Athletics News

"The Old Man" - A Look Inside The Bond Between Ted Newland and His Boys

Ted Newland was featured on the cover of LA Times Magazine

March 6, 2013

By Greg Mescall

He’s yelled at me, grabbed me by the cap, kissed me, hugged me, and everything in between. He’s beaten me down and built me back up. He’s a great guy to be around. Lots of fun to talk to. He’s totally and completely one of a kind. He’s told me that the difference between him and a lot of other coaches is that he knows how to give love. He thinks of his players as his sons and does his best to put them on the right track to being successful human beings. His players love him, nobody else really understands, and he’s fine with that—he loves his boys, and we love him.—Ryan Bailey, UC-Irvine Class of ’98

There are players who like their coaches, and then there are the men who’ve played for UC-Irvine and the Newport Water Polo Foundation and how they feel about Ted Newland—and never shall the two be compared.

When they talk about Coach Newland, their eyes light up, there’s excitement in their voices, and they speak in reverential tones reserved for only the most respected of people. There isn’t a limit on what they’ll do for their coach, the man that for four years of their lives—perhaps their most formative years—asked absolutely everything of them. They gave all they had, and in the end, after the NCAA titles and Olympic Medals, they saw their investment double, a reward they all feel equally obligated to repay.

Anyone who’s played for the “Old Man,” as he likes to be called, will tell you that going through the program at UCI is about more than just water polo. It’s about turning boys into men. That’s Newland’s philosophy, and the reason he’s dedicated so many years of his life to coaching. Newland develops players and people like no other coach by focusing on the basic principles of self-evaluation and self-awareness. He’s taught all his players the fact that in water polo and in life, anyone can be successful if he or she is willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.—Tim Hutten, UC-Irvine Class of ’08

Why is he so revered? He’s honest with himself and his team. You never had to wonder if the old man had some ulterior motive. He never did. Coaching to him wasn’t about NEWLAND and the successes HE wanted to achieve as a coach. Coaching to him was about his players—and his players felt that.—
Marc Hunt, head coach and Class of ’94, UC-Irvine Class

Time hasn’t been particularly kind to the “old man” lately. He’s battling back, this time from a triple bypass surgery along with a heart-valve replacement that left him in the hospital for several weeks during the early part of 2010. For those who know Newland, that seems about right. He’s always preparing, working and training, to be ahead of the next challenge, this time a physical ailment.

This isn’t just a tribute to a man who’s still very much alive in the water polo community but rather a reflection on a single person who impacted hundreds of lives. What is it about Newland that unites men of all generations? That prepares athletes for the highest level of competition? That leaves some of the games fiercest athletes grasping to the find the right words to truly explain their love?

I think the reason so many of his former players love him so much is that they know Newland would do anything for them. He tried to teach you everything he’s learned in his life. Whether you were interested or not, he was always teaching you.—John Abdou, UC-Irvine Class of ’01

Newland always stays true to his word. You know 100 percent of the time he’s fighting for you. You know that a lot of your success in the pool and outside of the pool is due to his teachings. You know you owe a lot to him, and that breeds a certain loyalty.—Jeff Powers, UC-Irvine Class of ’03

Newland’s players always knew he would look out for them, that he really cared about them. Most people only saw the tough “Old Man.” Which, by the way, he is. However, he also has a very caring side that only his players might ever see...that and his family. He views his players as his sons. I view him as a very dominant father figure in my life, as do many Newland’s former players.—Hunt

Water Polo is tough. Most everybody—from four-time Olympians to those with only a passing knowledge of a lob shot—seems to know that. Tough is how Ted Newland operated in his tenure as head coach of the University of California-Irvine Anteaters. When the dust settled on a head coaching run that started in 1966 and ended in 2005, Newland had piled up 714 victories and three college championships. If college water polo were college basketball, America would know about Newland the way we know about Mike Krzyzewski or Dean Smith.

Talk to enough former Anteaters—a loose phrase since most guys return to team practices annually—and it wasn’t about the wins or the championships. Newland was all about building great people; the wins and championships were just wonderful byproducts (unless, of course, the opponent was UCLA).

Ted Newland most recently guided UCI to the NCAA title in 1989

He taught hard work could overcome everything and lived by that example. His personal workouts are the stuff of legend. Lifting weights for hours before his team even showed for practice and then burying the group of college kids in sit-ups and pushups when they arrived.

At UCI we were bred to train hard. Most of us were good athletes but came from average to poor water polo backgrounds. Newland told us that we needed to put in extra hours to catch and pass the people ahead of us. The guys who bought in and trained hard gained confidence and experience and became some of the best players in the country.—Dan Klatt, UC-Irvine Class of ’01

They had to work hard—Newland and his team—because nothing would be handed to them. Newland was a scrapper from the start, cutting his teeth in the sport as a goalie at Occidental College—not known for elite status in the game. He found kids who wanted to work as hard as he did, and it didn’t matter where they were from.

