Tennis Coach Rick McClure understands that players’ academics come first
Before the spring 2011 season started, Rick McClure decided to count up his total wins—just out of curiosity. As he added up his victories during 32 years of coaching at Loyola, the head tennis coach realized he was approaching 600.
True to his character, however, he never mentioned it to his players—not until after they carried him past the milestone in March. “They had no idea,” he said afterward. “It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”
During his career at Loyola, McClure has tried not to put undue pressure on the men and women athletes he coaches. He recognizes the demands—and importance—of their academic careers and tries to make sure they excel on the court, but not at the expense of their schoolwork.
“I lived for team stats when I was in high school and college,” said the New Jersey native, who played for the Terrapins at the University of Maryland. “Nowadays kids have such a varied life that if I didn’t Xerox off and hand them a huge packet at the end of each year, I’m not sure they’d have an idea what their record is. They work hard and want to succeed and do well, but at the same time they have their academic life when they leave the court at night.”
That approach has stayed consistent during the more than three decades McClure has coached the Greyhounds. When he arrived on campus, hired as a part-time coach for the men’s team in 1979, he understood immediately that academics were the students’ first priority.
After his first team graduated, he watched as two of the former Greyhounds become dentists, one an eye doctor, another an accountant, yet another an astronaut, and one a lawyer.
“In a hurry I realized where I was in their life—and that I could play a role in their hopes and their dreams,” said McClure.
The coach’s emphasis on academics helped draw John McConnell, ’03, even though he had planned to play soccer in college. Most other college tennis coaches gave up on recruiting the Wilmington, Del., resident, who was playing more soccer than tennis.
“But Coach McClure, this is one of his strong points, he didn’t care (about my interest in soccer) because I was the No. 1 tennis player in Delaware,” said McConnell, now an attorney with McDonnell and Associates in Cherry Hill, N.J., who lives in Bucks County, Pa. “He stuck with me.”
McConnell came to Loyola, never missed a tennis match—though he did miss practice time to focus on academics—and graduated summa cum laude. He went on to earn his law degree from Villanova University. “Coach McClure always made sure that I had plenty of time to study, and if I needed to get some rest, he let me make that a priority.”
When McClure is asked how he recruits players, he says, “I recruit nice. You look at GPA, SAT, how the kid is doing. I don’t recruit borderline kids. We bring in kids who are academically suited for Loyola, people who can thrive in the academic environment.”
That focus on academics has paid off. During McClure’s tenure all of the women players and all but two out of 130 men have graduated.
And the program has also celebrated plenty of athletic success, winning eight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles since Loyola joined the MAAC in 1989, and competing in four NCAA Tournaments.
Serving three Loyola presidents and four athletic directors, McClure has watched the program and the University itself evolve. When he began coaching, most of his players were commuters. This year’s team includes players from New York, California, Virginia, and Minnesota.
The team’s winning ways have continued this fall. Rachel Janasek, ’12, became Loyola’s all-time leader in victories at the No. 1 singles position in September when she won a match against Robert Morris University.
TO THE POINT
McClure had played baseball, basketball, and football when he decided to pick up a tennis racket in the eighth grade. “I never burned out from the sport because it was something I picked up by choice.” he said.
Since then tennis has become McClure’s career, taking him from country clubs to Loyola, to positions teaching children and adults. “The game has stayed the same, but the people have kept it fresh. It’s been a special journey, one I never saw happening when I first began. It’s turned out to be a real blessing in my life.”