JIM VERDIECK (69)

Not every athletic contest is the Super Bowl or the Final Four. Great
games occur everywhere. There were some great contests, team efforts,
and fine people in NAIA tennis. I’m grateful I saw 28 tournaments. Dick
Gould of Stanford was the “Coach of the Era” (25 years) during the period I
coached. No doubt he was the best.
But our absolute best was Jim Verdieck, a competitor, the coach at
Redlands University (California). Jim was the best at winning I ran into, in
any sport. And he was already a legend when my team made its 1970 trek
to Rockhill Tennis Club in Kansas City, Missouri, home of the NAIA Championships. Verdieck was a strong-willed football and tennis coach. His teams won 12 of 13 NAIA
titles, starting in the mid-’60s. I’d admired him and then
befriended him. I need to write some of what I saw; one could learn a lot
from Redlands and their coach. I asked him once why he didn’t write
about his vast knowledge. Our kids were about to face each other. He
pointed to the court and said, “See that match. If you told me we could
win that match if I’d write 200 pages,
I start right now.”
I asked where, over his coaching years, the non-scholarship Redlands
team would rank in California, including the division I giants of USC, UCLA,
Stanford, Pepperdine, and all the rest. “Sixth.”
The teams wore national championship warm-ups. Only for Kansas City.
No one got to the courts before Redlands. We mimicked that too.
“But what if it dies?” I asked about his knowledge.
“If I die, it dies.”
He proved true to his word. Suffering a major heart attack, he was told
he needed an emergency treatment.
“Not before Kansas City.”
Told he may die if he went, he boarded the plane.
He knew his business. Janice Metcalf, a fine California player, played
number 6 on one Redlands men’s team. It was early 1970, and there were
no girls’ teams in the NAIA. I was on the rules committee that denied Coach
Verdieck’s appeal for a substitute for Janice, who’d injured her knee after
the substitution deadline. The rule was clear and Coach Verdieck accepted
the decision.
He flew Janice out for her first-round match, which she won easily, and
then boarded a return plane to Redlands. Redlands University won the
national title by that one point. When I asked Verdieck about that move, he
explained, “I’d figured the draw pretty close. I knew Janice could probably
beat this kid easily and told her to walk off if it was bad at all.”
Perhaps as impressive as Jim were his sons, Doug and Randy. Doug won NAIA singles all four years. He won the doubles, three times—twice with
Randy. When Doug was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, he flew from
Hawaii. As Doug tried to speak of his father, tears, not words, came. He
backed out and tried again with the same results. Another attempt. The
NAIA official next to him stood as if to relieve him. “No, dammit, no. I flew
all the way from Hawaii to do this, and I’m gonna do it.” Angry now—his
level voice stated: “My dad is the greatest” and sat down.
Coach Verdieck told me he had had lights approved for the university
courts three times. Somehow the school procrastinated every time they
said yes. Later he found out that when he’d tell his wife the lights were to
be installed, she nixed the deal. She simply went to the administrators
saying, “If you put up lights, he’ll stay there all night, and I’ll leave him.”
His roster included 24 players—a very large team. Not only that, each
week every player in the top eight had a one-hour private lesson with
Verdieck. Sixteen remaining players had a half hour per week with him.
This, in addition to team responsibilities.
I called to congratulate him when I learned he’d retired at age 65. He was
within 60 or so wins of 1,000. No one else was close.
“Did you consider staying until you break that barrier?” was one of my
questions.
“No, I promised my wife if I got to 65, I’d stop. A deal’s a deal.”

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