Longtime Pepperdine men’s volleyball coach Marv Dunphy says he has the “best volleyball job in the world.” The Malibu resident is attempting to take his top-ranked Waves to a national title for the fourth time in his career.
By Kevin Connelly/Special to The Malibu Times
It may sound like a rather drab way to earn a living, but he gets paid to teach young men the nuances of digging. More ghastly yet, this man urges his protégés to kill early, often and with great aplomb.
Meet Marv Dunphy, head coach of the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team, currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, and digging and killing-statistical volleyball jargon-its way to postseason play.
“I have the best volleyball job in the world,” Dunphy said in a recent telephone interview. “I get to choose all the people and players I surround myself with. I make all of the executive decisions. Pepperdine has been very good to me.”
Dunphy has been pretty good to the university in return. In his 22nd season as head coach, Dunphy has a resume that, to say the least, should provide him with decent job security in the volleyball world for quite some time. A native of Topanga Canyon, Dunphy played middle blocker at Pepperdine in the early 1970s, earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the university in 1974.
Dunphy then began coaching at Pepperdine, serving as an assistant coach for a few years before assuming the head-coaching role in 1977. The following season, he led the Waves to its first-ever national championship, defeating rival UCLA in five games.
Dunphy, who received a master’s degree in physical education from USC in 1978, then left Pepperdine to obtain a doctorate in physical education from Brigham Young University. Completing this degree in 1981, Dunphy returned to Pepperdine to coach volleyball.
Pepperdine advanced to the NCAA title matches in both 1983 and 1984, losing both times to UCLA; however, in 1985, the Waves finished with a 25-2 record-still the school’s best single-season mark-and defeated USC to capture the NCAA title. Leaving the university again after a championship season, Dunphy went to San Diego to coach the U.S. National Team. He won a gold medal with this team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Continuing the pattern, Dunphy returned to Pepperdine to bring the volleyball program back to prominence. Dunphy won his third, and most recent, NCAA championship with a three-game sweep of Stanford in 1992. Dunphy has more than 400 career wins as a Pepperdine coach.
In recent years, including a championship loss to Hawaii in 2002, Dunphy’s Waves have continued to thrive, but the national title has eluded them for 13 seasons. This year, with a record of 22-2, Dunphy says his team can make another run at a national title. The postseason conference tournament begins Thursday at 5 p.m. in Malibu.
“We have a realistic chance of winning it all this year,” Dunphy said. “We have as good a shot as anybody right now. Teams like Penn State have a chance and UCLA is ranked ahead of us, but it’s an open championship.”
Pepperdine was ranked No. 1 for most of the season, until a loss on March 31 to Long Beach State dropped the team to No. 2. The Waves recently reclaimed the top spot.
“I think we are 80 percent right now in respect to how good we can really be,” Dunphy said. “We still struggle a bit from time to time and there are still bumps in the road. We have a great record, but we haven’t been crushing teams. Regardless, I really like the way the kids have responded all year long.”
Dunphy’s players also appreciate the way he coaches. Sean Rooney, senior outside hitter and Volleyball Magazine’s 2004 Player of the Year, praised his coach in a telephone interview: “Marv is the best thing that’s happened to my volleyball career,” Rooney said. “He has helped in every aspect of my life, both on and off the court. The best way to end my senior season would be to leave with another championship for Marv.”
Rooney, a highly touted high school prospect from Wheaton, Ill., said he chose Pepperdine because he was enamored with the coaches and the volleyball history. He plans on playing for the U.S. National Team after this season, but for now he is focused on winning a national championship in his final year at the school.
“It’s the ultimate goal,” Rooney said. “I’m striving for it. I’m always thinking about it.”
If the Waves make it, they will go to Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus in Westwood on May 5 and 7 for the men’s volleyball Final Four.
Senior setter John Mayer also had some kind things to say about his coach: “Marv has been incredibly valuable to me,” he said. “He knows the game really well, and, what separates him from others is he is great at relaying the knowledge.”
Mayer said Dunphy is a meticulous scout of other teams and players, finding certain tendencies for his players to exploit.
Assistant Coach Scott Wong described what made Dunphy so successful from the coaching side of things.
“Dunphy just really understands his players,” Wong said in a telephone interview. “He knows how to train his players properly. He is a master of sports psychology and he knows exactly when to turn on the heat and exactly when to back off a bit.”
Coach Dunphy lives in Decker Canyon in Malibu with his wife, Su. Their daughter, Alexandra, was a member of the 2003 national champion USC women’s volleyball team. Dunphy was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Mass. in 1994 and is widely revered as one of the game’s legendary coaches.