Newland also developed an us-against-the-world feeling among the team. We were the underdogs; we didn’t have all the scholarships of the other schools; we didn’t have the fancy warm-ups or robes or anything like that; and we never got the top recruits. But if we worked harder than the other teams, we could catch them a little bit every day. We had kids from Fresno, St Louis, San Luis Obispo, Oregon, the Inland Empire—none of these places were water polo powerhouses, and most of the guys were never recruited by any other schools. I still remember when Newland recruited me, the first thing he said is that if I didn’t want to work hard, then he didn’t want me. Newland would take these kids he saw something in and believe in them, most times more than the kids believed in themselves. It’s motivating when you have a guy—who you respect so much and who believes in you—explain, that in sports and life there are no secrets. The only secret is hard work. Work hard and be a success.—Bailey

No coach spent more time developing individual skills than Newland. If you were a center, he’d make you sit in front of a cage for an hour straight until you took hundreds of shots from your position. He always said, “If you do this a million times, maybe you'll get good at it.”—Abdou

Newland would never claim to be a tactical genius. He was a fundamentalist. Success at the international level has a lot to do with the individual abilities of the players. No one is reinventing the wheel out there. It's a simple game. If you can swim, pass, shoot, defend, shot block, etc. better than your opponent then you will win. The majority of our time at practice was spent on individual skills. We had good individual skills and were more prepared than other guys at that level.—Klatt

The success part has been confirmed time and again. Along the way to winning those college championships, Newland figured out something else about building Olympic-caliber athletes: 13 of his players have gone on to play in the Olympic Games, and the four most recent—Bailey, Hutten, Powers, and Rick Merlo—earned Silver Medals at the Beijing Olympics.

That group was just the latest round of success stories. There was Klatt, Genai Kerr, and Dr. Omar Amr at the 2004 Olympic Games; John Vargas coaching at the 2000 Games (who also played in 1992); Peter Campbell and Gary Figueroa in the 1980s; Chris Duplanty and Jeff Campbell in the 1990s; Mike Evans at three different Olympic Games—you get the idea.

Aside from the years in the college game, Newland spearheaded the Newport Water Polo Foundation. Club water polo was a big deal in Newland’s heyday, and he made sure his group was a force. Prior to stricter NCAA regulations, college athletes could play with their club more often, and the Foundation was a way to promote the up and comers while remaining linked to the past of UC-Irvine Men’s Water Polo. The current National Team athletes represented the “A” team of the Foundation while the “B” team was the current college squad at the time. Newland poured thousands of dollars into the club to make certain all his guys got a shot.

Klatt, among others, points to the Foundation as a major reason for their success at the National Team level. Most coaches drift in and out of the lives of their players once diplomas are handed out, but not Newland. He didn’t just recruit guys for water polo; he recruited them for life, remaining a positive impact in continuing their development in and out of the water. It’s part of the reason for such fierce loyalty—after all, Newland never gave up on his boys, never quit working for them. How couldn’t they pledge allegiance to the “Old Man”?

Sure there are some advantages to Newland’s coaching style. As Bailey recalls, he values individual instruction and fundamentals over gimmicks and other coaching strategies. Regardless, his tactics and development of players led to their successes in college, the international arena, and life. He harvested several NCAA Champions, Olympians, and an army of men that would go through a wall for him. Not every coach gets through to their players like that.

You could fill two textbooks with great Newland stories—and half likely can’t be printed here—but to a man, everybody comes to back to the same principles. The coach values time management and hard work. Show up on time and outwork the other guy, and you will be successful—it was just that simple. The thing is, those ideals aren’t big secrets to anybody in sports, but getting a bunch of college kids to buy in—now that’s the special part. Getting a bunch of grown men who are water polo professionals, doctors, lawyers, and the like to keep buying in—to savor that bond like the final possession in a tie game—that’s the amazing part.

How did the old man do it? The guy who, from a distance, might have come off as too angry, too mean, and too hard on the kids—and perhaps a bit crazy?

That’s easy.

He loved them.

I love Newland because he made me a man, and because he loved me. I love Newland because he believed in me—even when I failed. I love Newland because he protected me with his life. And most of all I love Newland because I knew, no matter how tough he was on me, that if I ever was in trouble and needed something that he would be right there to help me. So much of who and what I am I owe to Newland. Thank God he isn’t looking for any return on his investments because I’d be paying him back forever.—Klatt

This article appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of SkipShot Magazine




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