STANFORD, Calif. - When it comes to diving, Rick Schavone goes by the book. The summer before his sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire, he was hired to be supervisor of recreation in his hometown outside Boston.
“We ran a beach,” said Schavone. “And on the dock there was a diving board. The recreation director wanted a diving class, so I said, ‘I can do this.’ So I bought a book, started teaching diving and fell in love with it.”
Schavone, who played basketball and baseball at New Hampshire, was a quick study and continued to coach diving during the summers. After finishing grad school, he enrolled at Stanford to pursue a Ph.D .in sports psychology. Finding time on his hands, he stayed busy teaching recreational tennis classes, but quickly grew bored.
“Once I received my Ph.D., I said, ‘That’s it. I’m done with diving. This is silly,’ ’’ he said.
Or so he thought. Schavone made an unannounced visit to the Avery Aquatic Center, found long-time diving coach Clyde Devine, and volunteered his services to Stanford and local clubs. Once again, his timing was good. With the addition of Title IV, Devine needed help coaching the men’s and women’s diving programs, and handed the latter over to Schavone on the spot.
“He was asked to coach the women for the first time and he didn’t want to,” Schavone said. “So I automatically became the head coach by walking down on the deck. The rest is history.”
Schavone stayed for a year, then coached at Princeton in 1978-79, before returning to The Farm. This time, he stayed for 36 years, adding the men’s program to his workload. In April, he announced his retirement.
“It seemed like it happened so fast,” said Schavone, a four-time NCAA Coach of the Year and nine-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. “But I’m not going to lie. I’m 65 and still enjoy it just as much, but it just gets harder. The days get longer. I knew it was time.”
Schavone, who coached the Cardinal to 18 team national championships and produced seven NCAA individual titlists, is still amazed at his good fortune.
“I really did love going to work every day,” he said. “There was no question I thought I was in heaven at Stanford. The best part was just the kids. There is no doubt we were successful diving-wise, but sitting there and talking to them made it all worthwhile.”
Schavone always thought big.
“The biggest thing I started from day one, from my first NCAA Championship team in the early 80s, we had a saying: ‘Dream a Dream,’ ’’ said Schavone. “You had to have a dream and you had to go after it every day. My dream was always to be the best in the United States, to produce Olympic participants and national champions. It was always forcing people to believe they could be great.”
Schavone always challenged his divers to maximize their potential.
“Extend yourself all the time,” he said. “And that was our saying: ‘Do you want to be great?’ And great meant better than you are. It didn’t mean everybody on the team was going to be an Olympic champion, but everybody could come in every day and try to be better than they were the day before.”
Schavone has kept in touch with many of his former divers.
“It’s really hard to believe – and I say this with all modesty – is how they showed me how loved I was,” said Schavone. “On my 60th birthday, they sent me to the Kentucky Derby. So my greatest joy is the way they believed that Stanford diving has been a major part of their lives; not just the four years they went to college. That’s the greatest reward.”
Schavone will return to his lakeside home in New Hampshire this summer and has promised himself he will spend more time fishing and playing golf. Stanford, he suspects, will seldom be far from his thoughts.
“I’m sure I’ll still think that Stanford is the center of the universe,” he said. “So that’s going to be a tough thing. But again, the thing that was really a fit for me was the commitment to excellence. And then to convince students that you could be a great athlete and a great student, and then have an athletic department and school that believe that. It demanded you try and do that every day, and I really, really enjoyed the quest.”