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It's About More Than Tennis For Longtime Loyola Coach Rick McClure

September 29, 2017
Rick McClure has coached more than 1,200 tennis matches at Loyola University, and his resume shows more than 750 career victories. 

Those totals have earned McClure, now in his 39th with the Greyhounds, a spot in the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame and his name on a $3.2 million tennis facility, but they only tell a fraction of McClure's story.  

"If you talk to his former players, there is a love for him that is palpable," said Joe Boylan, who served as Loyola's athletic director from 1991-2010. "In so many cases he really changed their lives. He's as competitive as anyone, but he's never let that override the kids and what he really thinks is important."

The competitive side of McClure, 63, who started coaching the Greyhounds men's team in 1979 and also took over the women's program in 1988, helped him win eight conference championships on the women's side and one for the men. The successes have come despite having no assistant coach, no scholarships for the men and two scholarships for the women.

McClure became full time in 2000, not long after the NCAA began awarding an automatic bid to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion. He's led the women's team to the NCAAs four times.

"Getting to travel across the country to compete in the NCAAs is an experience I'll never forget," McClure said. "When we were at Cal Berkeley, I remember seeing a ticket booth and thinking that never in my wildest would I have imagined people putting money down to watch Loyola play tennis." 

Most of McClure's conference successes came when the Greyhounds were members of the MAAC. Since joining the Patriot League in 2013 and facing programs with more resources, competing for championships has been difficult. But that never has been McClure's top priority.

"When the playing field was more level, Rick won championships," Boylan said. "That shows you how good of a coach he is. He's the best tennis coach I've ever been around, because it's all about the kids. It's never been about Rick, but about what he can do to make every single one of his student-athletes four years not good, but extraordinary."

Bill Wnek, an associate athletic director at Loyola who played for McClure from 1995-1996, remembers that McClure would insist his players attend class then jog up to the tennis courts for a match that started 10 minutes later. 

"Now fast-forward about 20 years or so and he's still that same guy," Wnek said. "He has a great rapport with the players, and he does everything all by himself. I'm amazed by him. His focus still is on the student-athletes having a great academic experience and getting to play what he calls the beautiful game at the highest level of collegiate competition."

Current team members also are amazed by McClure's ability to do it all. Blest Jones, a senior on the men's team and Loyola's first All-Patriot League selection, praises the family atmosphere and mentorship McClure provides.

"He has a father-figure vibe," Jones said. "A lot of us are away from home for the first time, so it's great to have someone who really cares. We are like one huge family. He offers to help us with anything, is open to hearing our concerns and really sticks by us. It's great to be in the middle of what are the hardest four years of your life and to be able to go to him about anything that comes up."

McClure creates that atmosphere with an emphasis on academics, an uncanny ability to memorize details about each player and a constant dialogue with his players about important life issues, such as career planning and job searches. He does that while tackling a grueling work schedule that includes many 12-hour days.

"I really don't know how he does it," Jones said. "He juggles all of us and knows all of our schedules in his head and everything about us. He's just an extraordinary person in that regard."

The efforts for his players are not lost on them. They came back in droves in 2015 for the ceremony naming the new tennis facility after their coach.  

"To have 175 people at that event, 110 of them tennis alumni who would think enough of me to see me have that honor bestowed meant more to me than anything," McClure said. "The emails, letters and texts I got were incredible."

The love doesn't end there. Boylan speaks of former players who graduated 20 years ago wanting to host McClure's team for lunches and dinners when it is traveling for road matches. Wnek is more succinct.

"They all just love Rick," Wnek said. "He's a really likeable coach who gets the most out of his kids."

McClure takes more pride in the people he sends out into the world after college than he does in the on-court victories.  

"The most enjoyable aspect of the job for me is to see the kids go on and be successful in life," he said. 

When McClure took a part-time job coaching tennis at Loyola for $600 without having an office or enough courts on campus to host a home match, no one could have guessed that 38 years later he would still be bringing the same energy and enthusiasm that he did in 1979. His goal was to coach for 25 years. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame 14 years ago.

Now he speaks of coaching into his 41st year and sixth decade, and said he is energized by new Loyola athletic director Donna Woodruff's willingness to "do whatever it takes to help you accomplish what you need to give the kids a positive experience."

"My journey at Loyola has been remarkable," McClure said. "I'm very fortunate to have met so many special people from so many walks of life. My relationships with my student-athletes have been invaluable and will be with me for the rest of my life."

Photo Credit: Larry French/Loyola Athletics