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Coach Denny Harper on Retirement, Setting Records, and 42 Years of Tradition at UCSD


May 1, 2022
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Extremely couple of college coaches in the nation can declare a four-decade profession at a single school. Even less of those coaches might state they have actually been around for most of their school’s presence.

However as he retires after his 42 nd season at the helm of UC San Diego’s guys’s water polo group, Denny Harper has actually achieved simply that, to support 697 wins, and an amazing 17 National Coach of the Year awards from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches. In his time at UCSD, Harper has actually likewise invested almost 3 years in charge of aquatics, and worked as the ladies’s water polo coach for 16 years, till 1999.

I fulfilled Coach Harper in his workplace at the Canyonview Aquatics Center for what I prepared would be a cursory 15-minute interview about his profession and retirement. We wound up promoting about an hour and 45 minutes, about sports at UCSD, the school’s history, and other subjects we had an interest in, a portion of which has actually made it into this short article. However I believe that informs you a lot about Harper right there.

To Begin With: after 42 years, why retire now? “The time is perfect. 42 years of training on this school suffices, integrated with the truth that I coached prior to this. I have actually been training this insane sport for 50 years,” Harper stated. “… I have 5 kids, I have a grandchild, I have actually another grandchild anticipated in September. I understand that that sounds a little stereotyped, however I enjoy the truth that all my kids reside in San Diego, which seems like a great time to me. Knock on wood, I have my health, and I’m incredibly delighted that long time associate head coach and previous gamer Matt Ustaszewski is taking control of, so that suggests that a great deal of our longstanding customs, worths, and culture of the program will continue.”

” For over 40 years, I have actually never ever truly done anything enjoyable in the fall that didn’t pertain to water polo … Whatever we perform in this program 340 days a year is tailored towards our project, so I’m eagerly anticipating that– doing something in October, unusual in the past.”

In the over 4 years Harper has actually been associated with the university, he’s seen a great deal of modifications to a university that, when he started here, was more youthful than its trainees.

” I’ll initially begin by stating that I do have actually blended feelings about the development of whatever. It’s interesting, it’s absolutely required, and UCSD has actually become a significant university … It’s not precisely stretching, however I miss out on that old school that was best around 8,000 trainees when I took control of in 1980. It had a genuine beauty to it of a peaceful, drowsy beach school. There are times that I have actually missed out on that.”

I asked Coach Harper what sort of tradition he wants to have actually left, and what sticks to him after training at UCSD for so long.

” Among the significant, significant reasons I have actually wound up doing this for so long is getting linked to my gamers and their households. I was young and still rather of a knucklehead in the eighties, and I didn’t have some preordained strategy to have a profession in training … That four-year cycle simply obtained me. At that time, there was no recruiting budget plan, no needs made from recruiting. You would speak to kids. And you get gotten in touch with your gamers and you wish to see them through. And after that, all of a sudden, I remain in my 16 th season [coaching] the guys and the ladies …”

“[This year,] I needed to lastly understand I needed to break this in some way. It wasn’t simple. It was just a couple weeks ago that I informed the group. There’s 7 redshirt freshmen on the group that I can inform are going to be excellent water polo gamers, excellent individuals, all that. However I can’t continue my relationship the method I generally would with them, or I ‘d be among those coaches who would need to be asked to leave, like ‘Jesus, Denny, you can hardly stroll.'”

” It’s type of corny, however very few coaches get abundant in training, specifically in a small sport. However let me inform you, I’m incredibly abundant in a great deal of other methods. All the relationships I have with all my previous gamers … I might never ever put a price on that. There’s a lot of things that was essential to me that I wanted to compromise, maybe, economically, in other work chances … All 5 of my kids, they were basically raised here at Canyonview. They belonged of closed-door halftime minutes, and reviewing all that makes me understand that that was a genuine advantage for my kids. The connection with the gamers, and how it equated into a long-lasting household experience has actually been wonderful. And [Ustaszewski], I informed him simply recently, ‘If you have half as excellent of a training life as I have actually had here at UCSD, you’ll be stired.'”

