Scarpa's record difficult to comprehend

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

Paul Scarpa will turn 70 in a few weeks, but it hasn't diminished his sense of urgency. In fact …

"I just worked out a kid [sophomore Andrei Chvetsov, from Geneva, Switzerland] who had a lab scheduled during practice," Scarpa said last week in his fine, Southern baritone. "Now I'm trying to catch up with e-mails and phone calls, fundraising and so forth. I'm lining up the itineraries for our trip north, trying to save a few dollars.

"Trying to go first class, but get there."

First class on a third-class budget -- this neatly describes the wildly successful, unprecedented career of the Furman University men's tennis coach. It's official now; as Shaquille O'Neal says, you can Google him.

This past weekend, Scarpa became the winningest Division I men's tennis coach in NCAA history. In his 46th season (43 at Furman), Scarpa's record is an epic 821-512 (.616). With a 6-1 victory over Yale on Friday, Scarpa passed former University of Hawaii coach Jim Schwitters.

"Honestly, I never chased records," Scarpa said. "If I had waited around 46 years just trying to break the record, I believe I would given up. There are a lot of great coaches that I admire. Maybe they retired along the way -- I just kept going."

Said senior Daniel Knause, Furman's No. 3 singles player, "We're only here for four years and we can only get, what, 50 wins, if that? That number, 800-plus, it's kind of hard to comprehend."

That Scarpa has managed this at Furman, a gem of a small liberal arts school in Greenville, S.C., only underlines the magnitude of the achievement. Furman does not resemble the tennis factories in California and Florida. There are only 2,600 undergraduates, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1. Average SAT scores are in the 1,200s at the academically challenging school. Scarpa consistently wins with players who aren't heavily recruited by the top-ranked schools, if at all.

"If he was just trying to get wins," Knause said, "in my opinion, he could have more than 1,000."

As Scarpa said, "We've never, ever tried to dodge anybody."

Appropriately, his first chance to break the record came on March 1 -- against two-time national defending champion Georgia. In a competitive contest that was visited by snow and called when the lights went out with the final match in a tiebreaker, Georgia prevailed over the Paladins 5-1.

Most schools like to schedule out-of-conference cupcakes, but Scarpa will take on any team in the SEC, ACC or the Ivy League. Sometimes, when Furman wins in an upset, Scarpa can't get a return match.

The real question? How does Scarpa, nearly a half century older than his players, get them to play?

"That is a great question," senior captain Bo Ladyman said. "Give me a couple of seconds to think about that."

Knause, who grew up in Greenville, didn't hesitate. "The game of tennis in his time has undergone a lot of change," he said. "He's had to keep up with all those changes. You can see the glow come into his eyes when he's working on a certain drill. That's infectious."

An undeniable passion runs deep through Scarpa. When he's on a tear, which is often, his mind functions so quickly, his mouth can't keep up. A few words from the end of a sentence, Scarpa pauses, then accelerates into the next. The listener is left to fill in the blanks.

"Paul is probably the most unique individual I have ever known," said Jim Parker, a friend whose son, Drew, played for Scarpa from 1996 to 2000. "Kids understand what's coming out of his mouth is straight from his heart. He has an unbelievable ability to get kids to buy in. It's the kick in the butt we all need.

"They talk about the Bobby Bowdens and Joe Pa[terno]s being a dying breed. I think we need more guys like Paul and those guys. They transcend the age gap."

After some deliberation, Ladyman came up with an anecdote that captured Scarpa's irresistible joie de vivre.

"It falls back to doing something that he loves," Ladyman said. "The other day in the office, he was all pumped up, telling me, 'I had a dream, and I woke up at 4 a.m.'

"It was an idea he had about the doubles lineup. I said, 'Goodness, Coach.'"

What else can you say?

He has it covered

Scarpa was warming up one of Furman's doubles teams seven years ago with then-assistant Dave Preston when he felt a "huge" pressure descending on his chest. Still, he kept moving through the practice drills

Feeding balls, Scarpa fell to one knee. Then two.

Preston suggested he sit down.

"I'm all right," said Scarpa, whose arms were starting to go numb. "If I sit down, I may not get up."

When Scarpa finally collapsed, Preston rushed him into a car. Even as they were pulling away to go to the hospital -- yes, he was in the midst of a serious heart attack -- Scarpa was shouting instructions to the players.

"Yeah," he said, laughing. "I was telling them what to do, what they needed to work on in practice. I just don't like to leave things uncovered."

