Marv Dunphy

Longtime Malibu resident Marv Dunphy has been an influential figure in the volleyball world for decades, holding a phenomenal track record as he enters his 31st season as Pepperdine’s Waves’ volleyball head coach. He’s directed Pepperdine to four NCAA men’s volleyball titles, holds a career record of 546-241 and 19 of his Pepperdine volleyball players have played on the U.S. Men’s National Team, including 10 in the Olympics.

Dunphy coached the No. 1-ranked U.S. Men’s team during the 1980s and has served as an Olympic coach or consultant to several winning teams. In 2011, Dunphy was awarded the U.S. Olympic Achievement Award for his part in helping the U.S. team capture gold in Beijing. 

The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man who Volleyball Magazine selected as one of the “30 Most Recognizable Names in Volleyball.”

What approach and/or technique do you use toward your games and training?

A lot of people think coaching is knowledge. But, it’s not just knowledge. It’s about caring. People know when you care. It’s about courage. You have to have the courage to make tough decisions. It’s about control. When you walk into a gym, you can tell which group’s coach has control and which doesn’t have control of behavior and play. As a parent, leader and coach, I strongly believe you get what you tolerate. Also, individuals never lose the desire to be treated as individuals. Athletes are happiest when they are improving. My goal is to do something where every individual is improving a little every day.

You are entering your 31st season as the Waves head coach. What have you learned along the way?

I get to choose the people I go through life with — my staff and my players. They are my extended family. Their failures and successes are mine as well. I’ve also learned that one size doesn’t fit all. You can’t treat everybody the same. Everybody needs a pat on the back, but differently. There are good days and bad days. There’s a saying to “play forward.” I like to “coach forward” and move on. 

Were you always interested in volleyball? Did you play when you were younger?

No, I got into it really late. I was drafted and went to Vietnam in 1968. I started playing in 1970. I went to Pepperdine University on a volleyball scholarship. I was never really a very good player. I was really interested in teaching and coaching.

You’ve coached the Waves, the U.S. National Team, the Olympic [team] ... What’s been the most challenging time/game and why?

The ongoing challenge is I could work really hard and really well and yet the enemy is doing the same. In the international arena, Russia, Brazil and Cuba are really good. As you go up the food chain, there’s very little that separates. In the 2008 Olympics, there were 12 teams. Eight of the 12 could have won. Only one play allowed us to win. At Olympic level or NCAA level, my biggest challenge is to get them to train at the level they need to in order to be great. That’s the case for all coaches. There’s a standard to be met. I know the standard and I have to keep shining the light and either you’re good enough to win or you’re not.

You have left and returned to Pepperdine many times throughout your career. How have you seen Malibu change over the years?

Growing up in Topanga, Malibu was the other side of the earth. We’d go way out at Point Dume and fish. It was a sleepy little town when I grew up. It’s still unique. It’s like an island. We’re lucky to be in this little strip of land. There’s still a sense of community. We do pancake breakfasts. It’s really nice.

How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?

I didn’t really know about it. She called me out of nowhere and I was very hesitant. I was there for about an hour while she was painting the portrait. I didn’t know what was going on. But I realized I was in the presence of greatness. It was very special and I was honored. 

Johanna Spinks also teaches classes in portrait painting. She may be reached at johanna@johannaspinks.com or 310.384.7029.

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