PP Tom proceeded to introduce Al Scates and called him “the greatest coach in the history of collegiate sports.” Al was the men’s volleyball coach for UCLA for 48 years (YIKES) and led his team to 19 NCAA titles including three successive titles, three times, including four straight from 1981-1984. He is one of two coaches nationwide that won over 1000 matches, has coached 27 Olympic players, wrote a book titled, Winning Volleyball which is used by coaches around the world and, was Coach of the Year four times.
PP Tom felt this presentation would be best presented as a question/answer session and invited former UCLA volleyball player Tom Stillwell, (a blocker, which made me think football but no, in volleyball), who was three-time All Conference and two times All American in the sport. Tom began by praising Coach Al calling him a legend loved by all his players, the ultimate players coach, teacher, speaker, and storyteller, who changed Tom’s life for the better. WOW – that gave me goosebumps!!
Question #1 - When did you first begin your coaching career? Coach Al started at Balboa Park in Culver City where he coached four teams in four sports and loved it. After driving a truck at Douglas Aircraft and thinking he was going to become an engineer like his Uncle Joe, he totally reversed careers as he found his love with coaching. In 1962 Al became a player/coach after the UCLA VB coach took a sabbatical and told Al to apply for the job. Al did apply for the job but because he wanted to play in the 1964 Olympics and needed to stay an amateur athlete, so he could not accept a salary but wanted the job!! Well, that won UCLA over in a hot minute and he got the job with a $100 budget for the season!!
Question #2 – in 1965 How did Coach Al convince JD Morgan and UCLA to allow a VB match to be played in the brand-new Pauley Pavilion? After catching a plane in Tijuana to play a match in Mexico City that even the chickens caged on the plane didn’t thing would make it, Coach Al was made aware that the Japanese Olympic medal teams, men’s & women’s would be stopping in Los Angeles on their way home from a match. Coach Al showing his fearlessness, convinced the Athletic Director that if he would allow the teams to play at UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, Coach Al would guarantee a crowd of 5,000 and UCLA could keep all the receipts. It worked and 5,000 people showed up!!
Question #3 – in 1972 as Chair of the NCAA Volleyball Committee, what did you do to expand the sport across the US? UCLA having won championships in 1970,71 & 72 Al felt that if teams from the East and Midwest could be given a seat in the NCAA tournament it would make it more competitive and expand the sport nationwide. It was agreed and they both joined.
Question #4 – The one item that is very famous at UCLA and in the volleyball, world is the Blue Curtain. What is it and did Coach Al ever put anyone behind it? Since the gym needed to be used by several sports team including the women’s gymnastic there was a blue curtain installed to separate the teams. When the team moved to Pauley Pavilion the curtain went with them and if a player was not performing up to their best (like diving for balls), they could get put behind the blue curtain!! According to Tom, everyone who played on the team has a blue curtain story!
Question #5 – Out of all the 19 NCAA titles, which team do you feel was the best?? Tough question to answer since each team was a winner!! Coach Al felt the 1982 team the best although, 1984 and even 1995 were all good teams too. Coach Al said his best player at UCLA, Karch Kiraly is the best player in the last 100 years which the International Volleyball Federation agrees with!!
Question #6 You are one of two coaches to have over 1000 wins, who was the other coach? Easy answer, another UCLA volleyball player, Andy Banachowski who coached the women’s VB team! All the VB coaches at UCLA are former players and even one at USC!!
Finally, last question – do you have a John Wooden story? Seems coach has several from Coach Wooden being a bad driver to his signing of 200 autographs at one event to the day Coach Wooden saved Coach Al’s job! All very entertaining stories.
Coach Al answered a few more questions from the crowd, telling us he worked as an elementary PE teacher as VB was a very low-paying job; you had to compete to be on his team, Freshman players had to mop the floor before and after practice and, the qualities of a good coach is to be positive, be honest but never buddies with your players until after they graduate!! He also ended by saying the women’s coaches get paid more than the men’s coaches!! Who Knew??!!
Very entertaining guest speaker who is an excellent storyteller. Thank you, Tom Stillwell, for your interview questions and thank you Coach Al for sharing your story with us!
-- Commentary by IPP Diane Good