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Obituary: In Loving Memory of Dick Leach

Photo credit: Leach Family

In Loving Memory of Coach Richard “Dick” Noble Leach

By Alyssa Leach

Coach Richard “Dick” Noble Leach of Laguna Beach, California, passed away October 10, 2023, at the age of 83. He loved his family, friends, tennis, USC, bridge, and Hawaii. Depending on the day, that order would change. His quick-witted, sometimes politically incorrect sense of humor, wholehearted laugh, elite athletic ability, and PhD-worthy coaching expertise were legendary. But at his core, Richard was a simple man who created an extraordinary life. 

Richard is survived by his wife Sandy, his four children: Tammy (Alan) Caserio, Rick (Alyssa) Leach, Mindy (Tyler) Magnusson, and Jon (Lindsay) Leach; his grandchildren: Amber (Tyler) Syndergaard, Alyssa (Skyler) Neilson, Trevor Caserio, Trenton Caserio, Paulina (Graham) Macnab, Jake Magnusson, Ryan Magnusson, Jagger Leach, Lauren Leach, Kaya Leach, and Haven Leach; and his younger brother John (Linda) Leach and younger sister Janice Leach; and seven great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his parents Louise and John Leach and his older brother David Leach.

Richard Leach was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 6, 1940, to Louise, who briefly taught school and was a full-time homemaker, and to John Leach, the Assistant L.A. County Manager. Six months later the family moved to Arcadia, where Richard would spend his formative youth. He grew up in a family with limited finances, so he had to get creative making money. Richard started his own paper route in elementary school, hustled his little brother John into paying him for some prized football gear, and as a teen and adult was a card shark, earning extra cash playing poker, cribbage, and gin rummy. Richard was always highly skilled at cards. He especially enjoyed torturing his opponents, even his siblings and children, by holding up a card he possessed, but they desperately needed. He learned the complex game of bridge early on and played throughout his life, earning Sapphire Life Master status. He even played bridge the day he passed. He was an absolute expert in bridge. He competed in and won numerous tournaments (some even with his wife, who chose to stay married to him regardless of any comments made over subpar plays). Wanting to share his knowledge of cards, the last few years of his life saw Richard, the eternal instructor, teaching classes at the bridge center. 

Speaking of animals, Richard always had a heart for furry creatures. So much so that he figured out a way to keep a cat when it was forbidden by his father. Five-year-old Richard simply hid the cat in the mailbox. Upon discovery, that kitty was returned to sender! Throughout his life, he had numerous pets (both cats and dogs), all of whom no doubt greeted him happily with wagging tails on the Rainbow Bridge.

At the age of 10, Richard made the first of two major decisions that would not only affect the entire trajectory of his life, but also that of his family for generations to come: he picked up a tennis racquet. Richard’s father had played tennis socially, and the family lived close to Arcadia Park, where many greats of that era were known to compete, such as: Billie Jean King, Darlene Hard, and Stan Smith. Richard’s P.E. teacher first got him interested in learning tennis, and he was obsessed instantly, riding his bike to Arcadia Park every chance he could, at times playing 10 sets daily.

In high school, Richard was a stand-out athlete in both tennis and basketball. He was ranked third in the country in the USTA boys’ 15-and-under singles. Although he was “only” 6’2”, Richard was the star center for his Arcadia High School basketball team, making first-team All-Pacific League. He also had a bit of a wild side to him. One night, Richard and some fellow Night Owls (a groovy high school car club) decided to drive down to Newport Beach for some shenanigans and hijinks. They commandeered a small boat to cross Balboa Bay, but halfway across when they were almost caught, everyone “jumped ship” fully dressed (in jeans no less) and swam the rest of the way to the other side. Richard admittedly was not a strong swimmer, so the fact he made it with all his clothes weighing him down was quite impressive.

Like his father before him, and sons and youngest daughter after him, Richard was a proud USC Trojan. He attended USC on a partial tennis scholarship and in the summers would work various jobs on campus. During his tenure as a student-athlete, Collegiate and Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame Coach George Toley guided Richard to third team All-American honors and to a three-year run as a letterwinner.  During his second year at USC, Richard met Sandy Swanson after being set up on a date where they attended the Rams game in the Coliseum. Three years later, they wed in 1961 and would spend the next 62 years together. Their family quickly grew, with Tammy arriving in 1962, Rick in 1964, Mindy in 1970, and Jon in 1973.

Richard graduated USC with his bachelor’s degree in business administration, with graduate school following. He studied intently for two years, but Richard was just a thesis shy of a master’s degree in education. After his college tennis days were over, Richard would go on to earn 26 singles and doubles national rankings. Richard couldn’t focus 100% on his tennis career, due to keeping up with the demands of his expanding household. He taught business classes and coached the boys’ tennis team and basketball team at Arcadia High School for four years while simultaneously coaching the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team for three of those years. He also taught night school at San Gabriel High School and public speaking at Citrus College, which was no doubt an easy subject for him to instruct. Richard was the tennis pro at San Marino Tennis Club for many years, which sparked a light bulb moment for him…to invest in the business of tennis. He bought and developed Westlake Tennis and Swim Club, and then co-founded three more tennis clubs: Big Bear Tennis Ranch, Ojai Valley Racquet Club, and Racquet Club of Irvine.  

