teach the technical aspects of the game. That's not as implausible as it might sound. Tennis players, especially the ones talented enough to be recruited by Gould, do not come off the assembly line. Most of them had teachers who nurtured them for years and continue to coach them in the summers. "On technical stuff, I didn't work with Dick much," Mayotte concedes. "I didn't feel he felt it was his forte."

Gould dismisses talk that he is no more than a motivator and team manager. "You laugh it off," he says. "You can't make it more than it is. We teach every day. You can't just open a can of balls and say, 'Go play.' " Gould teaches the serve-and-volley game. Most junior players today grow up mastering baseline play. As they get bigger and stronger, he adds an aggressive facet to their game. Says Wayne Bryan: "He helped Mike and Bob with their attacking singles play."

Whatever Gould is teaching seems to resonate with his players. Years later, they remain intensely loyal to the coach, just as he does to them. "I went back to finish my degree a few years ago," Mayotte says. "While I was there, my wife had our son, who we named Cal, of all things. Every time Dick writes me, he asks, 'How is Stan?' -- then draws a line through it and writes 'Cal.' "

His custom is to wear his most recent national championship ring. As Gould coaches his 33rd season this spring, the question is whether he can win a 17th ring. Based purely on his incredible run in recent years, the odds would seem to favor Gould. But Stanford lost four key players last year, including three All-Americans: Paul Goldstein, who graduated, and the Bryan brothers, sophomores who quit to try the pro tour. This year's squad is led by senior Ryan Wolters, a three-time All-American, whose Stanford record is 63-8.

Even if 1999 proves to be a rebuilding year, Gould's reputation as the John Wooden of college tennis is safe. He clearly enjoys the high profile. Last year, for example, after he accepted the NCAA championship trophy at the University of Georgia, Gould implored the sold-out crowd to support the construction of a clubhouse at Georgia's Henry Feild Stadium. Then he pulled a $100 check out of his pocket and presented it to the university president, Michael Adams.

A modest donation -- but unusual nonetheless. Coaches generally aren't known for making contributions to rival programs. To Gould, though, it made perfect sense. What's good for college tennis is good for Stanford tennis.

Meanwhile, Dick Gould is what's good for Stanford tennis. As long as he remains in the job, Stanford will be the yardstick by which other tennis programs are measured. "My dream," says Duke coach Jay Lapidus, whose Blue Devils are a perennial top-10 team, "is to beat Stanford in the NCAAs."

Lapidus is 40 years old. Good thing he has a long career ahead of him.

Ivan Maisel, '81, covered men's tennis for the Stanford Daily. Now he's a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.