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Houghton steps down after 33 years

BY CHARLIE GREEN | SEPTEMBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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After 33 years as the Iowa men’s tennis head coach, Steve Houghton announced his retirement Monday.

For the Iowa City native and University of Iowa alumnus, it was the perfect time to close the book on his career as a Hawkeye.

“I got to spend more time than usual with my family this summer,” Houghton said. “I was torn on whether or not to come back, but it occurred to me this was the right time to do it.”

Houghton came to Iowa as a freshman in 1967, and by the time he graduated, he amassed the second-best winning percentage (.727) of any player in the program’s history.

Following his playing career, Houghton became the assistant coach of the team while attending graduate school and serving as an academic adviser in the Tippie College of Business.

His original plan was to become a professor, but before he could finish his Ph.D., he was offered the head coach position.

He took over the team in 1982, and in the three decades that followed, he compiled 354 victories en route to becoming the program’s coach with the most victories.

“We’ve had great players, beaten a lot of nationally ranked teams in my time here,” Houghton said. “I like to think I had an influence on the guys I coached, aside from forehands and backhands. The relationships I built are what made it special.”

Ross Wilson will cover as the team’s interim head coach, after coming to the program last season as the assistant.

Wilson, who was recruited by Houghton as a 17-year-old before choosing to play for Ohio State, is left with a program defined by the values Houghton instilled over the decades.

“He’s a guy whose always done things right,” Wilson said. “He emphasized respect, sportsmanship, and academics and drew upon his years of experience in his knowledge of the game.”

Houghton’s retirement gives Wilson his first job as a head coach. Although has the interim tag at the moment, by the time the program picks a permanent coach, Wilson will have a year of experience under his belt.

“I’m happy it’s worked out for Ross to be named interim head coach,” Houghton said. “I think that will be great experience for him and probably helpful when it’s time to choose a permanent successor.”

Houghton announced his decision to the team on Sunday night, to the astonishment and ultimately the understanding of the team.

“I was shocked,” freshman Josh Silverstein said. “It’s sad I didn’t get to know him better, but I’m excited for him to spend more time with his family.”

With a wife, four children, and eight grandchildren, Houghton has plenty of family to occupy his time during retirement. His days as a Hawkeye, however, are far from over.

“He lives for the Hawkeyes, and we know how much he cares about us,” Silverstein said. “He’ll be at our home tournaments for sure, just not as our coach.”

While Silverstein was just getting acquainted with Houghton, senior Matt Hagan is losing his coach of the past three years.

“He’s done so much for me, always being a guy I could go to with a problem,” Hagan said. “I’ve had a great relationship with him and will continue to going forward.”

The 65-year-old Houghton leaves a team featuring one of the best group of freshmen in the program’s history. After the team’s struggles in recent years, the talent on the current roster sparks optimism and excitement around this season and those to follow.

“If this decision had come a year or two ago, the one thing I would not have felt good about was how our program was a little bit stagnant,” Houghton said. “We feel we have a lot of momentum, have the program heading in the right direction right now.”


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