BY JAKE KRZECZOWSKI | SEPTEMBER 09, 2009 7:10 AM
When it comes time for college, normally most people want to get as far away from home as possible. Upon graduation, they normally get a job somewhere other than where they lived or went to school.
Nowadays, modern American life has made it increasingly difficult to find families who stay in one place from generation to generation.
But the Houghtons are one of those families.
Iowa head coach Steve Houghton grew up in Iowa City, and when it came time to depart for college, he went with what he knew rather than explore the unfamiliar.
Then when it came time to get a job, he found a way to stay close to the town he has always known.
Today, after 29 years on the job, he is called the “Dean of Big Ten Tennis.”
“It’s a reference thing to my longevity in the Big Ten,” he said.
And that longevity is nothing to thumb your nose at. In a era in which most college coaches have the same kind of job security offered to a Detroit factory worker, Houghton has proved that a coach can stay in one place as long as he likes.
Of the 11 teams in the Big Ten, Michigan State is the only team with a coach whose tenure comes anywhere close to Houghton’s. And the Spartans’ Gene Orlando started more than a decade after Houghton began with the Hawkeyes, in 1980.
Being from the town you coach in and recruit for can be a definite advantage when trying to woo the top prospects each year to come to Iowa City.
Senior Patrick Dwyer remembers his first impression of Houghton when he came on his visit to Iowa.
“You could tell how passionate he is,” Dwyer said. “Being from here and having played here, you can tell he is having fun with what he’s doing.”
Houghton says it is an asset to have coached in Iowa City for so long. When potential recruits come through they know that they will have Houghton as their head coach for all four years they are at Iowa.
“Recruits like that they will have the same coach for all four years, that I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
While it may seem small in the college decision-making process, stability can have a large effect on an 18-year-old from Sweden, Germany, or Canada. To recruits, Houghton becomes someone they can look to for help and guidance as they feel their way through their first year on campus and beyond.
“They’ll come to me if they need to buy something or need somewhere to eat — something like that,” Houghton said.
These small endeavors can overwhelm a first-year student-athlete at a big university, so Houghton’s familiarity with the area becomes an asset in not only recruiting but also in creating a family-like atmosphere within the team.
For the 29 years that he has coached at Iowa, he has played a father-type role while standing at the helm of the men’s tennis team, helping to intertwine many different nationalities and customs in the Hawkeye squad. And there doesn’t seem to be an obvious end in sight.
“I got the chance to stay here and have been here all 29 years,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”