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 that pool."
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 hardwired 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 routine.
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 over-achieving, 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 water polo).
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 Russians."