It was the purchase of RCI that instigated Richard’s second major life decision that would again change his and his family’s trajectory and set them towards their tranquil beach lives. In the mid-1970s, he moved his wife and four young children from Arcadia to the picturesque oceanside community of Emerald Bay in Laguna Beach to be closer to the new tennis club. This move also fulfilled a dream that he’d had since high school when he first visited Emerald Bay with a friend. He told himself even at that young age, he would live there one day. There were many rewards for this move, but also sacrifices. The greatest sacrifice would be revealed only a few years later when Richard was named the head coach of USC Men’s Tennis. While this coveted new position was his dream job, it also meant that he would now have a three-hour round-trip commute (or only two hours with “Petunia”) to work at USC five days a week for 23 years. But he did it happily to provide his family with the life he felt they deserved.

Coach had a storied career at USC. He was deeply loved and highly respected by his players as well as opponents and other coaches. A sculptor takes lumps of clay and molds it into a work of art that is hopefully something useful as well. Likewise, Coach did the same with his players…took lumps of testosterone, arrogance, and stupidity and formed them into exceptional players and strong pillars of the community. He was known to “Miyagi” his players, and even his own children, by teaching and motivating them while they were none the wiser. Whether it was feigning outrage and leaving in the middle of a high-stakes NCAA Championship match, piercing his ear, or dying his hair red (like Ronald McDonald), he knew how to get the greatest performances from his athletes. Some wouldn’t realize for decades how he had “tricked” them into being their best.

If you got a “Way to go,” from Coach, you really had to earn it. He was known for being disappointed in a 6-0, 6-0 win because too many errors were made. Richard never once let his children beat him at tennis. So, when they finally did conquer their old man, they knew it was legitimate, hard-earned, and a victory many years in the making. He was tough, but fair. The road to a championship is not paved with platitudes and niceties after all. You were more likely to hear, “Hate it!” coming from his mouth during a coaching session than anything else. He demanded perfection and inspired excellence.

Richard was diagnosed with diabetes in the early ‘90s and with prostate cancer a decade later. He beat cancer and dealt with diabetes with his classic charm and good humor, commenting that after enduring many NCAA Championship matches in Georgia, cancer and diabetes were a piece of cake!

He continued to compete personally throughout his life, even being ranked #1 nationally in the 55 and over division in doubles. His most noteworthy accomplishments as a player and coach are:

ITA Hall of Fame

·         USC Athletics Hall of Fame

·         Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame

·         Arcadia Hall of Fame

·         Five-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year

·         Three-time ITA Coach of the Year

·         Two-time National Coach of the Year 

·         World Team Tennis Coach of the Year

·         Players produced 68 All-American Honors

·         Four NCAA National Championships

·         15 USTA National Father-Son Doubles Titles (10 with Rick and 5 with Jon)

·         Four USTA National Doubles Titles (3 men’s, 1 mixed)

·         One USTA National Singles Title

·         World Record Holder

Yes, you read that last one correctly – Richard acquired a world record with his partner Dick Dell. The Leach children loved showing their doubting peers the printed proof in the Guiness Book of World Records. In 1967, Richard and partner Dick Dell won the longest tennis match (147 games) ever played at the time. It lasted six hours and 10 minutes throughout two days of play, and they beat their opponents 3-6, 49-47, 22-20. This match helped spur on the need for Jimmy Van Alen’s tiebreaker, which was implemented in 1970. But even with a world record and all his numerous accolades, Richard stated, “I’m most proud of my NCAA titles and that both my sons played for me.” With his famous wit, he loved to explain that recruiting his sons was easy because he was sleeping with their mother!

While Richard’s influence on his two sons’ tennis abilities is well-known, he also greatly contributed to his daughters’ lives as well. His youngest daughter Mindy was a nationally ranked junior and was recruited by the University of Alabama on a full tennis scholarship. And like her father, Mindy became a well-respected and sought-after teacher. Eldest daughter Tammy never caught the tennis bug, but she did inherit Richard’s teaching ability and perfectionist tendencies, which translate beautifully on the dance floor where she is an award-winning performer and ballroom instructor.

While his wife Sandy was the love of his life, Richard’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were the people he was most proud of and bragged about them often (although seldom directly to them). Every tough decision he made and every difficult action he performed throughout his 83 years, he did it out of love and for the betterment of his family. Coach was a simple man who created an extraordinary life.

Game. Set. Match. ———- Winner, Leach!

Please come celebrate Coach’s life on Center Court at Racquet Club of Irvine, 5 Ethel Coplen Way, Irvine, California, on October 28, 2023, at 2:00 PM. USC Trojan and/or Hawaiian attire is highly encouraged.  

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to:

1.       University of Southern California Men’s Tennis Program,

2.       Prostate Cancer Foundation, or

3.       American Diabetes Association.