In Orange County in California, a landscape littered with
backyard swimming pools and bordered on one side by the Pacific,
it's not uncommon for hulking young men to spend the autumn
playing water polo instead of football. Most Orange County
residents either play polo--that's right, just polo--or know
someone who does. It is from them that one hears the stories
about Ted Newland: He is the coach who devises the most brutal
workouts. A man given to tirades. An obsessive-compulsive lunatic.
Yet as a chilly fog grazes the pool deck at UC Irvine on a fall
Friday morning, the peaceful old man in the hot-pink wheelchair
seems to give the lie to his legend. In two days the Anteaters
will face UCLA in a crucial match in the Pacific Mountain Sports
Federation (a mixture of Big West and Pac-10 schools). The first
time a Newland squad played the Bruins, in 1966, UCLA defeated
Irvine 12-5. It is a loss Newland has never avenged to his
satisfaction. Even after more than 600 wins and three NCAA
titles (the first of which, in 1970, was at the expense of
UCLA), the eternal underdog in Newland burns to beat the Bruins.
Still, Newland is hardly the picture of bottled fury. As his
charges go through their paces, he is calm. Quiet. Then....
"Turn it around! Turn it around!" Newland's foghorn monotone
booms across the pool. This exhortation to bear down stings the
players. They don't see how sloppy their passing has become, how
lackadaisically their offense sets up.
"When I was a freshman," says John Vargas, the new coach of the
U.S. national team, who played for Irvine in the 1980s, "Coach
Newland once got so mad telling us to turn it around that he
ordered us out of the pool. He said we were wasting his time.
Being young guys, we were happy. You know, Practice is over
early. Then we figured out that if we didn't practice, we
wouldn't win games. He was letting us know that practice wasn't
a right but a privilege. If we wanted to win, we had to be in
If you assume that Newland, who will turn 69 on Dec. 13, is
looking for a fourth national title as a cap to his career,
you're wrong. His whole life is hard-wired to the pool deck at
Irvine. Newland rises at 3:45 a.m. and drives to school from
Costa Mesa, where he lives with his second wife, Anne. He lifts
weights for an hour before the team arrives at 6 a.m., and then
for another hour with his players. Finally they head for the
pool for their morning workout. By 12:30 p.m. Newland is logged
onto the Internet for three to four hours of E-mail and updates
on his own Web page. He sends current players pointed messages
about their performance. He sends friends and former players a
few paragraphs of his latest theories on life. After a half-hour
nap, it's another two hours with the team. Newland sleeps just
six hours a night and then gets up to repeat the previous day's
When Newland was one, his father died, and since then he has
lived his life as if trying to measure up to a man he can barely
remember--always overachieving, always playing the underdog.
Newland took up boxing when he was in the Air Force. He
graduated first in his class at Occidental College, in Los
Angeles, in 1954. While at Occidental he played goalie on the
school's water polo team, though he was unable to swim. "I could
tread water," he says, "but if I wanted to go to the other end
of the pool, I had to get out and walk."
After college he accepted a position teaching history at Newport
Harbor (Calif.) High School. "But I also began coaching
swimming," he says. "I found that if I coached, I could do more
teaching on the bus going to and from competitions than I could
in the classroom. I had their attention. They couldn't ignore me."
By 1959 Newland had started the high school's water polo program
too. He instituted a weight-training program. Never mind that
Newport Harbor had neither weights nor a weight room--Newland
brought his weights from home, and the team lifted in the gym
bathroom. "I was also the first coach to begin double days," he
says. His other innovations included having players swim
multiple lengths of the pool underwater (up to 75 meters at a
time), tread water while holding 20-pound weights over their
heads, and even box (to learn to withstand the hard contact of
In 1966 Newland went to Irvine, which had a one-year-old water
polo program. Within four years he had his first NCAA crown.
"Coming against UCLA, that was sweet," he recalls. His comment
at the time was harsher: "I would rather beat the Bruins than
The championship brought national recognition to Newland's
coaching skill and methods, but although he coached the U.S. to
the gold medal at the 1971 Pan Am Games, he won few friends. He
was passed over for the '72 Olympics, and after another stint as
U.S. coach in 1973-74, he was never asked back. "There's a lot
of politics at that level, and I'm not the kind who wins a lot
of elections," Newland admits. Pause. "I don't kiss a lot of
ass. The people I like know I like them. The people I don't
like, I shine on."
The people he does like--and who adore him in return--include
just about every man who has played under him. "He hasn't been
my coach since 1970," says Bill Leach, also an Olympic kayaker
and one of seven Olympians who have played for Newland over the
years. "But I still feel like he's my coach. He's a great, great
Vargas is more effusive: "I love the man. I would do anything
for him. Make no mistake, now that I'm coach of the national
team, he will be involved with the way I run that team. I want
to be like him."
The people who don't like Newland probably include the referee
he once picked up by the throat after a poorly officiated game.
And many people don't care for Newland's outspoken opposition to
Title IX legislation, which requires that women's sports receive
funding comparable to men's sports at the collegiate level.
"Buffoonery!" fumes Newland, whose program was almost cut in
1991 because of Title IX. Though the program was spared after
Newland offered to coach without pay, its funding has been
reduced from $109,000 to $35,000. "Men need sports more than
women," says Newland, who is paid no salary for coaching but
receives his pension from the college as well as Social
Security. "Men get into trouble if they're not kept busy. You
don't see women looking for trouble and joining gangs. When guys
get into sports, they're too tired to go out and get into
trouble. The only people interested in seeing women get equal
access are women's coaches."
For all the bluster, Newland is hardly a rigid traditionalist.
He constantly explores theories of time management and personal
excellence. He uses, and passes on to his players, what works,
assigning required reading as part of his program. "I still
remember having to read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer:
Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements and The Passionate
State of Mind," says Leach. "I've carried those philosophies of
excellence with me ever since."
The books Newland is studying these days are Peter F. Drucker's
The Effective Executive and Jon Niednagel's Your Best Sport: How
to Choose and Play It. The first teaches time-management
techniques, which Newland feels are mandatory for success.
(Time, he says, is "our only inelastic commodity.") The second
book analyzes personality types and describes what sports people
are most suited for, helping Newland find the best players. The
majority of successful water polo players, he says proudly, have
the same personalities as comedians. "They're different from
swimmers," Newland says. "They don't see the world as a concrete
prison, a place to swim lap after lap in pain. They like having
their heads out of the water, having a good time. I like that in
Even the wheelchair is unorthodox. Newland can walk fine, but
four decades of traipsing "up to three or four miles a day" on
concrete pool decks have made his knees arthritic. Rather than
submit to knee-replacement surgery, he wheels around during
practices. Afterward he rises to his full 6'1".
But what's important to Newland is that at an age when most men
have settled for whatever life has meted out, he is still
fighting for what he wants--fighting because he is happiest as
the underdog. "It's how you get there, the work you do, the
players you work with, how you live your life and help others to
live theirs," he says. "Winning...winning isn't really that
important to me."
Unless he's playing UCLA.
Martin Dugard lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., where he
is a freelance writer.