Coach Harper has a bunch of honors, consisting of 17 National Coach of the Year awards– consisting of 9 successive wins from 2011– 2019– and 19 conference Coach of the Year awards from the Western Water Polo Association. However Harper firmly insists that private awards are eventually not what he values most.

” I appreciate, specifically from training associates, however at the end of the day I have actually never ever put a lot of worth because. If anything, I factor that into among the factors it’s time for me to be done– there’s a great deal of coaches out there that regard me and our program, and completing versus them has actually been various for me the last couple of years since a few of them resemble good friends. And,” Harper stated, laughing, “I’m not so sure that’s an advantage.”

I likewise leapt at the possibility to ask Harper about among the more appealing little bits of his bio– the time when, in 1989, he coached 2 teams from the guys’s group in a Guinness World Record-setting 26-hour match of water polo at UCSD’s Natatorium beside Main Health club.

” At that time, when you did marathon records– I think Guinness eliminated marathon records since individuals were actually passing away attempting to do them– for each hour that you did, you would get a ten-minute break. Well, that group I assemble, which I particularly chose since I believed they were badasses, they might do 3 or 4 hours basing on their head. That was absolutely nothing, they ‘d done that under me.”

” We began at 1 o’clock, and around 5 or 6– I had actually loosely understood that there was a performance at the old Main Health club– it was Crowded Home, an Australian band, they were a recognized thing in the late eighties. Well, the majority of individuals in the band can be found in, poked their heads in. I have their signatures, since you likewise needed to have a guestbook, so we had them sign the guestbook.”

” At some time in the show, [the lead singer] spoke about what was going on linked to the structure, and as a result, when that thing blurt around midnight, the Natatorium was jam-packed with individuals. And it offered the people an incredible energy rise … The crowd was there for possibly thirty minutes. And after that they left. And after that it was back to being simply us, overnight, and now, ooh, 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. … Till the sun turned up, it was quite rough for those people.”

After the record was set, there was a little event for the gamers and coaches. “The people all came, however their hands were still gray and old and wrinkly. They appeared like alien hands. All of them had green algae growing in their ears. After being here for 40 minutes they were weary, so they left … I awakened around 12:30 approximately, got up, took 5 or 6 actions, and both my hamstrings and calves constrained up like no tomorrow. I decreased! Simply absolutely constrained up from being up, standing, for over 40 hours, continuously moving.”

With years of regular and experience in a task as extensive as training, I asked coach Harper how he intends on filling his days now that he’s retired, and whether he has anything lined up.

” I’m hectic by nature, I’m not simply going to be a lazy person. I will still be linked to this program, I’ll be its greatest fan … I do not understand what I’m going to do, however I understand it’s going to be excellent. I do not have any stress and anxiety over it.”

Near completion of our interview, I informed Coach Harper that his retirement advised me of that of Duke University guys’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has had an extended goodbye trip this season soured by 2 upset losses to heated competing University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the latter in the Last 4. We have actually understood all season that Krzyzewski would retire, so every video game was a minute of closure, every competition video game might have been his last. However Harper revealed his retirement in the offseason, so he didn’t have any such goodbye trip, and I asked him if this was deliberate.

” That Krzyzewski thing was a little bit of an impact for me,” Harper stated. “… He’s a remarkable coach, nevertheless, he and I varied on that. I did not desire that. While there certainly is going to be a group of people who can state ‘We bet Denny his last season,’ I did not desire ‘We’re the group that’s going to need to bet Denny.’ I would preserve that that was hard on the [Duke] gamers, I do not believe it was reasonable to the gamers … I’m delighted the manner in which I did it.”

Harper states he’ll still be at Triton water polo video games, and the guys’s water polo program will continue to be a force under Ustaszewski. However the retirement of Coach Harper– amongst the most accomplished members of the whole UCSD neighborhood, and a link back to years of school history– represents completion of a period for Triton sports as a whole.

Image thanks to Derrick Tuskan/ UC San Diego Sports

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