Scarpa always has had it covered, from the time he grew up in Charleston, S.C., to his success on the court at Florida State. Scarpa, a 1962 graduate, was a top singles and doubles player and won the NCAA Eastern Intercollegiates. Long after his college career, he was a quarterfinalist at the National 35s clay-court championships.

In 1967, after three years of coaching at Florida State, Scarpa arrived at Furman. The Paladins have dominated the Southern Conference ever since. Furman has put together 40 consecutive winning seasons in conference play and finished first or second 36 times.

Scarpa already is enshrined in three Halls of Fame, but two more tangible gifts to tennis are on his résumé. It was Scarpa, in an effort to simultaneously speed up matches and invest more meaning into doubles matches, who developed the 3-6 Scarpa System that the NCAA employs to score dual matches. Three doubles matches are decided by eight-game pro sets and are played ahead of the singles matches. Scarpa also invented the Tenex, the plastic tape that marks the lines on clay courts. He has the patent to prove it.

The leading lesson Scarpa hopes to impart concerns work ethic.

"They see me putting every bit of energy I have into everything," Scarpa said. "If they don't follow me, if I don't stay on them, I feel like I let our team down.

"The satisfaction is seeing the kids develop as players, and as individuals. I want them to succeed later in life."

One of Scarpa's first players was Ed Good, Class of 1967. His first recruit was David Ellison, Class of '72. Today, they are successful businessmen -- and members of Furman's board of trustees. When Scarpa tied the record with victories over Cornell and Dartmouth on Feb. 27, about a dozen alumni made the 2½-hour drive from Knoxville, Tenn., to celebrate with him. Scarpa often has former players address the team. Sometimes they help players find jobs after college. Of all the statistics that can be found in his biography, this one might be the most impressive: Fourteen of his former players have gained admission to medical school.

"I've addressed the current team," Parker said. "One of the points I made was that the lessons you learn here will carry you well into your adult life. Sportsmanship. Toughness. Hard work. Those are all qualities that Coach Scarpa insists on."

Walk-ons, if they are serious and dedicated, are welcomed. The most famous tennis player in Furman history, Ned Caswell, just wandered in off the basketball court.

"I don't like the word 'cut,'" Scarpa said. "Ned was a terrific athlete, quick, but he was 13th on the singles ladder. You could write a whole story on him, a movie script."

Caswell, Class of '87, took a set off Georgia Tech's celebrated Bryan Shelton, then in a second meeting beat him, dropping only three games in the last two sets. Caswell won the Southern Intercollegiate tournament and became a two-time All-American. He played for the U.S. junior Davis Cup team and later turned professional.

So, when will Scarpa retire? He laughs and offers his stock answer: "Why quit now when I'm just getting the hang of this?"

We are all products of our environment, and Scarpa is no different. He is guided by the values he learned from his father, Edward, who worked for 47 years at South Carolina National Bank. He retired after three thugs hit him in the head with a pistol when he refused to open the vault. And then, his father spent the next 20 years working as the office manager for the Charleston Steel and Metal Company, right up to the age of 86.

"I'm sort of a workaholic," said Scarpa, who clocks about 60 hours a week. "If I don't have something to do, I'm going to find something.

"Life is short, I know that. I've probably got 10 years of a good, healthy life ahead of me. I have three grandchildren, so I don't want to do this forever. I'll know the time."

Said Ladyman, "My freshman year, he said he had two more years in him. I think every year, he'll say he has two more years in him. I think he'll be out there for a long time."

Scarpa believes so powerfully in Furman's academic prowess that he half-convinced a reporter to think about heading back to college when, unbidden, he ran through his recruiting pitch.

"Herman Lay [founder of Frito-Lay] went to Furman," Scarpa said, sentences starting to run together. "Betsy King, Beth Daniel, Dottie [Pepper] Mochrie -- they were all the LPGA player of the year three years in a row -- and Brad Faxon, they all went to Furman. Richard Riley [U.S. Secretary of Education during the Clinton administration], too, and David Garrett, the former CEO of Delta."

There's more, Scarpa said: John Broadus Watson, Class of 1899, who invented the laser, Charles Townes, Class of 1935, the father of behavioral psychology and, of course, Sam Wyche, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII, popularized the no-huddle offense and played quarterback at Furman in the mid-1960s.

"It is a great, great school," Scarpa said earnestly.

He didn't graduate from Furman, but after 43 seasons in Greenville, you can add Scarpa to that distinguished list.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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