Marty Dowd has been the men’s tennis coach at Catholic University for more than a half-century, and he’s finally going to the NCAA tournament. He’ll arrive with his sense of humor firmly intact.
“My priorities have changed greatly,” Dowd said. “Fifty-three years ago, winning tennis matches is what I’d wake up in the morning thinking about. Now, in my 53rd year, my No. 1 priority is staying close to a men’s room.”
The 77-year-old coach with the quick wit and famous sister (Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd) led the Cardinals to the Landmark Conference title and a first-round match against Washington & Lee on Friday in the NCAA Division III bracket. He has a career mark of 544-358 with winning records in 44 of his 52 seasons as head coach, having taken the job in 1963 after one year as an assistant.
“I’ve been on 53 one-year contracts,” Dowd said. “There have been forests that have been knocked down just to make the paper for my contracts.”
Once, about two decades ago, he went to the see the athletic director and half-jokingly asked for a two-year deal.
“He looked at me a while and said, ‘Martin, we don’t know you well enough,’” Dowd said. “Thirty-five years.”
Staying competitive at Catholic through all those decades has been a challenge. Dowd said he has six unlit courts, making it hardly a fair fight when recruiting against nearby D-III schools that have lighted courts and impressive indoor facilities. A change in conferences seven years ago made the NCAAs a more realistic target, and a road upset of top-seeded Juniata last month in the conference tournament secured that long-awaited berth.
“They put in extra stands,” Dowd said. “It was an extremely noisy crowd, and when we won that last point, it was like a cemetery.”
Dowd, who this year was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, worked at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for 38 years as a medical illustrator, but tennis runs firmly in his family’s blood. All three of his daughters played at Catholic, and his son played for George Washington.
But the most interesting dynamic had to involve his sister Maureen, who graduated from Catholic long before rising to national prominence with the New York Times.
“She played tennis for CU for my wife as her coach, which created lots of problems at Thanksgiving,” Dowd said. “Maureen does not take directions well.”
Longevity records among NCAA coaches are hard to come by, but Dowd notes that he is closing in on the immortal Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached college football for 57 years. John Gagliardi’s career was even longer: 64 years as a head football coach, mostly at St. John’s in Minnesota.
Dowd said the long D-III bus rides can get tiresome, and the plantar fasciitis in his foot can make it uncomfortable to walk to the courts. He gets a lot of help from daughter Dana, who coaches the women’s team, and sounds as if he’s not ready to quit anytime soon.
“My wife tells me that as long as I do it, I’ll stay alive,” Dowd said, “so that’s an incentive.”
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