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Q&A with UCLA coach Al Scates about his upcoming retirement

May 13, 2011

Fifty years as UCLA’s head coach is long enough for Hall of Famer Al Scates.

Scates, the winningest coach in NCAA volleyball history, announced Tuesday that he would retire following the 2012 season.

As the only men’s volleyball head coach in UCLA history, Scates won a college volleyball record 19 NCAA championships and more than 1,200 matches. The Bruins have also had 52 First-Team All-Americnas, 27 Olympians and seven National Player of the Year awards during the head coach’s tenure.

Off the Block conducted an interview with Scates on Thursday to discuss why he decided to retire, the affect his retirement could have on the upcoming season and who could replace him as the next Bruins’ head coach.

Off the Block: You announced Tuesday that you will retire at the end of the 2012 season. Why now?

Al Scates: I wanted to retire when I was still heathy and can travel with my wife and do things she wanted to do. I traveled the world as a player and coach, but much of time she was raising our three children and didn’t get to. Lately she’s been able to do lots of traveling with team. She supported me for long time and she was going to work full time when I went back to school to get my masters. She wants me to be here to enjoy life more and give her more of my time than I have been able to do all these years.

OTB: What’s been the reaction you’ve received from people since you made the announcement that you will retire?

AS:I’m getting calls and messages from a bunch of people. Fred Wallin who I coached at Franco Park when I was a sophomore at Santa Monica College called me, and last night I got a call from a man that I played volleyball with in 1960. I’m also getting emails from former players. … I’m getting in contact with a lot of ex-players and friends. I’ve read their emails and I’ve not had time to response. I owe a lot of people letters and some good responses.

OTB: You’ve been involved in UCLA volleyball since joining the team as junior in 1959. How difficult is it going to be for you to leave?

AS: I’ve built this program and the program is going to be in good hands for whoever takes over. I raised a lot of money for the program and it’s in good shape. We have some outstanding young outside hitters that I trained last year. It’s a good time to leave. Fifty years long enough, and we can bring in someone who is younger with a little more energy. I haven’t recruited last few years. Come to think of it, I haven’t ever recruited. I’ve not been out there like a couple of coaches. … I’m getting my knee replaced in May. This past year during practices I’ve had difficulty standing up the entire practice.

OTB: Could you have imagined being this successful when you came to UCLA in 1959?

AS: When I came to UCLA I had never played on a volleyball team before. I played basketball, baseball and football. Volleyball was the only team I was ever cut from at UC Santa Monica. I didn’t know anything about the sport and started playing on the beach before I transferred. … I just wanted to make team at UCLA. They would practice in the evening, which was good for me because I worked at the parks in the afternoon. I made team and I was really happy. I was not thinking then about being a volleyball coach. I wanted to coach, and I coached high school football. I said I’d be basketball coach and was looking at a high school basketball job when the coach at UCLA told me he was going to Japan to do research. … That changed everything.

OTB: UCLA played an important role in volleyball becoming a NCAA sport. Can you talk a little bit about your role in that process.

AS: There was no high school volleyball at the time. There was only a few schools with men’s volleyball and UCLA was one of them. USC and BYU had teams, although it was a club but they still had great players. … We would go where ever there was a team. … There weren’t many places to play. If the Air Force had a tournament we would go there. There were military bases with tournaments and we go there to play and where ever there was a tournament. When volleyball got its start is when Pauley Pavilion opened in 1965, and I scheduled the USA women’s volleyball team versus Japan that won the Olympic gold medal and the USA men’s team against the Japan silver medalist team. Volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964 and Japan hosted the first volleyball contest. Those two teams were doing a world tour and had a tournament in Brazil. So I was able to get the national men’s team through my contacts at USA Volleyball and I arranged the match. J.D. Morgan provided Pauley Pavilloin for free and we had 5,000 paying costumers who bought tickets and that was the biggest crowd for a volleyball match in 1965. And after that match, J.D. Morgan, who was head of the NCAA tournament for basketball, after he saw that he said he would see to it that volleyball became a NCAA sport. Dec. 14, 1965, I know it then that it would be a NCAA sport, I was going to become a high school administrator and possibly go to Harvard. I was teaching at Beverly Hills and they were willing to pay for me to go to Harvard, but by that time I knew I wanted to coach volleyball and wanted to stay at UCLA. J.D. Morgan he was powerful guy, and he got it done.

OTB: With this being your last season, does it change the way you approach the upcoming season?

AS: No, the only difference is I have a veteran squad coming back. I’m going to change positions for a few key players. I already know what we have to do to become a champion, and I know how to it. I’m not going to have to do as much experimenting in the preseason where I’m changing positions and attempting to find the best six. I know these guys and who are the best athletes right now. I know how to make them better and they work hard. We are going to be working hard to win our 20th national championship.

OTB: Speaking of national championships, it’s been five years since you won your last championship. That’s kind of considered a drought for your program ….

AS: I think it happened once before. There are so many good male volleyball players and club players and so few scholarships that everyone has a great team. Everyone in our league is good and there are no push overs.

OTB: With this being your final year does it change the way you schedule your non-conference season? Are there now some coaches or teams who want to play UCLA because it’s your final year?

AS: Yeah, I’m getting a lot of calls from coaches and Canadian teams wanting to play. The problem is we have 22 league matches and we’ve already agreed to play in the Outrigger Invitational in Hawaii and the Santa Barbara tournament, and we only have two spots left. We have 28 dates for competition. So I’ve filled 26 of them already. We are going to fill the other two and I got a lot of people to call back.

OTB: There are lots of names are already being discussed as your replacement. Who would you like to see take over the UCLA program after you retire?

AS: I’m not going to comment on that. I’m sure our athletics director is going to interview a lot of qualified candidates. I expect to be a part of that process, but it’s kind of early in the process since I just announced it late Tuesday.

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